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Last month we ran our first company coding dojo – this was only open to company staff, but attendance was good (around a dozen people).

For those that have never heard of it, a coding dojo – based on the idea of a martial arts dojo – is an opportunity for programmers to improve their skills. This means getting a group of developers together, round a big screen, to work through a problem. Everything is pair programmed, with one “driver” and one “co-pilot”. Every so often the pair is changed: the driver returns to the audience, the co-pilot becomes the driver and a new co-pilot steps up. That way everyone gets a turn writing code, while the rest of the group provide advice (no matter how unwelcome).

For the first dojo we tackled a problem in Scala - this was the first time using Scala for most people, so a lot of time was spent learning the language. But thanks to Daniel Korzekwa, Kingsley Davies & DJ everyone got to grips with the language and we eventually got a solution! The session was a lot of fun, with a lot of heated discussion – but everyone felt they learned something.


Afterwards, in true agile style, we ran a quick retrospective. The lessons learned showed the dojo had been an interesting microcosm of development – with us making the same mistakes we so often see in the day job! For example, we knew we should start with a design and went as far as getting a whiteboard; but failed to actually do any design. This led to repeated rework as the final design emerged, slowly, from numerous rewrites. One improvement for next time was to do just in time design – in true agile style.

We also set out to do proper test-first TDD. However, as so often happens, this degenerated into code-first development with tests occasionally run and passing rarely. It was interesting to see how quickly a group of experienced developers fall out of doing TDD. Our retrospective highlighted that next time we should always write tests first, and take “baby steps” – by doing the simplest thing that could possibly make the test pass.

Overall it was a great session and very enjoyable – it was fascinating to see the impact of ignoring “best practices” on something small where the results are so much more immediate.

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Note: this article is now out of date, please see the more recent version covering the same topic: Testing asynchronous applications with WebDriverWait.

WebDriver is a great framework for automated testing of web applications. It learns the lessons of frameworks like selenium and provides a clean, clear API to test applications. However, testing ajax applications presents challenges to any test framework. How does WebDriver help us? First, some background…

Drivers

WebDriver comes with a number of drivers. Each of these is tuned to drive a specific browser (IE, Firefox, Chrome) using different technology depending on the browser. This allows the driver to operate in a manner that suits the browser, while keeping a consistent API so that test code doesn’t need to know which type of driver/browser is being used.

Page Pattern

The page pattern provides a great way to separate test implementation (how to drive the page) from test specification (the logical actions we want to complete – e.g. enter data in a form, navigate to another page etc). This makes the intent of tests clear:

homePage.setUsername("mytestuser");
homePage.setPassword("password");
homePage.clickLoginButton();

Blocking Calls

WebDriver’s calls are also blocking – calls to submit(), for example, wait for the form to be submitted and a response returned to the browser. This means we don’t need to do anything special to wait for the next page to load:

WebDriver driver = new FirefoxDriver();
driver.get("http://www.google.com/");
WebElement e = driver.findElement(By.name("q"));
e.sendKeys("webdriver");
e.submit();
assertEquals("webdriver - Google Search",driver.getTitle());

Asynchronous Calls

The trouble arises if you have an asynchronous application. Because WebDriver doesn’t block when you make asynchronous calls via javascript (why would it?), how do you know when something is “ready” to test? So if you have a link that, when clicked, does some ajax magic in the background – how do you know when the magic has stopped and you can start verifying that the right thing happened?

Naive Solution

The simplest solution is by using Thread.sleep(…). Normally if you sleep for a bit, by the time the thread wakes up, the javascript will have completed. This tends to work, for the most part.

The problem becomes that as you end up with hundreds of these tests, you suddenly start to find that they’re failing, at random, because the delay isn’t quite enough. When the build runs on your build server, sometimes the load is higher, the phase of the moon wrong, whatever – the end result is that your delay isn’t quite enough and you start assert()ing before your ajax call has completed and your test fails.

So, you start increasing the timeout. From 1 second. To 2 seconds. To 5 seconds. You’re now on a slippery slope of trying to tune how long the tests take to run against how successful they are. This is a crap tradeoff. You want very fast tests that always pass. Not semi fast tests that sometimes pass.

What’s to be done? Here are two techniques that make testing asynchronous applications easier.

RenderedWebElement

All the drivers (except HtmlUnit, which isn’t really driving a browser) actually generate RenderedWebElement instances, not just WebElement instances. RenderedWebElement has a few interesting methods on it that can make testing your application easier. For example, the isDisplayed() method saves you having to query the CSS style to work out whether an element is actually shown.

If you have some ajax magic that, in its final step, makes a <DIV> visible then you can use isDisplayed() to check whether the asynchronous call has completed yet.

Note: my examples here use dojo but the same technique can be used whether you’re using jquery or any other asynchronous toolkit.

First the HTML page – this simply has a link and a (initially hidden) <div>. When the link is clicked it triggers an asynchronous call to load a new HTML page; the content of this HTML page is inserted as the content of the div and the div made visible.

