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Selenium Tests

Writing unit tests that use the user interface to interact with the application can be very challenging. A test has to behave like a human would. This includes waiting for pages to load or animations to complete. Another challenge is to write these tests in such a way that it runs reliable and keeps working after UI changes.

Selenium offers an API to interact with the browser. The problem is that if you start using Selenium directly, the tests become very complex very quickly. Also, as your test set is growing, it probably starts becoming more unstable. Another downside is that writing tests using Selenium requires a lot of technical knowledge. At Ultimo we wanted to enable testers to write tests as well.

Test Structure

Our testers are familiar with writing test scenarios. These can be used as step-by-step instructions for specific cases. We want to write our automated tests in a similar way. They should be easy to read, even for the ‘less-technical’ team members. We decided to start by designing the test code itself. We ignored all complex code that is required to synchronise the browser state. An example of how we currently write tests is shown below.

The tests are written in c#, but in such a way that our test crew can create their own.

Selenium Page Object Model

We used the ‘Page Object Model‘ with a fluent interface as a reference design. The low-level logic is hidden in ‘Page Objects’. In these classes we use CSS selectors, have the proper waits and switch to the correct context. The fluent interface allows for compact code and adds intellisense.

This structure helps with keeping the tests readable, but also leaves room to fix any low-level logic.

Test Stability

The ‘Page Object Model’ is a very good design principle for creating a well structured test framework. However, you might need more tricks to get everything reliable. One thing that is very important is to ensure you do not need any sleeps in the code. Sleeps will not only make the tests run very slow, but sleeps also are unreliable because you are using arbitrary sleep times.

We have the benefit that we are not only in control of the tests we are creating, but we also have control over the application we are testing. This means that we are able to make changes to the application itself to allow better testability. One of the biggest challenges to make tests more reliable is to detect the exact moment when all async processes are finished. In an application like Ultimo, the data is often loaded using async ajax calls. Selenium doesn’t know how to handle this by default.

To solve the async issue, we added javascript code that sets a marker when waiting for an async call to complete. The javascript module we use for this keeps a simple stack with actions to complete. In the javascript framework we call this code in a few strategic places. It will probably not work for all applications, but for Ultimo this gives us a very reliable ‘busy’ marker.

An example on how we use the busy marker is our ajax code. We push an action on the queue and pop it when it is completed. Note that the ‘popAction’ might not pop the corresponding ‘pushAction’, but that is ok since we are only interested if all actions are completed.

In the test framework we can now use this to create reliable waits. We created a method that allows us to call ‘Driver.WaitUntilUltimoIsNotBusy();’. The code snippets we use for this:

The custom wait code allowed us to greatly reduce the flakiness of the tests. Other some small changes we did:

Change Description
Element ids We added meaningful ids to strategic elements. We don’t need them in javascript, but it helped for selecting the correct element.
Window ids Unfortunately we sometimes need an iframe. We added markers to find the correct iframe, or move to the most outer frame.
Ultimo.Ajax All ajax calls are done through a facade class. No direct calls to jQuery or other libraries. This allows injecting our custom code.

Retry Failing Tests

Even if you have made the best possible test framework, occasionally a test will randomly fail. Especially if you run your tests over the internet. In our scenario we run Selenium tests against a staging environment on Azure. Every update to our platform will start on the staging environment. The production environment is only updated if all tests succeed. To remedy these random failures, we use a retry mechanism.

The NUnit test framework makes it very easy to implement retries. We use a custom attribute of type IWrapSetUpTearDown to decorate the tests. The source code for the attribute can be found here.

Retrying failed tests is not ideal. You should investigate why a test is failing. Having automated retries hides flakiness and could even hide real issues. However, for our purpose I think it is necessary. The risk of hiding real issues can be limited by making the retry mechanism optional. Then regularly run the tests with the retry disabled.


Page Object Model documentation:

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Lubert Gerrits Sales Director Nederland
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