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Guide to Web Browser Automation

Alex Jablokow| May 21 2018

| IT insights

guide-to-web-browser-automation

Automation replaces human work in repetitive, tedious tasks, and minimizes the number of errors.  With the right automation tools it is possible to automate browser tasks, web testing, and online data extraction, to fill forms, scrape data, transfer data between applications, and generate reports.

Hospitals with data processes, real estate companies with changing listings, and anyone with order entry or the need to find and use data, all rely on automation tools to perform essential functions and stay competitive.

Browser Automation

People use their browsers to access information and perform a wide variety of tasks. Browser automation tools can automate your Web browser to perform repetitive and error-prone tasks, such as filling out long HTML forms. Various skill levels will need to be accommodated by the automation tool. A non-programmer might need to simply record some test scripts, while programmers and advanced testers need more sophisticated scripts and libraries.

Web browser automation tools work by recording the series of steps that make up a specific transaction, and then play it back by injecting JavaScript into the target web pages, and then tracking the providing the results. These web automation tools resemble macros, but are much more flexible and sophisticated.

iMacros web automation software works on sites that use dialog boxes, frames, JavaScript, Flash, Flex, Java, and AJAX. And if you now have the automation bug, PowerShell Toolmaking enables you to create resusable code by using parameters.

Web Testing

The majority of software now comes in the form of Web-based applications that are run in an Internet browser such as Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Firefox. Most users think of a browser as just a way of displaying information, but anyone who develops applications knows how capable and important they are—and how crucial a cross-browser testing tool for testing any application intended to run on them is.

Web browser automation supports testing in two ways:

  • In quality assurance (QA) testing in the development process. These test are run while developing the application to ensure basic functionality.
  • In testing performance during implementation, to help support the high level of service demanded by customers. These tests need to be run frequently, particularly when there is any change to the configuration.

The availability of automation does not eliminate the need for thought. In fact, automation makes planning even more important. You have to be clear on what test cases are most crucial, and you need to test them with the right, high-quality data, which can take some effort to generate. This is called establishing a test automation framework, a set of useful guidelines for managing your testing and ensuring the most beneficial results. And, of course, there is still a large place for manual website testing.

But an automation tool does make it easier for you to test early in the process, test frequently, and continue testing after the product is operational.  Early testing in QA identifies problems before they get baked into the design, and in implementation identifies problems that provide a poor user experience.

The point of automated website testing is to help you accentuate the negative. It’s easy to think of tests that can provide a lot of data, but are not likely to find defects.  That makes you look busy and productive, but often fails to uncover real problems.

Always be adding other scenarios, other possible actions, other mistakes users might make. A lot of users means a lot of creative mistakes you had not considered. Have you thought through every possible test case? Automation helps you manage and anticipate these mistakes.

Use An Automation Tool That Tests A Wide Variety of Platforms

The right automation product lets you test on a variety of devices, OSs, versions, browsers, so that you do not inadvertently ignore a problem faced by a specific group of users. It would be nice to think that with the defined specifications for JavaScript, CSS, and HTML, everything would work. Browsers are constantly coming up with new features, because they compete with each other, and can diverge from the spec in a variety of ways. Cross-browser testing is particularly important for eCommerce websites.

For fast, high-performance testing of browser UI, use a headless browser, which does not require the actual rendering of the UI, because no human being is watching. Headless testing reduces resource use substantially. Some browsers have headless versions, including Headless Chrome and Firefox.  Internet Explorer does not have support for a headless mode. There are other open source headless browsers as well.

Small Modifications and the Importance of Regression Testing

Applications can work with phenomenal smoothness and reliability. Then a small change in the code somewhere makes them misbehave. What caused it?

Regression testing is the process of rerunning test cases against the new code. Its an essential part of QA, but here is where automation really proves its value, because not only are these test tedious to run, manual input is error-prone. It’s easy to vary it a bit, which makes the validation of the test less reliable. Automation can ensure that you run regression testing more often.

Automation also allows you to do things like test for broken links, or pages missing behind the links. All websites change, and without testing you will accumulate more of these broken links. Minimize those 404 messages! Even if you come up with clever 404 pages, you never want anyone to see them.

iMacros web testing supports testing with any website technology, including Java, Flash, Flex, or Silverlight applets, and all AJAX elements.

WhatsUp Gold has additional tools that make tasks like network traffic analysis, configuration management, VoiP montioring,

Web Data Extraction

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Going out to get data is kind of the flip side of automating the testing of your own website or web application. It is you going out and acquiring data from other websites and bringing it back to enable your own functions. This can be called a variety of things, including web scraping, web harvesting, web data extraction. Websites have a lot of data, but it not usually easy to download, and requires the use of the browser.

Business uses  include pricing intelligence, to know what the pricing on other sites is. If you provide a catalog, getting the information to populate it is not a trivial matter. Companies also monitor their brand, sentiment, and mentions to track what people are saying, and thus the value of their brand and their reputation. A scripting interface can save data directly to your own databases.

iMacros data extraction tools can multi-thread up to 50 simultaneous instances, and can extract text in all languages, including Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. If you’re now keeping an eye on things, you can easily monitor business critical applications with Application Performance Monitoring.

Topics: IT insights

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THIS POST WAS WRITTEN BY Alex Jablokow

Alex Jablokow is a freelance writer who specializes in technical and healthcare business. He blogs about the Internet of Things, software, inertial guidance systems, and other topics for business clients. Sturdy Words, his freelance content business, is at www.sturdywords.com.

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