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How to Automate Self-Maintaining Browser Tests

By Mike Mackrory

If you or your organization operate an online application, you understand the importance of making sure that it’s always available and functional. One way of doing this is by monitoring the application for anomalies in the number of visitors or clusters of error codes from your supporting services. 

It’s not always easy to ensure that everything is working as expected. As web applications have grown, we’ve begun to rely on browser-based tests to validate functionality. Starting with human-based browser tests and moving into automated tests, this approach has seen a great deal of growth. Still, it has some drawbacks, including the need to continually maintain the tests as additional functionality is added or improved.

This article is going to take a more in-depth look at browser-based testing. We’ll talk about automated testing using synthetic data, and we’ll also discuss how you can use real user data as part of your monitoring strategy.

Why You Need Browser Tests

For web-based applications, the browser is the connection between your code and your consumers' experience. You can have the most innovative and performant application, but if it doesn’t render properly or respond correctly in a user’s browser, none of that will matter.

Browser testing simulates the interactions that a user will have with your application, and the objective is to ensure that all your functionality works as expected. As you add new features to your application, browser tests are essential in ensuring that the new functionality works, and ensuring that existing functionality remains unaffected.

Challenges With Browser Tests

One of the challenges when assessing the functionality and performance of a page is that these can change depending on the type of browser. Something that works quickly and properly in one browser could completely fail in another. While browsers have made great strides in adopting common standards and staying up-to-date, there are still differences in how a browser executes codes and renders elements on a page. Your testing strategy should include browser tests using the browsers the majority of your customers use, as well as the current versions of those browsers.

Another challenge is the rich diversity of different devices that visitors may be used to access your pages. The latest Chrome version may render your web application perfectly when viewed on a desktop computer but could experience design or functionality problems when viewed on a mobile device or tablet. Not only are the device capabilities different, but a mobile network can behave very differently than a business or home internet connection.

The reality is that you’ll never be able to simulate every combination of browser, device type, location and network type that a user may use to interact with your application. A best practice is to set up browser tests which cover the major browsers, and devices with significant market share. Using a tool like Splunk Synthetics, you can configure these tests to be executed from different locations around the world.

The approach above will catch potential bugs affecting most of your users. For the remaining groups of users, it’s best to use a Real user monitoring or RUM approach. With RUM, you monitor the interactions of real users with your application. Configured properly, RUM data can provide insights into which users experience problems, and provide you with details about their browsers and device setup, as well as other pertinent details to facilitate the process of replicating and addressing potential concerns.

A final challenge you’ll encounter with browser testing is maintaining your suite as functionality changes. Synthetic browser tests allow you to script a common flow, such as filling in a field, clicking on items, or navigating through pages. These scripts use properties of the HTML elements, like ID names, CSS classes, or even how the elements are nested, to record what elements to interact with. Changes made by engineers or designers, , such as adding a field to a web form, changing some CSS, or updating the text of a link or a button could cause the script to no longer be able to find the elements it needs. A resource may be needed to update the test before it can validate the new changes.

Leveling Up With Automating

Automation can alleviate many of the potential struggles and pitfalls of browser testing with automation. Automation can take many forms, but let’s consider some practices you can adopt to benefit from automated browser testing.

First, include browser testing as part of your deployment pipeline. Executing and validating the results of a battery of browser tests before promoting new code to your production environment can prevent unexpected bugs from showing up in your users’ experiences.

Second, consider running a comprehensive collection of browser tests periodically. As these tests can be both time-consuming and resource-intensive, a complete suite might not be prudent to include with each deployment, especially if your engineering teams deploy updates frequently. Scheduled browser tests can fully exercise your application across each browser’s version and ensure that you are quickly informed if functionality breaks due to changes within your code or changes within your supported browsers.

Taking Your Automation To The Next Level with Advanced Browser Testing Options

One of the challenges with automated testing is the sheer number of variables involved in producing a successful test. We’ve all experienced a page failing to load at some point, and either refreshed the page to continue, or realized that the problem exists within our local network or our ISP. Synthetic tests may experience these occasional blips as well, and you don’t want to scramble your production support resources because of a temporary loss of service in a foreign country, unrelated to the availability of your application.

Advanced browser testing incorporates automated retry logic, to validate that a problem exists before raising an alert. Additionally, configuring tests to be executed from multiple locations can help advanced monitoring systems isolate the scope of an outage, and determine if it is related to your application, or a result of external factors.

Learning More

Automated browser tests powered by a tool like Splunk Synthetic Monitoring expand upon the usefulness of your homegrown browser tests by automating their execution, and allowing you to run them from various locations around the world. In addition to validating the functionality and performance of your application, advanced features reduce the occurrence of false alarms. By adopting a digital experience monitoring strategy through Splunk that includes both browser tests and RUM, you’ll be better prepared when outages occur and have the information your engineers need to facilitate a rapid resolution.

Correlate and analyze your synthetic monitoring data easily with real user monitoring data by integrating with Splunk Observability Cloud - watch this demo to learn more. Next, start your free trial to help you make sense of the many types of monitoring the digital experiences of your end users. Understand the benefits associated with each and take your first steps to translating real-user data into real-world customer experience optimizations.

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