Tools for Testing Web Based Systems

The extraordinary growth in the Internet is sweeping through industry. Small companies can now compete for attention in the global shopping mall – the World Wide Web. Large corporations see ‘The Web’ not only as an inexpensive way to make company information on products and services available to anyone with a PC and browser, but increasingly as a means of doing on-line business with world wide markets. Companies are using the new paradigm in four ways:

  • Web sites – to publicise services, products, culture and achievements.
  • Internet products – on-line services and information to a global market on the Web.
  • Intranet products – on-line services and information for internal employees.
  • Extranet products – on-line services and information enabling geographically distributed organisations to collaborate.

Web-based systems can be considered to be a particular type of client/server architecture. However, the way that these systems are assembled and used means some specialist tools are required and since such tools are becoming available we will give them some consideration here.

The risks that are particular to Web based applications are especially severe where the system may be accessed by thousands or tens of thousands of customers. The very high visibility of some systems being built mean that failure in such systems could be catastrophic. Web pages usually comprise text base files in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and now contain executable content so that the traditional separation of ‘code and data’ is no longer possible or appropriate. Browsers, plug-ins, active objects and Java are also new concepts which are still immature.

There are four main categories of tools which support the testing of Web applications:

Application test running

Test running tools that can capture tests of user interactions with Web applications and replay them now exist. These tools are either enhancements to existing GUI test running tools or are new tools created specifically to drive applications accessed through Web browsers. The requirements for these tools are very similar to normal GUI test running tools, but there are some important considerations.

Firstly, the Web testing tool will be designed to integrate with specific browsers. Ask your vendor whether the tool supports the browsers your Web application is designed for, but also check whether old versions of these browsers are also supported. To test simple text-oriented HTML pages, the Web testing tool must be able to execute the normal web page navigation commands, recognise HTML objects such as tables, forms, frames, links to other pages and content consisting of text, images, video clips etc. HTML text pages are often supplemented by server-side programs typically in the form of Common Gateway Interface (CGI) Scripts which perform more substantial processing. These should be transparent to the test tool.

Increasingly, web applications will consist of simple text-based web pages, as before, but these will be complemented with ‘active content’ components. These components are likely to be Java applets, Netscape ‘plug-ins’, ActiveX controls. Tools are only just emerging which are capable of dealing with these components. Given the portable nature of the Java development language, tools written in Java may actually be completely cable of dealing with any legitimate Java object in your Web application, so may be an obvious choice. However, if other non-Java components are present in your application, a ‘pure-Java’ tool may prove inadequate. Another consideration is how tools cope with dynamically generated HTML pages – some tools cannot.

HTML source, link, file and image checkers

Tools have existed for some time which perform ‘static tests’ of Web pages and content. These tools open a Web page (a site Home page, for example) to verify the syntax of the HTML source and check that all the content, such as images, sounds and video clips can be accessed and played/displayed. Links to other pages on the site can be traversed, one by one. For each linked page, the content is verified until the tool runs out of unvisited links. These tools are usually configured to stop the search once they encounter a link to an off-server page or another site, but they can effectively verify every page and that every home-site based link and content is present. Most of these tools provide graphical reports on the structure of Web sites which highlight the individual pages, internal and external links, missing links and other missing content.

Component test-drivers

Advanced Web applications are likely to utilise active components which are not directly accessible, using a browser-oriented Web testing tool. Currently, developers have to write customised component drivers, for example using the main{} method in Java classes to exercise the methods in a the class without having to use other methods in other classes.

As web applications become more sophisticated, the demand for specialised component drivers to test low level functionality and integration of components will increase. Such tools may be delivered as part of a development toolkit, but unfortunately, development tool vendors are more often interested in providing the ‘coolest’ development, rather than testing tools.

Internet performance testing

Web applications are most easily viewed as a particular implementation of client/server. The performance testing tools for the web that are available are all enhanced versions of established client/server based tools. We can consider the requirements for load generation and client application response time measurement separately.

Load generation tools rely on a master or control program running on a server which drive physical workstations using a test running tool to drive the application, or test drivers which submit Web traffic across the network to the Web servers. In the first case, all that is new is that it is the Web-oriented test running tool which drives the client application through a browser. For larger tests, test drivers capable of generating Web traffic across the network are used. Here, the test scripts dispatch remote procedure calls to the web servers. Rather than a SQL-oriented database protocol such as ODBC, the test script will contain HTTP calls which use the HTTP protocol instead. All that has changed is the test driver programs.

Client application response time measurement is done using the Web test running tool. This may be a standalone tool running on a client workstation or the client application driver, controlled by the load generation tool.