How to Create Automated Web Tests Without Writing Any Code

May 7th, 2021

This article describes traditional and modern approaches to building a regression test suite for your web application. Reflect is a no code web testing tool that supports both functional and visual testing.

Why should I test my website?

Testing, and regression testing in particular, is like insurance. You pay an upfront cost in terms of your time to test your website in exchange for identifying bugs and not paying a much larger cost later, whether it be lost revenue or a damaged reputation. This means just about any business that makes money from their site has a vested interest in testing it to make sure it’s working.

Okay, but once I’ve tested my site and things are looking good, I shouldn’t need to test everything again, right?

True, if your site is working and you never change it, then you don’t need to re-test it. But the fact is, most of the businesses referred to above, who are making money from their webapp, are changing their webapp frequently and in potentially significant ways. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers often employ large development teams to manage their existing applications and develop new products and features. When these new features are released, they run the risk of breaking existing functionality that used to work. This is why testing is not a one-time investment, but an ongoing one.

To summarize, you should consistently invest in web application testing if:

This article explores how you can make an organized and efficient investment into test automation for your web applications without coding or managing infrastructure. In particular, we discuss no code web testing tools, and compare them to legacy code-based approaches such as Selenium or Cypress.

What should I test in my webapp?

Great question. To start, you should test your core user experiences. That is, you should test the workflows and interactions that users perform most frequently in your application, and/or the experiences that are most mission critical.

Your goal is to build up a “suite” of individual test scenarios that detect regressions in distinct features or components of your application. This way, when functionality breaks, the specific failing tests will indicate which parts are broken rather than a global pass/fail result. Furthermore, this targeted testing approach allows you to choose to execute only a subset of your regression tests at times when the proposed changes are localized.

Your regression tests will verify aspects of your application’s function and visual appearance. After all, these two elements form the basis of your user’s experience, so it follows that these are the elements that form the basis of your tests.

Functional testing

Functional testing ensures that your application correctly performs the required operations. It verifies the user interface’s controls or buttons, as well as its operations, and the back-end server logic that stores and manipulates the user’s data. A full test suite might be broken down into several groups, each of which contains tests that all relate to the same feature or function. For example, a functional test might verify that a new user can register for your application, and then afterwards log in with their new account.

This functional test might be in a test group with other tests related to account creation and administration, such as resetting the user’s password and changing their account settings. Depending how you perform your tests (more on that below), you will probably maintain some list or document describing what should be tested in your application. As new features are developed and released, the official record of functional tests should be updated to include the new functionality.

Visual testing

Visual testing ensures that your application’s appearance is correct. It verifies the user interface layout, as well as things like element sizing, colors and contrast, and fonts and textures. Visual tests, or UI tests, are very straightforward to perform manually since it’s as simple as asking yourself, “Does it look correct?”. When performing visual testing using software or some other automation tool, it’s typical to capture feature screenshots and store them as baselines, and then compare the current feature screenshots to those baselines to detect changes.

Similar to functional testing, as new features are released, the visual tests need to be updated to record the latest visual state of the application. This means that over time, you should expect some visual testing failures due to natural changes and enhancements to the application. Different tools for test management specialize in making this bookkeeping easy.

How should I test my webapp?

The two traditional ways to test your application are:

But each of those approaches has its challenges, which we’ll discuss below. There’s been a recent emergence of a new kind of hybrid testing approach called “no code” web testing. No code web testing has aspects of manual testing in that testers might perform the actual interaction that they want to verify or otherwise describe it in a loose, or non-programmatic way. But it often executes these tests very quickly once they are configured, which makes them resemble a code-based, automated platform.

Challenges of manual testing

While it may seem like web testing requires coding, the fact is most teams begin testing their applications manually at first. After they have identified what to test and established a regular practice, they look to build up structure and test management for their suites.

Manual testing can be quite easy and lightweight since all you need to do is load up the webpage and perform the actions. But since it is a human-in-the-loop approach, it has some obvious challenges: it’s time-consuming and error-prone. Any human-driven process will suffer from these drawbacks, and so, while manual testing is low-cost to start, as your application scales, it can become prohibitive.

