Thursday, September 07, 2006

Google Automated Testing Conference (London) - Day 1

Google Automated Testing Conference (London) - Day 1

(Get ready, it's a long one)

So, finally the Google testing conference has come around, and it's pretty good at making a man feel like a small fish in a big pond. It's pretty clear that the place is populated by developers who are all working in some form of test driven way. A large number contribute to open source software, and many of those are working on test frameworks... 3 of the 4 main contributors to jMock are in attendance. I don't mind admitting that I feel like a bit of an interloper.

But before I start, I've got to point out that (of course) all the words here are my own interpretations of the presenters words... and I could very easily have got it all very very wrong. But then that would be their fault for presenting badly ;)

Also, Google assured us that the talks will be available on Google video, and that many supporting links will be sent out to attendees. Once I get those things I'll update this entry to keep you updated.

Anyway, the first day didn't disappoint:

Distributed Testing with SmartFrog: (Google video)

Steve Lougran and Julio Guijarro talked about their HP Labs research project on testing distributed systems: SmartFrog. They've got a good looking framework together that allows you to define a system deployment as a class hierarchy and then describe their relationships. That means that you can use it to state when and where components need to be deployed, services need to start and so on. A nice tool for rolling out complex distributed systems.

But their interesting points came when they talked about using it for testing. By wrapping a few testing frameworks (JUnit for one) and then describing the test suites as components to install, they're producing a framework that allows you to test each component of the system in a place similar to where it would run when in production. Not only that, but it allows you to install emulated components such as switches, routers and flaky proxy servers allowing you to test on complex and failure prone infrastructure. Not bad.

Their main problems at the moment seem to come from trying to then collect all the test results, logs and suchlike and compiling that into a reasonable test result summary. It's fine when things pass, but as soon as you get a lot of failures it starts to stutter. But that problem's surely surmountable (if dull to solve ;) ). A few people out there must be looking at the same thing under a different guise.

One great thing to come out of it was the call to arms to those producing test frameworks... Where is the common reporting standard? A guy working on SimpleTest (sorry, didn't catch his name) seemed to be up for it...

Main message: Test using real deployments, not just idealised or local versions.

Literate Functional Testing: (Google video)

Robert Chatley and Tom White of Kizoom talked about their functional testing framework that extends the Knuth idea of 'Literate Programming'. It's most succinctly described in Knuth's own words: "Let us change our traditional attitude to the construction of programs. Instead of imagining that our main task is to instruct a computer what to do, let us concentrate rather on explaining to human beings what we want a computer to do."

The aim is to end up with a language that can be used by both developers and customers; that the resulting test code can be read by non developers and therefore can by used by the customer to validate the developers' interpretation of the system requirements.

They have produced a language that takes few jMock ideas (like constraints) and uses them to produce truly elegant code.

So, the test cases become along the lines of

assertThat( currentPage, has( 3, selectBoxes.named('Region', 'Time', 'Method' ) ) );

The idea is lofty, looks pretty damn good and definitely reverberates with my own ideas on producing story tests. They drive through the user interface and are easy to read. Implementing the same tests in a more traditional Java approach leads to a very difficult to read lump of code.

It's a shame they haven't taken it a little further so that the code is a fully readable English script rather than a halfway house between English and Java, but I love it none the less.

Oh, and like any good tool should, it's going open source...

Main message: It's possible to write functional tests that can be read by your customer, it just takes a different approach to the rest of your code.

Testing using Real Objects: (Google video)

Massimo and Massimo (Arnoldi and Milan) talked about their approach to generating test data for their (sounds) highly successful company Lifeware. By no means particular to their market (life insurance), they find that bugs don't occur in their system with short lived data. Rather it's the contracts that have lived in the system for years, and have a huge amount of complex events in their lifetime are always the ones that fail. Those contracts are basically atypical of the ones that are usually used for testing.

They found that there was always a great deal of difficulty in producing test cases for these large data sets and so have produced a method of exporting data from live systems an importing it into the test suite.

They admitted that it was born of a data migration tool, and you can see how. Having identified an object that needs to be extracted they generate a set of events that will re-create it. Those events are simply any data changes that you would need to create the primary and related objects in the state that they exist now. If a contract has a number of payments against it, then you'll see a number of distinct payment events in the list.
This list of events is then translated into a series of method calls that can be used to recreate the object in another environment. Having created the data set it's merely a case of describing whatever assertions you need in your test.

It sounds like there's some clever Smalltalk code in the background going on, and much of the talk was on that, but it's the idea that's the important component.

As a means of extracting or generating test data it sounds great. The events list is a neat solution. However, as a means of describing a data migration it sounds phenomenal! And that's where I really see the benefits. Being of a DB background that's no real surprise ;-)

If you can always generate data in your system from a set of precise events then when you need to migrate data from an external system you don't need to create a data-mapping, you need to create an event mapping. Customers are notoriously bad at data mapping because the data often not in a form they recognise. But these events sound to me like a domain language just waiting to jump out.

Main message: Test using real data (objects), not just idealised versions.

Doubling the value of Automated tests: (Google video)

Next up was Rick Mugridge, the man behind FitLibrary (an extension to Fit a means of specifying and running tests), and co-author of 'Fit for Developing Software'. He's a big believer in story tests and much of his work seems to be around getting the process of producing them as slick as possible.

