Five automated acceptance test anti-patterns

Whilst being involved with lots of people writing automated acceptance tests using tools like SpecFlow and WebDriver I’ve seen some ‘anti-patterns’ emerge that can make these tests non-deterministic (flaky), very fragile to change and less efficient to run.

Here’s five ‘anti-patterns’ I’ve seen and what you can do instead.

Anti-pattern One: Not using page-objects

Page objects are just a design pattern to ensure automated UI tests use reusable, modular code. Not using them, eg, writing WebDriver code directly in step definitions, means any changes to your UI will require updates in lots of different places instead of the one ‘page’ class.

Bad

[When(@"I buy some '(.*)' tea")]
public void WhenIBuySomeTea(string typeOfTea)
{
Driver.FindElement(By.Id("tea-"+typeOfTea)).Click();
Driver.FindElement(By.Id("buy")).Click();
}

Better

[When(@"I buy some '(.*)' tea")]
public void WhenIBuySomeTea(string typeOfTea)
{
     MenuPage.BuyTea(typeOfTea);
}

Complicated set up scenarios within the tests themselves

Whilst there’s a place for automated end-to-end scenarios (I call these user journies), I prefer most acceptance tests to jump straight to the point.

Bad

Scenario: Accept Visa and Mastercard for Australia
 Given I am on the home page for Australia
 And I choose the tea menu
 And I select some 'green tea'
 And I add the tea to my basket
 And I choose to checkout
 Then I should see 'visa' is accepted
 And I should see 'mastercard' is accepted

Better

This usually requires adding some special functionality to your app, but the ability for testing to ‘jump’ to certain pages with data automatically set up makes automated tests much easier to read and maintain.

Scenario: Accept Visa and Mastercard for Australia
 Given I am the checkout page for Australia
 Then I should see 'visa' is accepted
 And I should see 'mastercard' is accepted

Using complicated x-path or CSS selectors

Using element identification selectors that have long chains from the DOM in them leads to fragile tests, as any change to that chain in the DOM will break your tests.

Bad

private static readonly By TeaTypeSelector =
            By.CssSelector(
                "#input-tea-type > div > div.TeaSearchRow > div.TeaSearchCell.no > div:nth-child(2) > label");

Better

Identify by ‘id’ (unique) or ‘class’. If there’s multiple elements in a group, create a parent container and iterate through them.

private static readonly By TeaTypeSelector = By.Id("teaType");

Directly executing JavaScript

Since WebDriver can directly execute any arbitrary JavaScript, it can be tempting to bypass DOM manipulation and just run the JavaScript.

Bad

public void RemoveTea(string teaType)
{
  (driver as IJavaScriptExecutor).ExecuteScript(string.Format("viewModel.tea.types.removeTeaType(\"{0}\");", teaType));
  }

Better

It is much better to let the WebDriver control the browser elements which should fire the correct JavaScript events and call the JavaScript, as that way you avoid having your ‘test’ JavaScript in sync to your ‘real’ JavaScript.

public void RemoveTea(string teaType)
{
  driver.FindElement(By.Id("remove-"+teaType)).Click();
}

Embedding implementation detail in your features/scenarios

Acceptance test scenarios are meant to convey intention over implementation. If you start seeing things like URLs in your test scenarios you’re focusing on implementation.

Bad


 Scenario: Social media links displayed on checkout page
   Given I am the checkout page for Australia
   Then I should see a link to 'http://twitter.com/beautifultea'
   And I should see a link to 'https://facebook.com/beautifultea'
 

Better

Hide implementation detail in the steps (or pages, or config) and make your scenarios about the test intention.


 Scenario: Social media links displayed on checkout page
   Given I am the checkout page for Australia
   Then I should see a link to the Beautiful Tea Twitter account
   And I should see a link to the Beautiful Tea Facebook page
 

I hope you’ve enjoyed these anti-patterns. Leave a comment below if you have any of your own.

Author: Alister Scott

Alister is an Excellence Wrangler for Automattic.

1 thought on “Five automated acceptance test anti-patterns”

  1. I feel very chuffed this morning, I have beaten out all of the anti patterns you mention here over the last 12 months from my test suites. Great post.

    I would add another, directly connecting and querying the db from the test suite, I always rec building a api layer to query this, otherwise you end up having qa`s who dont know the db structure having to amend sql in test scripts whenever changes are made. very time consuming in my experience.

    Like

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