<html>
<head>
 <title>test</title>

 <script type="text/javascript" src="js/dojo/dojo.js" djConfig=" isDebug:false, parseOnLoad:true"></script>

 <script src="js/asyncError.js" type="text/javascript"></script>

 <script>
   /*
    * Load a HTML page asynchronously and
    * display contents in hidden div
    */
   function loadAsyncContent() {
     var xhrArgs = {
       url: "asyncContent.htm",
       handleAs: "text",
       load: function(data) {
         // Update DIV with content we loaded
         dojo.byId("asyncContent").innerHTML = data;

         // Make our DIV visible
         dojo.byId("asyncContent").style.display = 'block';
       }
     };

     // Call the asynchronous xhrGet
     var deferred = dojo.xhrGet(xhrArgs);
   }
 </script>
</head>
<body>
 <div id="asyncContent" style="display: none;"></div>
 <a href="#" id="loadAsyncContent" onClick="loadAsyncContent();">Click to load async content</a>
 <br/>
</body>
</html>

Now the integration test. Our test simply loads the page, clicks the link and waits for the asynchronous call to complete (highlighted). Once the call is complete, we check that the contents of the <div> is what we expect.

@RunWith(SpringJUnit4ClassRunner.class)
public class TestIntegrationTest {
 @Test
 public void testLoadAsyncContent() {
   // Create the page
   TestPage page = new TestPage( new FirefoxDriver() );

   // Click the link
   page.clickLoadAsyncContent();
   page.waitForAsyncContent();

   // Confirm content is loaded
   assertEquals("This content is loaded asynchronously.",page.getAsyncContent());
 }
}

Now the page class, used by the integration test. This interacts with the HTML elements exposed by the driver; the waitForAsyncContent method regularly polls the <div> to check whether its been made visible yet (highlighted)

public class TestPage  {

 private WebDriver driver;

 public TestPage( WebDriver driver ) {
   this.driver = driver;

   // Load our page
   driver.get("http://localhost:8080/test-app/test.htm");
 }

 public void clickLoadAsyncContent() {
   driver.findElement(By.id("loadAsyncContent")).click();
 }

 public void waitForAsyncContent() {
   // Get a RenderedWebElement corresponding to our div
   RenderedWebElement e = (RenderedWebElement) driver.findElement(By.id("asyncContent"));

   // Up to 10 times
   for( int i=0; i<10; i++ ) {
     // Check whether our element is visible yet
     if( e.isDisplayed() ) {
       return;
     }

     try {
       Thread.sleep(1000);
     } catch( InterruptedException ex ) {
       // Try again
     }
   }
 ]

 public String getAsyncContent() {
   return driver.findElement(By.id("asyncContent")).getText();
 }
}

By doing this, we don’t need to code arbitrary delays into our test; we can cope with server calls that potentially take a little while to execute; and can ensure that our test will always pass (at least, tests won’t fail because of timing problems!)

JavascriptExecutor

Another trick is to realise that the WebDriver instances implement JavascriptExecutor. This interface can be used to execute arbitrary Javascript within the context of the browser (a trick selenium finds much easier). This allows us to use the state of javascript variables to control the test. For example – we can have a variable populated once some asynchronous action has completed; this can be the trigger for the test to continue.

First, we add some Javascript to our example page above. Much as before, it simply loads a new page and updates the <div> with this content. This time, rather than show the div, it simply sets a variable – “working” – so the div can be visible already.

 var working = false;

 function updateAsyncContent() {
   working = true;

   var xhrArgs = {
     url: "asyncContentUpdated.htm",
     handleAs: "text",
     load: function(data) {
       // Update our div with our new content
       dojo.byId("asyncContent").innerHTML = data;

       // Set the variable to indicate we're done
       working = false;
     }
   };

   // Call the asynchronous xhrGet
   var deferred = dojo.xhrGet(xhrArgs);
 }

Now the extra test case we add. The key line here is where we wait for the “working” variable to be false (highlighted):

 @Test
 public void testUpdateAsyncContent() {
   // Create the page
   TestPage page = new TestPage( getDriver() );

   // Click the link
   page.clickLoadAsyncContent();
   page.waitForAsyncContent();

   // Now update the content
   page.clickUpdateAsyncContent();
   page.waitForNotWorking();

   // Confirm content is loaded
   assertEquals("This is the updated asynchronously loaded content.",page.getAsyncContent());
 }

Finally our updated page class, the key line here is where we execute some Javascript to determine the value of the working variable (highlighted):

 public void clickUpdateAsyncContent() {
   driver.findElement(By.id("updateAsyncContent")).click();
 }

 public void waitForNotWorking() {
   // Get a JavascriptExecutor
   JavascriptExecutor exec = (JavascriptExecutor) driver;

   // 10 times, or until element is visible
   for( int i=0; i<10; i++ ) {

     if( ! (Boolean) exec.executeScript("return working") ) {
       return;
     }

     try {
       Thread.sleep(1000);
     } catch( InterruptedException ex ) {
       // Try again
     }
   }
 }

Note how WebDriver handles type conversions for us here. In this example the Javascript is relatively trivial, but we could execute any arbitrarily complex Javascript here.

By doing this, we can now flag in Javascript, when some state has been reached that allows the test to progress; we have made our code more testable, and we have eliminated arbitrary delays and our test code runs faster by being able to be more responsive to asynchronous calls completing.

Have you ever had problems testing asynchronous applications? What approaches have you used?

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