Tuesday, December 04, 2007

User interface automated testing

If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll know I’m very keen on unit testing and continuous integration. Up until now we’ve managed to automate the testing of pretty much everything i.e. XSL / components covering many different technologies / web applications both ASP and ASP.NET / and also test and integrate database scripts. One thing I’ve always struggled on though is effective test automation of thick client GUI applications and always managed to push this task aside.

Recently whilst fixing a defect within a server component, I introduced another defect in a thick client user interface application which was using this component. At the time I added a few new unit tests for the component changes and checked all 3544 of our existing unit tests passed. When I got the green light on cruise control I was very happy with my changes and completely oblivious to the fact I’d just broken the GUI application :( When I discovered this a few weeks later I was determined to create a user interface unit test for this application– this was the kick start I needed.

John Robbins is usually more renowned for his excellent debugging articles however here he writes about the new features in NET framework 3.0 which support UI automation. This sounded like an ideal technology to drive the UI and test features. I’d strongly encourage you to read this article and download the sample source code.

In the article Johns written a wrapper over the UIAutomation object model which makes programmatic control of UI elements much simpler than using the UIAutomation API directly. However the wrapper assembly is still incomplete and only covers a few of the common controls. If you use this you will quickly find yourself needing to add new control types however this is relatively simple to do. To select an item in a combo box I created a class called UIComboBox which supports simple methods such as SelectItem. As you can see calling SelectItem sure beats writing this every time you need to select a combo box item in your client code.

public void SelectItem(Int32 comboBoxItemIndex)
AutomationElementCollection comboBoxItems = this.RootElement.FindAll(TreeScope.Descendants,
new PropertyCondition(AutomationElement.IsSelectionItemPatternAvailableProperty, true));
AutomationElement itemToSelect = comboBoxItems[comboBoxItemIndex];
object pattern = null;

if (itemToSelect.TryGetCurrentPattern(SelectionItemPattern.Pattern, out pattern))

One wrapper control I certainly missed was one associated to the NET DataGrid. I was actually automating a NET 1.1 application and although I found this solution , it only works on a NET 2.0 DataGridView. Still if you are using this you can build a very nice API with methods such as SetAt and GetAt to retrieve / set cell content within the grid. The only solution I could find to fill the NET 1.1 grid was to use the SendKeys method to send all the required keystrokes to navigate through the grid.

All of the UIAutomation and the corresponding wrapper methods in the article download use methods which take a UIAutomation identifier. To create tests quickly it’s vital to use a tool such as UISpy to obtain these identifiers. All you need to do is put UISpy in “hovering mode” and then simply hold down the Ctrl key whilst hovering over a window in the application being automated. The window is highlighted in red and UISpy then reports all the details in the right hand pane, most importantly including the AutomationId.

Once you have the automation identifiers it’s very straightforward to write code to access any GUI elements e.g.

UIEditControl invoiceNoTextBox = appWindow.FindDescendant("invoiceNumberTextBox", ControlType.Edit) as UIEditControl;
invoiceNoTextBox.Value = "SLOG_Invoice_1";

It is usually far more effective to use FindDescendant to find controls rather than FindChild given this searches all children recursively and will eventually find the control if it exists :)

When building unit tests you’ll usually find you automate the GUI to a point where you need to test the expected output. This could either be

  1. Verifying GUI control values have been set correctly by asserting the contents of the controls. E.g. you could take the user through a task such as create a new invoice and then assert the contents of a screen which shows the invoice detail ( perhaps a wizard summary screen ).
  2. Verifying a specific action has occurred by invoking business objects and then asserting the values from the business object. E.g. you could automate the GUI task to create a new invoice and then when this is complete verify the invoice exists in the data store and the values e.g. invoice no, match the values you entered in the GUI.

User interface testing is just as important as any other component testing that I do hope more people embrace this and start to automate the testing of a good portion of their user interfaces. As developers we cannot and should not rely on QA to find the defects, at least certainly not the obvious ones. With a few simple unit tests we can make great strides to catch any serious defects before QA and then the customer see the product.


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binoculars night vision said...
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paul c said...

Thanks so much - been toughing it out with the SelectionItemPattern in UIAutomation. This worked a treat. Kudos