Monday, September 25, 2017

Watir is What You Use Instead When Local Conditions Make Automated Browser Testing Otherwise Difficult.

I spent last weekend in Toronto talking to Titus Fortner, Jeff "Cheezy" Morgan, Bret Pettichord, and a number of other experts involved with the Watir project. There are a few things you should know:

The primary audience and target user group for Watir is people who use programming languages other than Ruby, and also people who do little or no programming at all. Let's say that again:

The most important audience for Watir is not Ruby programmers 

Let's talk about "local conditions":

it may be that the language in which you work does not support Selenium

I have been involved with Watir since the very beginning, but I started using modern Watir with the Wikimedia Foundation to test Wikipedia software. The main language of Wikipedia is PHP, in which Selenium is not fully supported, and in which automated testing in general is difficult. Watir/Ruby was a great choice to do browser testing.  At the time we started the project, there were no selenium bindings for Javascript. Now that Selenium is fully supported in Node.js/, I understand that WMF is porting the Watir-based tests in 20+  repositories to Node/ It is very exciting.

Today I use Watir at, the philanthropic arm of the much larger company Salesforce has its own proprietary programming language APEX, which does not have Selenium bindings and never will. Watir is the best choice to do automated browser testing in this environment.

it may be that even if your language supports Selenium, automated browser testing is still really hard

Selenium is fully supported in C#, but many Windows organizations do not use C#. Even when they do, the amount of scaffolding required for robust browser testing can be daunting. Creating an assertion framework, a logging structure, a Page Object  model, a test runner, all of these take significant investment. The Watir project allows you to short-circuit all that work.

Java and Python are in a similar situation. Watir and Ruby provide an off-the-shelf answer that is remarkably  well-documented, with a proven history of excellent design and implementation decisions as well as an active and polite user community. (Watir as a concept is actually older than Selenium!)

it may be that the browser test automation staff do not have access to the feature code

Certainly this is an anti-pattern, but it is sometimes the case that the people who need to do browser test automation are not in regular contact with the people creating the code that needs testing.

Two Paths for Watir

Right now today there are two approaches to using Watir, each with their own design philosophy, each with their own
(overlapping) sets of tools.

Simple, straightforward, and easy; but powerful

The first approach is exemplified by the project at watir_install, that I will call Team Titus. Team Titus wants to provide a single installation that yields an instantly usable Watir testing instance with no configuration, with examples in place for  anyone to follow. Regardless of what programming language you find most comfortable, Team Titus wants to provide the most  readable, understandable framework possible.

The second approach is exemplified by the project at page-object, that I will call Team Cheezy. Team Cheezy wants to provide the most powerful application of Watir for browser testing possible. Team Cheezy gives you a framework that needs to be tweaked a little to work, and has more layers requiring understanding. To understand the internals for Team Cheezy you need to know something about how Ruby works.

You should know that the barriers to entry for Team Cheezy were already low; Team Titus wants to make them even lower, but at the cost of some power in the framework.

Note that these approaches are not incompatible. They do not compete, they cooperate. Bits of each framework can be switched in and out.

Me, I started with Team Cheezy about six years ago and I'm sticking with it. I need that power. However, my heart is with Team Titus, and I intend to contribute as that project grows.

Choosing between Team Titus and Team Cheezy

Team Titus (watir_install) Team Cheezy (page-object)
Don't care about Cucumber Want Cucumber
Need easy install Willing to tweak some directories and settings
Only encounter standard HTML and DOM Needs to address non-standard page elements
Probably don't need to scale across multiple repos Needs to work across multiple repos
Want simple internal code to analyze Willing to learn some Ruby magic for internals

I went to Toronto to talk these people because I saw changes happening and I need to know the context of those changes. I
learned what I needed to know:

  • Everyone agrees that the primary audience and most important users for Watir are people who need to do automated browser testing BUT who are not primarily Ruby programmers.
  • We need to provide a framework that works for everyone upon installing it.
  • We need to provide power to people who need power.
  • We need to make it easy to start, but also easy to improve.

Appendix: Why not target Ruby programmers?

For historical reasons, the Ruby web development community mostly uses Capybara and not Watir.  We might argue which is
better, but it would be pointless. Watir has always been intended for use by everyone, not just Ruby programmers, and we
carry on that design philosophy.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Use "Golden Image" to test Big Ball Of Mud software systems

So I had a brief conversation on Twitter with Noah Sussman about testing a software system designed as a "Big Ball Of Mud" (BBOM).

We could talk about the technical definition of BBOM, but in practical terms a BBOM is a system where we understand and expect that changing one part of the system is likely to cause unknown and unexpected results in other, unrelated parts of the system. Such systems are notoriously difficult to test, but I have tested them long ago in my career, and I was surprised that Noah hadn't encountered this approach of using a "Golden Image" to accomplish that.

Let's assume that we're creating an automated system here. Every part of the procedure I describe can be automated.

First you need some tests. And you'll need a test environment. BBOM systems come in many different flavors, so I won't specify a test environment too closely. It might be a clone of the production system, or a version of prod with fewer data.  It might be something different than that.

Then you need to be able to make a more-or-less exact copy of your test environment. This may mean putting your system on a VM or a Docker image, or it may be a matter of simply copying files. However you accomplish it, you need to be able to make faithful "Golden Image" copies of your test environment at a particular point in time.

Now you are ready to do some serious testing of a BBOM system using Golden Images:

Step One: Your test environment right now is your Golden Image. Make a copy of your Golden Image.

Step Two: Install the software to be tested on the copy of your Golden Image. Run your tests. If your tests pass, deploy the changes to production. Check to make sure that you don't have to roll back any of the production changes. If your tests fail or if your changes to production get rolled back, go back to Step One.

Step Three: the copy of your first Golden Image with the successful changes is your new Golden Image. You may or may not want to discard the now obsolete original Golden Image, see Step Five below.

Step Four: Add more tests for the system. Repeat the procedure at Step One.

Step Five (optional) You may want to be able to compare aspects of a current Golden Image test environment with previous versions of the Golden Image. Differences in things like test output behavior, file sizes, etc. may be useful information in your testing practice.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Open Letter about Agile Testing Days cancelling US conference

I sent the following by email contact pages to Senator John McCain, Senator Jeff Flake, and Representative Martha McSally of Arizona in regard to Agile Testing Days cancelling their US conference on 13 February.

Agile Testing Days is a top-tier tech conference about software testing and Quality Assurance in Europe. They had planned their first conference in the USA to be held in Boston MA, with a speaker lineup from around the world. They cancelled the entire conference on 13 February because of the "current political situation" in the USA. Here is their statement:

Although I was not scheduled to attend or to speak at this particular conference, it is conferences such as Agile Testing Days where the best ideas in my field are presented, and it is from conferences such as Agile Testing Days that many of my peers get those ideas, and I rely on conversations from those who do speak and attend in order to stay current in my field.

As a resident of Arizona, cancelling such conferences affects me directly. I have enough expertise and skill to live anywhere I choose. I choose to live in Arizona, but my work absolutely depends on the free flow of people and information across national and state borders.

It is shameful that such a prestigious and respected multi-national software organization finds it necessary to cancel their first ever conference in the USA because of the outrageous policies of the current administration. I urge you to take measures to make organizations such as Agile Testing Days and their attendees and speakers feel safe and welcome, as they should be.

Chris McMahon
Senior Member of Technical Staff, Quality Assurance
Tucson, AZ