My Best Practices for Functional Testing

I am not a big fan of best practices because they have proliferated to the point that it’s hard to trust that some arbitrary blog espousing best practices has really put in the time and has the experience behind the practices to qualify them as best. So, I qualify this post with “MY”. These are practices that I am using right now that have proven to work for me across multiple projects. I am by no means a Functional Testing guru. I have been a developer for many years, but just started functional testing full time last month. Much of this has roots in other “best practices” so there is really nothing new, just developer common sense. This is just a way for me to start to catalog my practices for future reference and to share with the community.

  1. Coherent – scenarios should assert a single concept. Unlike unit testing I believe it is OK to make multiple assertions in a functional test because rerunning the same 10 second process to make discrete assertions across the state of a page is a waste of time. The multiple asserts should each include some type of message so you know which one failed. Even though I advocate making multiple assertions the assertions should be related. You should not assert that your button click worked because you landed on the correct page, then assert that the landing page has the correct content and clicking a link on the landing page sent you to the home page. This is an example of asserting multiple concepts and this type of multiple assertion is a no-no. In the example, asserting the button click worked, asserting the page has the correct content, and asserting that the link worked are all different concepts that express distinct concerns that should be asserted in isolation. This test should have only been an assertion that the button clicked worked and sent you to the correct page. 
  2. Light – keep your scenario definitions light on details and heavy on business value. Do try to define a script that a QA tester can follow in there testing, but express only the details necessary to convey the concerns that address the business value of the feature. The other asserts should have been in other tests. If you are defining a business process for making a payment on a website you don’t have to state every step taken to get to the payment page or every mouse click and keystroke taken to enter, submit and verify the payment. Pull out the steps the can be implied. Have your scenarios read more like a story for business people and not a script for QA and developers. Even if you don’t have business people reading the features and scenarios, you will find that they become a lot easier to maintain because they aren’t tied to details that can change wildly in new feature development.
  3. Independent – scenarios should not rely on the results of any other scenario. Likewise you should insure your scenarios are not influenced by the results of other scenarios. I learned the term “Flaky Test” by watching a couple videos by the Google test team. Flaky tests are tests that sometimes pass and sometimes fail even though the test input and steps don’t change. Many times this is because of side effects produced by previously ran scenarios. A developer way of expressing this would be given a test that is ran with the same input should produce the same result on each test run. The test should be idempotent.
  4. Focused – in your test action or “When” step, in Gherkin, you should only trigger one event in your domain. If you are triggering multiple actions, from across multiple contexts it becomes difficult to know what is being tested. Many times when I see tests with multiple “when” steps they are actually mixing additional “given” or setup steps with the actual action of the test. You could say that this is just semantics and I’m being a Gherkin snob protecting the sanctity of the Gherkin step types, but to me it just keeps scenarios simple when you know exactly what is being tested. If you feel like the multiple “when” steps are valid combine them into one step and express the multiple actions in the code behind the scenario. Keep your scenario definition focused on testing one thing.
  5. Fast – be mindful of the performance of your scenarios. Even though you may be writing slow functional tests you should not add to the slowness by writing slow code to implement your scenarios. I would take this further and say that you should write test code with the same care and engineering discipline that is used to write production code.
  6. Simple – try not to expose complexities in your test steps. Wrap your complexities. This is similar to keeping the test focused, but extends to the entire scenario and test code not just the action step in your scenario definition. This is both a feature analysis and test development principle. Think about the Page Object Model. It hides complexities of page interactions and improves maintainability of tests while making your test code and scenario definitions simple. Don’t include a lot of complex details in your scenarios or they will be bound to the details and when the details change you will have to change the scenario, the step code and probably more to make the change.

Yes, that spells CLIFFS. I wanted to join the acronym bandwagon. This would be a better post if it had examples or explanations, but this is a lazy post to keep my blogging going. If you disagree or want clarification, I would be glad to do a follow up on my thoughts on these practices. I am anxious to see how these stand up to a review at the end of this year.

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