Selenium is not just one tool or API
but it composes many tools.
If you are beginning with desktop website or mobile website test automation, then you
are going to be using WebDriver APIs. WebDriver
uses browser automation APIs provided by browser vendors to control browser and
run tests. This is as if a real user is operating the browser. Since
WebDriver does not require its API to be compiled with application
code, it is not intrusive. Hence, you are testing the
same application which you push live.
IDE (Integrated Development Environment)
is the tool you use to develop your Selenium test cases. It’s an easy-to-use Chrome
and Firefox extension and is generally the most efficient way to develop
test cases. It records the users’ actions in the browser for you, using
existing Selenium commands, with parameters defined by the context of
that element. This is not only a time-saver but also an excellent way
of learning Selenium script syntax.
Selenium Grid allows you to run test cases in different
machines across different platforms. The control of
triggering the test cases is on the local end, and
when the test cases are triggered, they are automatically
executed by the remote end.
After the development of the WebDriver tests, you may face
the need of running your tests on multiple browser and
operating system combinations.
This is where Grid comes into the picture.
1 - Selenium components
Building a test suite using WebDriver will require you to understand and
effectively use a number of different components. As with everything in
software, different people use different terms for the same idea. Below is
a breakdown of how terms are used in this description.
API: Application Programming Interface. This is the set of “commands”
you use to manipulate WebDriver.
Library: A code module which contains the APIs and the code necessary
to implement them. Libraries are specific to each language binding, eg .jar
files for Java, .dll files for .NET, etc.
Driver: Responsible for controlling the actual browser. Most drivers
are created by the browser vendors themselves. Drivers are generally
executable modules that run on the system with the browser itself,
not on the system executing the test suite. (Although those may be the
same system.) NOTE: Some people refer to the drivers as proxies.
Framework: An additional library used as a support for WebDriver
suites. These frameworks may be test frameworks such as JUnit or NUnit.
They may also be frameworks supporting natural language features such
as Cucumber or Robotium. Frameworks may also be written and used for
things such as manipulating or configuring the system under test, data
creation, test oracles, etc.
The Parts and Pieces
At its minimum, WebDriver talks to a browser through a driver. Communication
is two way: WebDriver passes commands to the browser through the driver, and
receives information back via the same route.
The driver is specific to the browser, such as ChromeDriver for Google’s
Chrome/Chromium, GeckoDriver for Mozilla’s Firefox, etc. The driver runs on
the same system as the browser. This may, or may not be, the same system where
the tests themselves are executing.
This simple example above is direct communication. Communication to the
browser may also be remote communication through Selenium Server or
RemoteWebDriver. RemoteWebDriver runs on the same system as the driver
and the browser.
Remote communication can also take place using Selenium Server or Selenium
Grid, both of which in turn talk to the driver on the host system
Where Frameworks fit in
WebDriver has one job and one job only: communicate with the browser via any
of the methods above. WebDriver does not know a thing about testing: it does not
know how to compare things, assert pass or fail, and it certainly does not know
a thing about reporting or Given/When/Then grammar.
This is where various frameworks come in to play. At a minimum you will need a
test framework that matches the language bindings, e.g. NUnit for .NET, JUnit
for Java, RSpec for Ruby, etc.
The test framework is responsible for running and executing your WebDriver
and related steps in your tests. As such, you can think of it looking akin
to the following image.
Natural language frameworks/tools such as Cucumber may exist as part of that
Test Framework box in the figure above, or they may wrap the Test Framework
entirely in their own implementation.
2 - A deeper look at Selenium
Selenium is an umbrella project for a range of tools and libraries that enable and support the automation of web browsers.
Selenium controls web browsers
Selenium is many things
but at its core, it is a toolset for web browser automation
that uses the best techniques available
to remotely control browser instances
and emulate a user’s interaction with the browser.
It allows users to simulate common activities performed by end-users;
entering text into fields,
selecting drop-down values and checking boxes,
and clicking links in documents.
It also provides many other controls such as mouse movement,
Although used primarily for front-end testing of websites,
Selenium is at its core a browser user agent library.
The interfaces are ubiquitous to their application,
which encourages composition with other libraries to suit your purpose.
One interface to rule them all
One of the project’s guiding principles
is to support a common interface for all (major) browser technologies.
Web browsers are incredibly complex, highly engineered applications,
performing their operations in completely different ways
but which frequently look the same while doing so.
Even though the text is rendered in the same fonts,
the images are displayed in the same place
and the links take you to the same destination.
What is happening underneath is as different as night and day.
Selenium “abstracts” these differences,
hiding their details and intricacies from the person writing the code.
This allows you to write several lines of code to perform a complicated workflow,
but these same lines will execute on Firefox,
Internet Explorer, Chrome, and all other supported browsers.
Tools and support
Selenium’s minimalist design approach gives it the
versatility to be included as a component in bigger applications.
The surrounding infrastructure provided under the Selenium umbrella
gives you the tools to put together
your grid of browsers
so tests can be run on different browsers and multiple operating systems
across a range of machines.
Imagine a bank of computers in your server room or data center
all firing up browsers at the same time
hitting your site’s links, forms,
and tables—testing your application 24 hours a day.
Through the simple programming interface
provided for the most common languages,
these tests will run tirelessly in parallel,
reporting back to you when errors occur.
It is an aim to help make this a reality for you,
by providing users with tools and documentation to not only control browsers
but to make it easy to scale and deploy such grids.
Who uses Selenium
Many of the most important companies in the world
have adopted Selenium for their browser-based testing,
often replacing years-long efforts involving other proprietary tools.
As it has grown in popularity, so have its requirements and challenges multiplied.
As the web becomes more complicated
and new technologies are added to websites,
it’s the mission of this project to keep up with them where possible.
Being an open source project,
this support is provided through the generous donation of time from many volunteers,
every one of which has a “day job”.
Another mission of the project is to encourage
more volunteers to partake in this effort,
and build a strong community
so that the project can continue to keep up with emerging technologies
and remain a dominant platform for functional test automation.
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