Wednesday, November 18, 2009

ui test tool search

I now work for 42lines. I was hired along with Marisa Seal to start the QA/testing practice for a very small totally distributed/remote software shop implementing agile processes as they make sense. I like this place.

One of the things that 42lines wants to do is to begin UI-level test automation. I have a lot of experience doing this, but I've never done it from a standing start, so this was a great opportunity to get a good look at the state of the practice for UI-level test automation.

For the last 3 years or so I've been using keyword-driven test frameworks that use a wiki to manage test data. I like these wiki-based table-based keyword-driven frameworks a lot. I'm a little suspicious of the BDD-style frameworks like Cucumber and others based on rspec-like text interpretation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that analyzing the causes of failing tests within BDD-style frameworks is an onerous task; also, I suspect that since BDD-style frameworks map closely to story coverage, there ends up being a lot of duplication of test steps. With wiki/table/keyword frameworks, I know from experience that it is possible to design tests with great domain coverage, little duplication, and scale to numbers of test steps in the suite in the five figures.

I was really hoping to find something great in Ruby. I did find that Fit has been ported to a number of languages, including Ruby, but it's still a pretty primitive ecosystem out there. I didn't find any significant bridges between Fit and Watir or Fit and Selenium-RC in Ruby.

(For the record, it would have been great to be a contributing member of the Watir community again. As far as anyone on the Watir team can tell, I was the very first Watir user, and I still think it is a brilliant project.)

So the best-of-breed wiki-based test management system seems without a doubt to be FitNesse. I've used it and I like it, and Marisa is something of an expert in FitNesse and its accoutrement. FitNesse comes in two flavors: Java and C#. 42lines is a Java shop. Selenium Core is in Java. I got no time to fuss with JRuby or whatever the latest coolest implementation of Ruby in the JVM is. It makes every kind of sense to use Java/Fitnesse and Java/Selenium for this project.

So FitNesse and Selenium in Java are beyond dispute the best-of-breed in their respective fields. I thought they went together like peanut butter and jelly, pizza and beer, and SURELY there would be a canonical reference implementation of an integration between these two awesome tools.

Sadly, I was mistaken.

There are to my knowledge three reasonable FitNesse+Selenium integration projects. The first one, fitnium, I dismissed mostly on the basis of rumors of bugs and rumors of lack of support. And in the official documentation, I found that the project was taking on features (Flex and Flash support) for which I had no need. Also, I object to abstracting/renaming Selenium methods for purely arbitrary reasons, as it makes the (very nice) Selenium documentation unusable in the tool.

That left us with a choice of StoryTestIQ and WebTest. We spiked them both.

StoryTestIQ has a beautiful UI, but it has too much magic. The killer flaw for us was that STIQ must run on the same host as the SUT. Even though it is possible to invoke *chrome/FF and *iehta/IE modes from the framework, the framework itself will not support cross-site operations. That's a non-starter for us.

And that left us with WebTest. The brilliant Gojko Adzic began the project but abandoned it about a year and a half ago. It has the feel of something partially-done. And yet in our spike with WebTest we found that we could not only invoke *chrome and *iehta modes, but we could also swap out the very latest FitNesse version and the very latest Selenium version for the antique versions shipped with WebTest, and the WebTest integration code still worked. To my mind, this speaks of good design.

Marisa and Gojko gave a joint presentation on DbFit at Agile2008. Gojko has been known to answer my emails. WebTest is a really obvious choice under the circumstances.

So as of today Marisa and I are administrators for the WebTest project on Sourceforge. I hesitate to say "owners", because neither of us knows much about Java (although Marisa certainly knows more than me) but the code for WebTest is so simple and readable that I am completely comfortable describing what it does and does not do.

Today I made some really nice demonstration tests in FitNesse driving Selenium via WebTest. We're going to make this work.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Kent Beck mentioned recently that he can't think of a situation for which Google Wave is indispensable. Jason Huggins left this amazing comment on Beck's blog post. Wave could very well be indispensable for implementing a "backchannel".

A backchannel is a multi-user space for commenting on some action being shared by everyone on the channel, whether it be listening to a speaker at a conference or attending a meeting during which people take turns speaking. A backchannel is perhaps most commonly implemented on IRC, but any reasonably robust multi-user messaging tool will serve.

But it's not only conference attendees that need a backchannel. Coming up I have a couple of articles recommending required communications channels for distributed teams and very large teams, wherein I strongly recommend having a backchannel during team meetings. It really is a critical core practice for distributed teams.

But even given an IRC backchannel, a lot of information gets lost during the interaction. The chat goes by very quickly, and it is impossible to type all the ideas one has into the backchannel (along with everyone else) fast enough or efficiently enough to capture everything that everyone thinks. Running a backchannel on a wiki is far too inefficient to be effective.

But Wave changes that. Not only can multiple users all contribute to the backchannel at once in real time; but after the meeting or the presentation, Wave provides a persistent, shareable, editable artifact that captured at least the basic premises of everyone's thoughts at the time. Any valuable aspects of this artifact may be edited and enhanced and otherwise manipulated after the fact.

I really want to try this out soon.