Web Application Testing with Selenium

Selenium Core provides basic Web application testing, and Selenium RC allows you to write test scripts in other programming languages, such as Perl, Java, C# and others.

Web 2.0 may pale in comparison to the days of the dot-com bubble and Web 1.0 from a financial point of view, but from a technical point of view, it's light-years ahead. As a Web developer, you find yourself designing more complex and more demanding Web applications than your bubble 1.0 predecessors ever dared to dream of. This is the fun part. The less fun part is trying to test those feature-rich applications. The prospect of manual testing does not thrill any developer, and the multitude of browsers you need to test with makes it an even bigger nightmare. Figure 1, which is based on the browser market-share statistics provided by Net Applications at the time of this writing, illustrates quite clearly the state of the browser war 2.0.

Figure 1. Browser Market Share

The breakdown is as follows:

  • Microsoft Internet Explorer: 66%

  • Firefox: 24%

  • Safari: 4%

  • Chrome: 3%

  • Opera: 2%

  • Other: 1%

Although estimates vary from different companies that monitor Web usage traffic, the conclusion is obvious: you no longer can afford to test with a single browser. And, note that Microsoft IE, which accounts for about 66% of the traffic, actually is three very different browsers: IE6, IE7 and IE8, which are known to render Web sites differently.

The situation is expected to get worse as mobile broadband Internet becomes cheaper and more common, adding more browsers you'll have to test with, sometimes with limited capabilities and nonstandard resolution.

The good news is that you are not facing this problem alone, and there are some advanced automatic Web application testing frameworks that can reduce the burden significantly.

Selenium to the Rescue

Selenium is much more than an average Web site unit-testing application. It is actually a set of tools, consisting of the following:

  1. Selenium Core

  2. Selenium Remote Control (RC)

  3. Selenium Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

  4. Selenium Grid

Selenium Core provides basic testing functionality. It is implemented in JavaScript and can be deployed either standalone (in which case it has to be installed on the Web server) or more commonly, as part of Selenium RC, IDE or Grid, which all use Selenium Core engine. Figure 2 shows the relationships between the Core and other Selenium projects.

Figure 2. Selenium Architecture

Selenium RC is a Java-based command-line server that launches browsers and sends test commands to Selenium Core. You can write your tests, implemented as Selenium RC clients, in a variety of programming languages, such as Perl, Java, C# and others. If you are not afraid of some basic programming, this is the most powerful way to use Selenium.

Selenium IDE is a Firefox plugin that allows you to create tests using a graphical tool. These tests can be executed either from the IDE itself or exported in many programming languages and executed automatically as Selenium RC clients.

Selenium Grid solves the scalability problem by coordinating many Selenium RC instances, allowing you to run multiple tests in parallel on different machines.

Selenium RC

I usually use Selenium RC, and I recommend it even to people with only a little bit of programming background. The API is simple, and the flexibility it provides is well worth the learning curve involved. RC consists of a server and client parts, which is a bit confusing, as the server has nothing to do with the Web server you are testing, but rather drives the Web browser used for testing. The server is a Java command-line application and should be executed as follows:

java -jar selenium-server.jar

The --help command-line switch will give you a full listing of supported options, but usually the defaults are sufficient. You also can invoke it programmatically from Java. The server will wait for client connections on port 4444 by default. The client can be written in one of the following languages: Perl, Python, PHP, Ruby, Java, C# and Erlang. The list is quite impressive. In fact, before I discovered Selenium, I was not aware that anybody outside Ericsson was using Erlang. The following sample Perl code shows a rather basic Selenium test that opens a Firefox browser and performs a search for the word Selenium using Google:

use strict;
use warnings;
use Test::WWW::Selenium;

my $sel = Test::WWW::Selenium->new(
                host          => "localhost",
                port          => 4444,
                browser       => "*firefox",
                browser_url   => "http://www.google.com",
                default_names => 1);
$sel->type("q", "selenium");

print "$sel->get_title()\n";


The code above opens a new Selenium session, connects to the Selenium server running on the same machine as the client (the code in the listing) on port 4444, opens a Firefox browser, goes to the http://www.google.com URL, types the word selenium into the query field and clicks Google's “I'm Feeling Lucky” button. Both query and search elements are identified by their HTML element ID or name, q and btnI, respectively (examine the source code for Google's main page). The script waits for the page to load, prints the page title and shuts down the Selenium session.



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Interesting article, thanks.

Ken Shuker's picture

Interesting article, thanks. I've been using Selenium for functional testing, but was forced to running different browsers on different operating systems under VirtualBox for cross browser testing. BrowserSeal looks promising, will check it out.