How to solve intermittent issues and get more robust automated tests

In the last episode of their podcast, Trish Khoo and Bruce McLeod discussed how to solve intermittent issues in automated test suites. Trish also made a presentation on this topic at a Selenium Conference. In those both media, Trish and Bruce go over different topics:

1) test design
2) logging
3) tolerance
4) have stable systems
5) some tips (prefer “wait for” to “sleep” for example)

I recommend you to consume those 2 presentations. Here are some notes on those topics with some comments on how I approach them with Robot Framework.

On test design, as automated tests are code, all the principle of clean code should be applied to tests: small functions, single responsibility, DRY, no side-effect. There is a specific chapter on “clean tests” in “clean code” by Uncle Bob where he discuss readability, use of DSL, single assert per tests and FIRST principle. In Robot Framework, creation of keywords is so quick and easy, that I tend to create as many as needed until I obtain test cases which are 10 lines long max with given-when-then sections clearly identified.

On logging, in Robot Framework, I have a keyword that I launch in the Teardown of every single test that check the ${TEST_STATUS} variable (filled by Robot engine). If the test if FAILED, then I create a backup folder where I backup a lot of data on the current state of the SUT (log files, audit files, configuration files, database content etc.).

On tolerance, in my previous company we were doing financial computation, and from version to version, the results of some functions could differ very slightly due to change in algorithm or compiler. So we agreed with Product Management team on threshold that were accepted and created smart comparison keyword that were taking 3 arguments: expected result, actual result, threshold. That made the tests way more stable.

On tips, the “wait for” rather than “sleep” tip is a one I use all the time. First because most of the fixed-time-sleep should be prohibited in the tests for performance reason (see my post on performance of tests) and then because sleep might be too long or too short on some systems. Another keyword/pattern I use in Robot Framework in the “wait until keyword succeeds“. This is the “wait for” applied to any keyword. When there are some timing issues in the tests, this keyword can be very very handy.

Finally, setup and teardown are a keystone of stable tests. They should be extracted from the tests and should leave the system in a state where any other test can be run afterward. This does not mean to leave the system in a identical state than when the test started (that could be very time consuming depending on the SUT and the actions performed by the tests). But we should be in a “known state” in which we know the following tests will be able to run OK.

All that being said, I have a couple of instable tests, so I’d better apply all those rules quickly…

One thought on “How to solve intermittent issues and get more robust automated tests

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