His big idea is 'Story-test Driven Development' (SDD). That is, taking the idea of Test Driven Development (TDD) a step further and getting system requirements specified in tests as early as possible in the process. The 'story' to which the TLA relates is the Extreme Programming idea of a story. A single action that a user wishes to perform with a system.

He proposed that writing story tests in a language that describes user interface interaction is like programming in assembler. It has its uses, but is far too low a level for many purposes; that using a low level language can hide the underlying purpose of the test, being to test the business rules of the application with respect to the story.

In producing a story test you should be talking in the domain language not a UI language. By doing so the business rules become apparent and the vocabulary becomes clear enough to be used by business analysts, product managers, the customers. He advocates the use of story tests as a means of the customers defining the requirements of the system. That these can then be further refined by the developers and the test teams, but that the customers ultimately own them.

Also, if the purpose of the story test is to convey information between disparate parties (in both geography and time), then concise, concrete examples are the way forward.

I whole heartedly agree with the basic premise that there is a different approach to testing that can be forgotten about, namely testing the integration of objects in the domain language. I'm just not sure it replaces the UI testing. I'm not 100%, but I don't think that Rick was suggesting this.

Also, I'm really not sure about the Fit method of showing tests in tables (example here). I like the idea of a non text based representation, but I'm just not sure the tables really work for anything other than trivial examples. Still, I was very impressed with his notion that tests could be described in diagrams.

Main message: Test in the domain language, not in a UI language. If you do that you can always generate a UI test, and your tests will express the essential business rules rather than workflow.

Auto-test, Push button testing using contracts: (Google video)

Next it was Andreas Leitner's turn, A PHD student working with ETH Zurich.

In typical PHD style, his talk centred around Design by Contract. For those that aren't familiar with the concept he described the ideas of the pre and post conditions and invariants that are apparent in such languages (Eiffel being his language of choice). The idea is that for a given method there will be defined:
Pre-conditions - The conditions that must be true before that method is called.
Post-conditions – The conditions that the method guarantee will be true once the method is complete.
Invariants – The conditions that can never be broken.

The framework Andreas has put together can be used to test Eiffel classes to ensure that the post and invariant conditions are never broken. The innovative approach that this framework takes is that it does not require the developer to produce any test code. Instead test code is generated based on a 'strategy', for which there are already a number created.

The most basic of those strategies is the purely random: Create a bunch of objects, call methods on them with parameters that pass the pre-conditions, make sure the post conditions are true. He also offers what he calls an 'Adaptive Random' strategy, where each object tested is aimed to be as different in structure from the last as possible, and AI based strategies influenced by the well understood maze solving technique of World /State / Goal definition.

These tests are then intended to run for a large amount of time, unlike the traditional unit test idea of 'run as fast as you can through the interesting cases'. This then becomes a brute force attack on the objects, attempting to break them pretty much by chance.
On finding a failure case, the framework will then try to extract the essential nature of the test and provide you with a script that can be added as a standard unit test to your suite. The obvious (but clever) way of checking the generated test script is valid... it runs the script again and checks it fails.

The big win is the fact that this can be used to test third party libraries without having to define the tests yourself. OK, so the intent of each method isn't really tested, merely the accuracy of the post-conditions and invariants, but that's definitely better than just taking everything on trust.

He also asserted that you don't need explicit pre and post conditions in your language in order to use this technique. Java has extensions that provide the capability, and SPEC# does something similar in the C# world. Also, it was pointed out that there are other tools doing similar things, Agitar being one that takes Java classes and trying to work out how to break them.

Main message: It's possible to produce auto generated test cases for classes as long as you have (or can infer) design by contract components and enough time.

Does my button look big in this? Building Testable AJAX Applications: (Google video)

Finally some Google guys got in on the act and Adam Connors and Joe Walnes gave us a presentation on how to test AJAX apps.

In reality this was a pretty generic talk illustrating the fact the any type of application in any language can be decomposed into testable components. It quite rightly put forward the idea that the industry (or more accurately, the people in it) is still naive when it comes to writing Javascript. Good practice goes out the window as soon as the manipulation of a Document Object Model and an XMLHTTPRequest object comes into play.

But, as they demonstrated, it's not that hard to design Javascript code in a way that can be tested, it just takes a little bit of thought and a lot of discipline.

Still, they did suffer the wrath of the audience when they suggested that the DOM interaction and the View code doesn't need to be unit tested. They proposed that it's OK not to unit test some components just as long as those components are as simple as possible in what they do. Contentious, but it does have merit. I tried to suggest that the story tests can take care of that, but Joe didn't seem to want to bite!

Main message: AJAX apps are like any other type of app. There are easy to test bits, hard to test bits and seemingly impossible to test bits. Separate the bits and you make your life easier. The fact that it's Javascript is no excuse for bad design.

And that was day one. I could have gone to the pub, but in the end it was far too exhausting for me and I took my free t-shirt, fancy LED laden pen and Google notepad and skulked off home to prepare for tomorrow (and write this entry, of course).

If tomorrow's as good as today, I'll be exhausted, happy and a lot richer for the experience!

Update: As per the multiple requests by Google, this post is tagged: Google LATC


At 13 September 2006 at 20:16, Anonymous Alessandro Gentilini said...

Ok, you missed the pub but you give us a great summary!

Thank you very much,
Alessandro Gentilini

At 13 September 2006 at 22:34, Blogger Rob Baillie said...

Cheers Alessandro, it's good to know it's appreciated!

Still, I'm not sure it'll make up for missing free food, free beer and good chatter ;)


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