Being Reminded of All the Phases I’ve So Far Had in Writing Automated Checks

I’m currently in the midst of a test code overhaul, a re-writing project of sorts. It started about a week ago and so far I’ve made considerable progress on what I’ve wanted to achieve with the rewrite, which is basically cleaner and more maintainable code, mostly in the sense of test data management and test description language. The number of tests running everyday in our Jenkins system has grown noticeably and I’ve felt that it’s been difficult to add certain tests because of how I structured the test data in the past, which I have not upgraded since then. The two possible avenues for running tests – on the UI and HTTP layers – also adds a bit of complexity and it’d be nice if I can integrate the two smoothly. It’s an interesting development because I did not plan on any re-writing to be done anytime soon but I guess at the back of my mind I knew it’ll happen eventually. And so I decided to take a step back from writing more tests and do some cleanup before it gets tougher to change things. I plan to finish everything in about a month or so.

At the moment, I’m reminded of the phases I’ve gone through in learning to code and writing automated checks in the past few years:

  • Early 2014. It all begins with Selenium IDE, with giving the self some time to study the basic Selenese commands for writing automated checks and (more importantly) understand how to properly retrieve the page elements you want to manipulate.
  • Mid 2014. Test management in Selenium IDE becomes difficult as the number of tests grow, hence the decision to switch to Selenium WebDriver. The only programming language background I had back then was C++, which was limited to only functions and logical/conditional operators, so I chose Java to work with to lessen the learning curve.
  • Late 2014. Familiarized myself with Git, which hooked me on making daily commits and appreciating version control. Along the way I learned the concepts of classes and objects.
  • All of 2015 up to Early 2016. I was in a trance, writing code daily and pushing myself to create all the automated checks that I wanted to run for our apps before every release. Tests run on the Eclipse IDE using TestNG and I was happy with what I had, except that those end-to-end tests are really slow. Running everything took overnight to finish, which was okay for my employer but annoying for me personally.
  • Mid 2016. Re-writing existing tests in Ruby with Cucumber integration started off (when I found Jeff Morgan’s “Cucumber & Cheese” book online) as a side project for fun and testing my skill level in programming. And I did have buckets of fun! The experiment told me that there’s still a lot I need to practice on if I want to write better code, and it also told me that I can be more productive if I switch programming languages. There’s a bit less code to type in when writing code in Ruby than Java and I liked that, plus all the interesting libraries I can use. I switched to Sublime Text and used both Jenkins and the command-line interface more extensively too.
  • Late 2016. As I was looking for ways to speed up end-to-end tests total execution, which by then takes about 4 hours to complete, I ended up exploring testing apps in the HTTP layer instead of in the UI. That took a lot of studying of how our apps actually behave under the hood, what data are being passed around, how images are actually sent, how to view pages without a browser, how redirections work, among other things. After years of testing apps via the user interface, this was such a refreshing and valuable period, and I completely wondered why I never knew such a thing existed until then. It wasn’t being taught extensively to testers, perhaps because it all depends on how the app was structured to run through an API.

And these phases brings me to now, where there’s a healthy dose of API and UI layer tests all checking major app features. It’s all good, just several pieces needing a cleanup, a little parallelization, better test description language, and great documentation. It’s all good, because the lessons in both programming and testing keep piling. The two practices differ in mindset but I think they complement each other, and I think that there’s no reason anyone can’t do both.

An Experience Writing and Running Test Code on Cloud9’s Online IDE

What if for some reason we can’t completely run our test code on a local machine?

In the past few months, I’ve had encounters with JSON gem installation problems in some of my colleague’s Windows 10 PCs where there was one I couldn’t resolve. Hence, the question above. I have never had issues with setting up our test code on machines starting from scratch, but apparently they can get broken sometimes. Installations on Windows especially have a tendency to be tricky, where some setting in one application or firewall or registry prevents another software from functioning well.

So, what to do if we can’t completely install required dependencies for our test code on a particular computer, even after days of re-installing and testing possible solutions found online? We could re-install the operating itself, sounds logical, starting completely from scratch, but that takes away all the applications we’ve installed and use. Setting all of those back up will take some time, but maybe good for the long run. Another option is to use a virtual machine and set up our working test code over there. But VMs can hog up memory easily, which a laptop with only 4GB of RAM does not handle very well. What about online IDEs? I knew they exist, but I’ve never had a good reason to try them before until now.

Cloud9 is at the top of my search results for an online IDE, and here’s what running test code on their platform looks like:

Here’s what it looks like running HTTP layer checks on Cloud9 IDE

Easy peasy. I created a Cloud9 account, then created a workspace next, bound that’s account’s SSH key to our remote test code repository, retrieved the test code, installed dependencies via bundler, and tests are running smoothly on the IDE’s terminal / command line. Feels pleasant enough, I can see myself using this if I have to go on remote somewhere for a quick code change and I don’t have a work laptop with me. The IDE feels similar to Sublime Text, after changing to a dark theme, and looks adequate.

