Happy Path Testing With Selenium RC Fu

February 5, 2008 Pivotal Labs

Selenium RC Fu is a fantastic system for testing Ruby On Rails
applications. It is the blending of xUnit testing with Selenium.
Selenium is a cool system that operates your browser as if a human were sitting
there moving the mouse pressing buttons and keys.

Selenium RC Fu is also a remarkable example of the power of open
source. It’s selenium remotely controlled by rails and
ruby. You can learn more about it by viewing the slides for
Full-stack webapp testing with Selenium and Rails
presented by my colleagues Alex Chaffee and Brian Takita at the
SDForum Silicon Valley Ruby Conference.

Now that you are excited about Selenium RC Fu, by law I
must inform you that this wonderful testing tool comes with some
costs. First, this is the daisy cutter of testing — problems will be detected,
but it won’t be too specific about those problems. A failed selenium
test will likely only tell you some expected text
was not present on the page — you have to do some digging
to discover the real problem.

It’s also slow. To be fair, a lot of software is running to do this testing.

So use selenium testing sparingly. A good strategy is to restrict
selenium testing to “happy path” testing. These happy path tests
become a compliment to other more focused and faster unit and integration

Getting Started With Selenium RC Fu

Selenium RC Fu is hosted at rubyforge.org in the “pivotal.rb”
project. It’s not well documented and a little hard to find. The
primary documentation is the

Step 1 is to add it to your project:

script/plugin install svn://rubyforge.org/var/svn/pivotalrb/seleniumrc_fu/trunk

Building Your Tests

Create your tests in app/tests/selenium. The basic structure mirrors
the other test types:

require File.dirname(__FILE__) + "/selenium_helper"
class HappyPathsTest < MyProject::SeleniumTestCase

  def test_nav_bar

  def test_about

  # more tests

Note that HappyPathsTest extends something called
MyProject::SeleniumTestCase. Selenium RC Fu provides a sample
selenium helper file that suggests this convention for name spacing
your tests.

For the happy paths tests I simply wanted to go to a page and know
that the page loads. A pattern I learned from my colleague
Shifra is:

  1. Pick something you know is on the target page, but not on the
    current page. Let’s call it ‘evidence’. Assert that evidence is not
    present on the current page.
  2. go to the target page
  3. assert that evidence is present on the target page.

This process ensures that you are moving about as you expect. Here’s
an example from my project:

  def test_tasks

    assert_element_not_present "xpath=//h1"
    click_and_wait "link=The Daily Planet"
    assert_element_present "xpath=//h1"


I repeated this simple pattern for every path.

Selenium Functions/Assertions/Commands

Here are the functions and assertions I used in my tests:

  • click_and_wait locator
  • go_back
  • wait_for_page_to_load
  • type locator, text
  • assert_text_present text
  • assert_text_not_present text
  • assert_equal value1, value2

Many of the functions require a ‘locator’ argument. This needs to
identify a single element on the page. Often the name or id of an
element is sufficient, but you may need to use an XPath. Check
the docs
for more information on element locators.

These functions were sufficient for me. Look for more in

Selenium RC Fu comes with some rake commands too (from rake -T selenium):

rake selenium:restart_servant           # Stop and start the selenium servant (the server that launches browsers) on localhost
rake selenium:run_server                # Run the selenium servant in the foreground
rake selenium:server                    # Run the selenium remote-control server
rake selenium:start_servant             # Start the selenium servant (the server that launches browsers) on localhost
rake selenium:stop_servant              # Stop the selenium servant (the server that launches browsers) on localhost
rake selenium:test                      # Run a selenium test file (default test/selenium/selenium_suite)
rake selenium:test_with_server_started  # Run the selenium tests in Firefox

Running Your Tests

You can run your selenium tests individually or as part of a
suite. Selenium RC Fu comes with a suite script in the
vendor/plugins/seleniumnrc_fu/sample directory. Drop that in your
test/selenium directory.

The selenium server must be running before running individual
tests. You can start the server with the rake command rake
. Once the server is running you run your tests from
the command line or via the suite.

You can also run the suite with the command rake selenium:test. This
command is smart enough to start the server if it’s not already
running. However, when the server is started by this mechanism it’s a
little more work to stop it. You can stop the server with a simple ^c
if it was started via the rake selenium:server command.

Make It So

That’s really all you need to build your tests, but here are few more
things that may help.

Site Diagram

A site diagram is handy for building your happy paths tests. There
will be a lot of paths through the site and marking the paths on the
diagram as you visit them is an easy way to track your progress.
On the diagram you need to indicate both pages and the paths to those

The later is really important. It’s the paths that you will be
testing with your happy path selenium testing. Often there are
buttons, links, or other controls such as check boxes that may touch
the server and reload the current page, or just update the current
page via ajax. Be sure to add these to your
navigation diagram.

Here’s the diagram I used for my site.

site diagram

Selenium IDE

You can code your tests by hand using Selenium RC Fu functions but
it’s easier if you use
Selenium IDE. This is a
Firefox plugin that records your activity. That activity is available
in various selenium dialects and can be pasted into your
tests. Unfortunately, it does not have output for Selenium RC
Fu. Nonetheless I still found it useful. I simply clicked through my
application while Selenium IDE was recording, pasted the
resulting selenium commands into my tests, then converted those
commands to equivalent Selenium RC Fu commands. For example:

Output from Selenium IDE:

@selenium.click "link=My Account"
@selenium.wait_for_page_to_load "30000"
assert @selenium.is_text_present("Update Account")


click_and_wait "link=My Account"
assert_text_present "Update Account"

Test Data

Your selenium tests will be exercising your application just like
standard unit or integration tests. These tests require data and there
are a variety of techniques to make data available to your
tests. Building your happy path tests is easier if you have fixture data and that fixture data is loaded in your development environment via rake
. If you use fixture scenarious, it
is handy to have a scenario for selenium testing, which you would load
with something like rake db:scenario:load SCENARIO=selenium.

With your fixtures loaded in your development environment you can see
exactly what is present during testing and the selenium IDE will
record exactly what is played back by selenium.

XPath Checker

Usually Selenium IDE can assign a locator that simply works but there
are times when it can’t.
Using XPath Checker you can
right click on an element and it will display an XPath to that
element. You can also experiment with varitions and XPath Checker will
list all of the elements on the page that can be identified by that XPath.

That’s it. Let me know how it goes.

About the Author


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