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Figuring out how to automate away the pain of routine front-end web testing; the story behind

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Tasks and How They Combine Into Series and Sequences

Tasks are where all the fun is. Tasks (ultimately) give you the insight into what is right or wrong about your site. Tasks give us a fun place to play around with testing against specific quality factors.

In writing about the system architecture, I mentioned how we use jobs and tasks to help run collections of tests. A job might equate to “Test everything for”. This is expanded into a collection of tasks, with each task focused on a specific quality factor for a specific URL, such as “Verify the HTML validity for”.

Tasks are stateless in so far as they are unaware of other tasks. This is a good thing. If a test job was for verifying the HTML validity of a 100-page web site, the corresponding set of 100 tasks can be deployed concurrently in any order to any workers.

We can optimise for speed by deploying a set of N tasks to N concurrent workers, giving the fastest possible test job completion time. We can optimise for concurrent test jobs, selecting evenly from two different users’ test job tasks to allow both to run at the same time and preventing one test job from blocking the other - this is for tasks what packet switching is for the Internet.

Stateful task collections offer benefits unavailable to stateless tasks.

A series of tasks is a collection of tasks to be performed in a given order, with the option of failing the entire series as soon as one task in the series fails.

You might have a series of tests that focuses on the business impact of potential failures and which is prioritised with respect to such risks.

A simple series may be:

  1. Verify that the user ‘example’ with the password ‘password’ can log in
  2. Verify that the URL for the main homepage image is valid
  3. Verify that the copyright notice in footer of contains the current year

These tasks have no particular common concerns - that a test user can log in is not related to the validity of the main homepage image URL. This is merely a set of regression tests that examine common aspects you’ve previously noticed have a tendency to break.

You’re concerned with the business impact of failure and have set the entire series to fail as soon as a single task fails. This reflects the fact that if a test user cannot log in, you don’t care about the validity of the main homepage image URL or the contents of the footer copyright notice as the inabilty to log in is impacting your ability to make money. You want to focus your team on that issue and you don’t want other possible test failures to be a distraction.

A sequence of tasks is a series of tasks that is more stateful still. Sequences of tasks exist at the functional testing level where you would be testing sequences of interactions with a site as if you were a user, encompassing stateful aspects such as there being a session, cookies, previously-entered form data and so on.

A simple sequence may be:

  1. Go to and log in as ‘example:password’, then
  2. Open order 5634
  3. Verify that the order state is ‘awaiting delivery’ and
  4. Verify that the number of items in the order is 3

A sequence of tasks may be set to fail if certain focal tests fail. In the above example, we’ve chosen to fail the entire series if task 1 fails or task 2 fails as without these tasks succeeding we cannot complete tasks 3 or 4.

In our first release in October 2012, we’ll have just stateless tasks. Series and sequences of tasks will follow once I’ve asked enough users what they’d actually need from this.