Some caveats/notes:

  • a credit card is required for a Cloud9 account (no charges until you upgrade to a premium plan)
  • we cannot run browser tests on the workspace since there are no browsers installed on them, and we can’t run them even if we install them via the terminal
  • we can probably run browser tests on another computer on the cloud if we have access to it and connect to it programmatically via code

In conclusion, online IDEs are not exactly a total replacement for actual machines where we often have all our desired tools. But they’re good enough for automating checks through the HTTP layer, very easy to set up and start with. I actually use Cloud9 for learning how to build Ruby-on-Rails web apps now, and I did not have to worry about installing anything to run my test project. 🙂

Automating the Windows Desktop Calculator’s UI using Winium

Ever since I learned how to use Selenium to automate browsers and web applications a few years back, I’ve wondered from time to time whether I can use the same process or technology to automate Windows desktop applications via its user interface. There’s no particular use case at work considering our apps are all in the web, but I challenged myself to find an answer only for curiosity’s sake. It didn’t turn out to be a thought-provoking experiment but at least it was somehow amusing.

Here’s what I got from the quick study:

Click the image to view the GIF full-size on another browser tab 🙂

And a few notes:

  • We can’t use Selenium to automate Windows desktop applications.
  • A quick search about automating Windows apps tells us that there’s actually a number of tools we can use for such purpose, some paid, others free. Other than Winium, I found out that we can also use Sikuli (or its successor SikuliX), WinTask, autoIT, TestStack.White, Automa, MacroSchedulerCobra, or Pywinauto. There’s probably more tools out there. I just chose to use Winium because writing tests and automating the app with it is similar to how Selenium works, which means very little learning curve for me.
  • Source code for this short experiment can be found here: Win-Calculator. It uses Maven for handling installation of project dependencies while the test code is written in Java. The tests run locally, I’m not sure whether there’s a way to manipulate a Windows app on another machine using Winium. I have not researched that far.
  • Winium will actually take control of the machine’s mouse to move to the element locations set in the tests. This means that interrupting the position of the mouse while the tests are running would likely fail the test. This is annoying, and I’m not sure whether the other Windows app automation tools behave otherwise or the same.

Uploading Images in Watir 6.0.2

Even when most of the automated checks in our test server are running via the HTTP layer instead of using the browser, I have kept the automated UI versions of those tests for review purposes. They’re not very practical for continuous integration but still fun to watch sometimes, at least for me. It is also good practice to fix them when they break, to see whether I’m still updated with how Selenium or Watir runs.

And recently I found out that I’m unable to upload images in Watir 6.0.2 using the usual way, giving me an error:

element located, but timed out after 30 seconds, waiting for true condition on <element location> (Watir::Exception::UnknownObjectException)

The test code in question was this, written using the page-object gem = IMAGE_FILEPATH

where photo is just a given name for a file field in the page where an image is to be uploaded. In basic Watir, this can also be written as

@browser.file_field(:id, "LOCATOR_PATH").set(IMAGE_FILEPATH)

Both test code are timing out, and the test failing because of the exception error. When manually checked, there are no issues in uploading images whatsoever.

Apparently, this an open issue in Watir and the workaround at the moment is to properly set the values of Watir’s relaxed_locate before and after the actual image upload code, like so

Watir.relaxed_locate = false = IMAGE_FILEPATH
Watir.relaxed_locate = true


Watir.relaxed_locate = false
@browser.file_field(:id, "LOCATOR_PATH").set(IMAGE_FILEPATH)
Watir.relaxed_locate = true

And that makes the image upload work again. Both work for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. 🙂

An Experiment on Executable Specifications

What: Create executable specifications for an ongoing project sprint. Executable specifications are written examples of a business need that can be run anytime and acts as a source of truth for how applications behave. It is a living documentation of what our software does, and it helps us focus more on solving the unusual and noteworthy problems instead of wasting time with the ones that we know we shouldn’t have been worrying about.


  1. Join a software development team for one sprint duration.
  2. Discuss project tasks for that sprint with everyone.
  3. Ask about requirements examples and create executable specifications for those tasks as the application is being written.
  4. Refine the specifications when necessary.
  5. Continuously update the specifications until they pass.
  6. Keep the specifications running on a preferred schedule.

Why: To see if writing executable specifications alongside development is feasible during the duration of a sprint.

Limitations: Tester writes the executable specifications, programmers work as is.

Experiment Realizations:

  • Writing executable specifications can be done during actual app development, provided that tester is experienced with the tools for implementing it and understands well why the need for such specifications.
  • It is of course more beneficial if everyone in the team learn how executable specifications work and write/run the specifications, and why the need to implement it.
  • It will take quite a long while before executable specifications becomes a norm in the existing software development process, if ever. This is a function of whether everyone believes that such specifications are actually useful in practice, and then building the skills and habit of including these specifications in the team’s definition of done.