Furthermore, manual testing doesn’t eliminate the need for test management or tracking of test cases. A single person can probably keep a lot of the application state and features in mind, but then only that one person can perform the testing. As soon as you grow that pool of application testers, you’ll need to coordinate what parts of the application they will test and how. So, it ultimately suffers from similar organizational and maintenance burdens as coded tests (below).

Challenges of code-based testing

Due to the aforementioned drawbacks of manual testing, teams move to code-based testing in an attempt to achieve greater scalability in test execution. Selenium WebDriver is the traditional tool for building a code-based testing framework. But while Selenium is a powerful tool for automating the web browser, it is not a full-featured test automation platform and it requires significant development resources to use it as one.

The primary cost Selenium imposes is that it requires a developer to build and maintain the tests. More importantly, these developers are building up an entire second codebase that must be maintained and grow alongside your application. Secondly, code-based tests are fragile specifically because they are so precise. General models for targeting elements and executing actions must be built from scratch and correctness and efficiency are not trivial to achieve. As a result, the test scripts often end up testing narrow and specific workflows.

Lastly, code-based solutions like Selenium or Cypress do not support visual testing natively. That is, these tools are primarily for functional testing, but for visual testing they require additional plugins. This means that even with all of the development investment you’ll still need to manage a second tool to achieve full test coverage for your webapp.

For these reasons, current code-based testing tools are not a drop-in solution to achieve a flexible and comprehensive automated regression test suite. Rather, they are useful tools for targeted automation scenarios.

What are no code automation tools?

Fortunately, there is a new class of test automation tools, such as Reflect, that do not require coding. These tools often afford the ease of use of manual testing without sacrificing execution speed of coded tests. Such codeless test automation tools perform the heavy lifting of abstracting precise actions such as click-and-drag or hover menus into logical and repeatable test scripts.

Like all regression testing, codeless testing tools require as input the testing plan of what actions should be performed functionally. These inputs range from plain text descriptions, to custom DSLs, to Reflect’s approach of simply performing the actions in a virtual browser window. Additionally, many of them allow you to capture or upload visual assertions for how the site should look.

By covering both functional and visual testing, as well as testing on different devices (mobile or desktop) and browsers, codeless automation tools are now a full-featured testing platform for web regression testing. Furthermore, they often present a user-friendly interface so that anyone on your team, from beginners to experts, can contribute to the testing effort. The only requirement is knowing what to test.

Reflect is no code web testing automation

Reflect uses a record and playback model wherein it captures the user’s actions performed against the site under test once, and replays those actions on-demand in the future. If any actions cannot be completed successfully, it notifies you of the failure. Reflect works with any OS and exposes a “cloud browser”, which means there is no desktop application or browser plugin to install, and it also ensures a fixed testing environment.

Reflect supports a wide array of web interactions, including drag-and-drop, file uploads, hovers and text highlighting. Creating a test is as simple as entering a URL and then performing the actions that should be tested. Once created, Reflect can run the test on a schedule, on-demand or through the API. Additionally, future enhancements, such as AI, are capable of automatically updating your Reflect tests to improve their resilience and maintain their accuracy over time.

The Reflect API allows custom integrations with any third-party application, but especially for connecting with continuous integration / continuous delivery (CI/CD) platforms, such as Jenkins and CircleCI. Additionally, the information can be shared with your team through the Slack integration, or piped into any data analytics warehouse for custom analysis. It’s a perfect complement to existing tools that you might use for performance testing, or load testing, since those tools won’t perform functional testing.

Conclusion

If your website or application creates value for your business, then testing it is a must. Traditional approaches to automated web testing have given way to a new class of codeless automation testing tools. Reflect is a no code web testing tool that combines the ease of test creation of manual testing, with the speed of execution from code-driven tests. Reflect up-levels manual testing into automated testing.

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