Tips to Overcome Test Automation Challenges


In her recent column, "Fool Me Once," Linda Hayes took a look at the difficulties encountered by those who dove into automated testing early on, only to be bitten by the record/replay shark. In this follow-up column, she offers some solutions to those who still struggle with making test automation successful.

In my previous column, I complained that most testing remains manual despite billions invested in test automation tools, largely because of the unrealistic expectations and unfortunate reality arising from the record/replay approach. Many readers subsequently took me to task for pointing out what went wrong without offering any solutions. Fair enough.

In my experience, there are four key elements to making test automation successful:

There are some possible benefits to allowing both to coexist, too. Consider these:

  1. Educating development to produce testable applications
  2. Understanding why yet more scripting won't work
  3. Learning to transition from a test tool to an automation application
  4. Setting realistic expectations

Each of these is summarized below with links to more detailed discussions.

Educating Development
Automation changes the relationship between development and test forever. Manual testers only worry about what they can see, but automation is all about what's under the covers. In order to build a reliable, maintainable, automated test, the tester must be able to identify application objects using identifiers or names that are understandable, persistent, and unique. Further, these objects must be accessible. Understandable names make the test readable and therefore maintainable, persistent names make the tests stable and repeatable, and unique names make it reliable. Accessibility means your tool can interact with the object.

Unfortunately modern applications often comprise code that is generated on the fly by servers, using gibberish identifiers that change from moment to moment. Also, flashy interfaces often are built with opaque objects that don't reveal their methods or properties. If this is happening to you, there is nothing you, as a tester, can do about it. Only development can fix this problem, but they first have to be educated. For more on this subject, see "Automated Testability Tips."

Understanding Scripting
As I pointed out in "Fool Me Once," record/replay was seductive because it looked easy, but it actually was deceptive because the recorded scripts weren't reliable or maintainable. The typical response was to add yet more code to handle timing issues, externalize data, and insert logic to handle unexpected responses. While these techniques may have addressed the immediate issues, they created even more. Programming skills were required, thus excluding the application experts who typically performed the manual tests. The resulting tests contained more and more code, requiring more time to develop and even more to maintain. In the end, the tests were too complex, costly, and time-consuming.

A detailed discussion of how this problem played itself out can be found in the Better Software magazine article "The Demise of Record/Script/Play."

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