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Automating Regression Testing

In my last blog post I described how we have got rid of step by step test cases but didn’t have any automated regression tests. Since then we have embarked on a test automation journey and we are building up a suite of automated regression tests.

In some of my older posts on unit and integration testing I talked about “valuable” automated tests. In summary, a valuable automated test is one which:
  1. Has a high chance of catching a regression error
  2. Has a low chance of producing a false positive
  3. Provides fast feedback
  4. Has low maintenance cost
The more code that is covered, the more chance there is of catching a regression error. End to End (E2E) tests are good for this but feedback is often too slow. So how do we make E2E automated tests more valuable? They already have a high chance of catching a regression error and a low chance of producing a false positive but they tend to be slow and have a high maintenance cost. How can we improve those two aspects? A good way to do this is NOT to automate through the UI. Instead use a “headless client” and interact directly with the underlying View Model. This reduces the time it takes to run the tests and reduces the maintenance burden because we don’t have to cater for UI changes.

Now of course they will never be as quick as unit tests and you still need those. See my post How to Write Valuable Unit Tests. In this post, I’ll focus on how we have started automating our end to end regression tests.
Our Journey
So how did we go about automating our regression tests? Four months ago a developer, who had experience writing automated testing frameworks, joined the company. He has built a test harness that we now use to write automated integration and end to end tests.

Our System Under Test (SUT) comprises a Field client (a Windows, Android or iOS app) that connects to the Mobility Server via a Gateway. In a full end to end system the Mobility server connects to our customer’s control room product. We had already developed an emulator of the customer’s backend called the Test Proxy Client. This allows us to manually send the customer’s SOAP messages to the Mobility Server which manipulates them and then sends them onto the Field Client. We now utilise this to drive many of the automated regression tests.

These concepts can be visualised in the diagram below:

The Test Harness is written in C# using Nunit in Visual Studio. The Test Harness instantiates a headless field client i.e. a field client without the UI layer, and talks directly to the View Model of the field client. It then uses the Test Proxy Client to send SOAP messages to the Mobility Server which sends them onto the headless Field Client. The automated test cases then assert against the View Model of the headless field client. The test harness can also drive the headless field client directly and asserts against what the field client returns. The test cases also assert against the mobility server output. The automated test cases are data driven and this is stored in a file system as xml and text files.

Every night we deploy the latest Mobility Server and Field Client (from the latest build) onto the test automation environment. We start up headless field clients and run the suite of tests. Each test sets up its data, triggers the test, and asserts on the results. At the moment the results of the automated test suite are available in Jenkins but we are planning to create a more user friendly view with a general purpose tool such as Power BI (which is a Microsoft product that allows you to view analytics).
Now that we have a test harness setup with a suite of automated tests, it is much easier for all the developers to add new tests as they develop new features. We are also slowly automating our set of end to end regression tests where is makes sense.
Lessons Learned

What do you need to succeed with test automation:

Firstly, management buy-in and support is essential. We didn’t get anywhere with test automation until management made it a priority.

Secondly, you need a strong developer who will be dedicated to creating an automated test framework. This person could come from your existing dev team or bring in someone who specialises in this. Once the test framework is setup then all the developers should add new tests to it as they develop new features.

Finally, make sure that the automation tests that you do write use headless clients i.e. do not run through the UI.

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