Thursday, November 17, 2011

RPF: Google's Record Playback Framework

By Jason Arbon

At GTAC, folks asked how well the Record/Playback (RPF) works in the Browser Integrated Test Environment (BITE). We were originally skeptical ourselves, but figured somebody should try. Here is some anecdotal data and some background on how we started measuring the quality of RPF.
The idea is to just let users use the application in the browser, record their actions, and save them as a javascript to play back as a regression test or repro later. Like most test tools, especially code generating ones, it works most of the time but its not perfect. Po Hu had an early version working, and decided to test this out on a real world product. Po, the developer of RPF, worked with the chrome web store team to see how an early version would work for them. Why chrome web store? It is a website with lots of data-driven UX, authentication, file upload, and it was changing all the time and breaking existing Selenium scripts: a pretty hard web testing problem, only targeted the chrome browser, and most importantly they were sitting 20 feet from us.

Before sharing with the chrome web store test developer Wensi Liu, we invested a bit of time in doing something we thought was clever: fuzzy matching and inline updating of the test scripts. Selenium rocks, but after an initial regression suite is created, many teams end up spending a lot of time simply maintaining their Selenium tests as the products constantly change. Rather than simply fail like the existing Selenium automation would do when a certain element isn’t found, and require some manual DOM inspection, updating the Java code and re-deploying, re-running, re-reviewing the test code what if the test script just kept running and updates to the code could be as simple as point and click? We would keep track of all the attributes in the element recorded, and when executing we would calculate the percent match between the recorded attributes and values and those found while running. If the match isn’t exact, but within tolerances (say only its parent node or class attribute had changed), we would log a warning and keep executing the test case. If the next test steps appeared to be working as well, the tests would keep executing during test passes only log warnings, or if in debug mode, they would pause and allow for a quick update of the matching rule with point and click via the BITE UI. We figured this might reduce the number of false-positive test failures and make updating them much quicker.

We were wrong, but in a good way!

We talked to the tester after a few days of leaving him alone with RPF. He’d already re-created most of his Selenium suite of tests in RPF, and the tests were already breaking because of product changes (its a tough life for a tester at google to keep up with the developers rate of change). He seemed happy, so we asked him how this new fuzzy matching fanciness was working, or not. Wensi was like “oh yeah, that? Don’t know. Didn’t really use it...”. We started to think how our update UX could have been confusing or not discoverable, or broken. Instead, Wensi said that when a test broke, it was just far easier to re-record the script. He had to re-test the product anyway, so why not turn recording on when he manually verified things were still working, remove the old test and save this newly recorded script for replay later?

During that first week of trying out RPF, Wensi found:
  • 77% of the features in Webstore were testable by RPF
  • Generating regression test scripts via this early version of RPF was about 8X faster than building them via Selenium/WebDriver
  • The RPF scripts caught 6 functional regressions and many more intermittent server failures.
  • Common setup routines like login should be saved as modules for reuse (a crude version of this was working soon after)
  • RPF worked on Chrome OS, where Selenium by definition could never run as it required client-side binaries. RPF worked because it was a pure cloud solution, running entirely within the browser, communicating with a backend on the web.
  • Bugs filed via bite, provided a simple link, which would install BITE on the developers machine and re-execute the repros on their side. No need for manually crafted repro steps. This was cool.
  • Wensi wished RPF was cross browser. It only worked in Chrome, but people did occasionally visit the site with a non-Chrome browser.
So, we knew we were onto something interesting and continued development. In the near term though, chrome web store testing went back to using Selenium because that final 23% of features required some local Java code to handle file upload and secure checkout scenarios. In hindsight, a little testability work on the server could have solved this with some AJAX calls from the client.

We performed a check of how RPF faired on some of the top sites of the web. This is shared on the BITE project wiki. This is now a little bit out of date, with lots more fixes, but it gives you a feel for what doesn’t work. Consider it Alpha quality at this point. It works for most scenarios, but there are still some serious corner cases.

Joe Muharsky drove a lot of the UX (user experience) design for BITE to turn our original and clunky developer and functional-centric UX into something intuitive. Joe’s key focus was to keep the UX out of the way until it is needed, and make things as self-discoverable and findable as possible. We’ve haven't done formal usability studies yet, but have done several experiments with external crowd testers using these tools, with minimal instructions, as well as internal dogfooders filing bugs against Google Maps with little confusion. Some of the fancier parts of RPF have some hidden easter eggs of awkwardness, but the basic record and playback scenarios seem to be obvious to folks.

RPF has graduated from the experimental centralized test team to be a formal part of the Chrome team, and used regularly for regression test passes. The team also has an eye on enabling non-coding crowd sourced testers generate regression scripts via BITE/RPF.

Please join us in maintaining BITE/RPF, and be nice to Po Hu and Joel Hynoski who are driving this work forward within Google.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

GTAC Videos Now Available

By James Whittaker

All the GTAC 2011 talks are now available at and also up on You Tube. A hearty thanks to all the speakers who helped make this the best GTAC ever.