An Encounter with the ‘cucumber.yml was found, but could not be parsed’ Error

One day last week I merged a colleague’s new feature tests to the existing test repository. Routinely after that, I logged in to our dedicated test server, updated the existing running test suite by retrieving the latest merged code, and ran a ‘bundle update’ because the updated code required the latest versions of the dependencies. The updates finished without hitches as expected after a minute or so. Task’s done, I just need to run a sample test to be certain everything’s well and good.

An error blows up in my face:

cucumber.yml was found, but cannot be parsed. Please refer to cucumber’s documentation on correct profile usage.

Before all these, I had run a simulation of the gem updates on my local machine including running all tests to make sure there were no surprises when updating the test server. But I was still caught off-guard. I didn’t see that coming.

What? That’s always the first question. I squinted at the screen and looked at the error message again; it says something about the cucumber.yml file unable to be read by the machine, like it was corrupted. I opened the file to check (which contains various cucumber profile configuration set up for running tests on different test environments), was able to view its contents in the text editor, inspected it for unfamiliar code and found nothing. It looks okay, but the machine says otherwise. Why?

I tried an initial Google search for the error message and saw a fix that was written five years ago, saying that the error occurs because of a particular ‘rerun.txt’ file. The post tells me that the problem will go away if I delete that file.

Except that I don’t have that file in my code repository. What now?

Maybe there’s really something going on with the test code. Let’s see what happens if I delete a particular profile in the cucumber.yml file. Done. No changes in behavior, error still exist. What if I delete everything? Done. Error didn’t go away. Hmm.. that’s odd. It seems that the file contents are not the problem, is valid YAML code too according to online checkers, and the file is not damaged in any way I can see.

I went to back to looking at the search results for possible solutions People keep telling me its about the rerun.txt file. Others say I need to edit a cucumber library file in order to see what test code specifically causes the error for cucumber’s runner. No more other clues. Now this is difficult.

I kept researching for plausible fixes online for a few hours, I thought that there may still be something that can help me but I missed. No such luck. Okay, let’s try editing that library file and see what happens. It was a first time viewing library code, because I didn’t have any reason to do it before, and told myself that maybe I should actually check it out more often.

I found the command-line interface profile_loader file and the particular code which loads the cucumber.yml  file in question:

Found you, cucumber's profile loader!

Found you, cucumber’s profile loader!

Commented out some few lines of code as suggested:

Now let's see what your problem really is

Now let’s see what your problem really is

Then ran the sample cucumber test again:

A problem with the Psych module! What's that? :O

A problem with the Psych module! What’s that? :O

Okay. It says that a missing private method named ‘load’ is being called for a particular Psych module. No wonder cucumber is failing. Bummer, I don’t have a single idea about a Psych module that cucumber runs. All I can do is another Google search for the new error message and maybe find a workaround.

I am reminded that problems in building systems for automated test suites are not limited to writing test code and the application under test. Just like any other software, they can sometimes break in areas we do not know anything.

Eventually I found this enlightening post on a Github repository:

Interestingly, a very short solution. It was a rubygems bug after all, and what I needed to do was to run a ‘gem update –system’ command to get our cucumber tests back up and running.


The Lessons I Learned This Year About Software Testing

Last year I told myself I would take a step back from automation because I’ve already built tests with a working knowledge of Java and TestNG. Apparently, with the way things went this year, I was not satisfied after all with what I had. I went on to study Ruby with Watir and Cucumber for about half of 2016, and I learned how to run web applications without using browsers after that. And for a second year in a row I feel I overdid studying again, and maybe I’m getting too comfortable about writing test code. In any case, programming has become such a useful tool in my workflow – performing checks automatically that otherwise would have eaten up a chunk of my time and enabling me to test other things.

Some other realizations during the year:

  • Re-writing test code using Ruby with Watir and Cucumber and other useful ruby gems pointed out how messy the checks I wrote last year using Java was. It helps that the Ruby language has less boilerplate syntax but my earlier mistakes are more about refactoring and design rather than about the programming language itself. I still need more deliberate practice at that.
  • I’ve found out that I actually do security testing in my normal day-to-day exploratory work, but I’m not especially great at it because nobody has taught me how to perform good web security testing before. It seems that getting comfortable reading and manipulating API calls is a step towards becoming better at it.
  • Teams who develop software with agility does not necessarily mean they implement scrum or kanban. If there’s good communication and teamwork, teams can actually forego many of the rituals and focus on the actual work.
  • Writing automated checks with healthy test description language is an important skill.
  • People only learn to solve problems when they feel that those problems are worth solving. And problems that are worth solving for me does not mean they’re worth solving for other people too, so I should never stop using perspectives.
  • We can leverage REST calls with web automation to make them run a lot faster and more stable.
  • Exploratory testing is a prerequisite to automation.
  • Building a great team is difficult. There are a lot of factors to consider – team composition, empathy, attitude, member skill set, strengths and weaknesses, to name a few. It takes some time too.