Software QA FYI - SQAFYI

How to Automate Testing of Graphical User Interfaces

By: Tilo Linz, Matthias Daigl


This lecture discusses strengths and weaknesses of commercially available Capture-and-Replay GUI testing tools (CR-Tools) and presents a pragmatic and economic approach for testing Graphical User Interfaces using such tools. The results presented were developed within the ESSI Process Improvement Experiment (PIE) 24306 [EU1], [EU2] in 1997/98 at imbus GmbH, Germany [im1].

Today's software systems usually feature Graphical User Interfaces (GUI's). Because of the varied possibilities for user interaction and the number of control elements (buttons, pull-down menus, toolbars, etc.) available with GUI's, their testing is extremely time-consuming and costly. Manual testing of GUI's is labor-intensive, frequently monotonous, and not well liked by software engineers or software testers. A promising remedy is offered by automation , and several tools for computer-based testing of GUI's are already commercially available.

Capture-and-Replay Tools

All CR-Tools currently commercially available [im2] are similar in function and operation:

Capture mode: During a test session, the Capture-and-Replay Tool (CR-Tool) captures all manual user-interactions on the test object. All CR-Tools are object-oriented, i.e. they recognize each selected GUI element which is selected (such as button, radio-box, toolbar, etc.) and capture all object characteristics (name, color, label, value), and not just the X/Y-coordinates of the mouse-click.

Programming: The captured test steps are stored by the CR-tool in a test script equivalent to C or Basic. With all the functions of a programming language in the test script (case differentiation, loops, subroutines), even complex test processes can be implemented.

Checkpoints: In order to determine if the program being tested (SuT: Software under Test) is functioning correctly or if there have been any errors, the tester (during the test capture or in the script editing) can insert additional checkpoints in the test script. By this means the layout-relevant characteristics of windows-objects (color, position, size, etc.) can be verified along with functional characteristics of the SuT (a mask value, contents of a message box, etc.).

Replay mode: Once captured, tests can be replayed and thus in principal are repeatable at any time. The aforementioned object-oriented test capture permits GUI elements to be re-recognized when the test is repeated, even if the GUI has meanwhile been modified by a change in the software. If the test object behaves differently during a repeat test or if checkpoints are violated, then the test fails. The CR-Tool records this as an error in the test object.

Tool vendors promote CR-Tools as a very fast and easy method of automating GUI testing. But in reality there are lots of traps or pitfalls which can impair the effectiveness of CR-tool based testing. To understand where and why, we have to take a closer look at GUI's and GUI testing.

Testing of the GUI

In a GUI-based software system, all functions are represented in the GUI by visible "interaction points" (IP), and the activation of intended functions is achieved by directly pointing to their visible representations [Rau].

As a GUI tester you first must be able to recognize all these IP's (what is no problem for the human tester). Then you have to perform a set of test cases to test the functionality of the software underlying the GUI ( does the system really store the entered data on the database server? ). These tests are specific for each product being tested, and this functional testing is an essential component of GUI testing. You also always have to verify that the visible representations of functions are consistent and make sense to the end-user ( why is the save-button not labeled "save"? ). These "style guide" tests are usually specific for a product line, for all the software products of a specific company, or for software running under a specific windows-system. Of course, in practice there is no strict borderline between these two types of tests ( when I change that data field's value and close the mask - why doesn't the system automatically store the altered data? ). Now, where are the traps?

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How to Automate Testing of Graphical User Interfaces