December 17, 2010

Day 17 - Smoke Testing Deployments using Cucumber

Written by Gareth Rushgrove (@garethr)

Developers love tests: testing, quality, and inspection tools. Modern testing practices yield automated tests for code and means to run them constantly while developing an application. When the app hits production, the operations team often have a different set of tools for monitoring the health of everything from disk space to requests per second to service health. To get the tested code into the well-monitored production environment, you need to deploy it, and that's where smoke testing comes in.

But What is Smoke Testing?

Smoke testing is non-exhaustive software testing aimed at ensuring that the most crucial functions of an application meet expectations, but skipping on the finer details. Smoke testing your deployments simply means having a test suite you can run very quickly against your production environment just after your deployment to make sure you've not broken everything.

You can write your smoke tests with whatever tool you choose, but I'm going to show some simple examples using the Ruby tool: Cucumber. I've found Cucumber useful for smoke tests as it makes it very simple for everyone involved, including project manager and business stakeholders, to understand what is being tested. Cucumber is useful because smoke tests need to be very fast and targeted to be useful, which means making judgements about what is critical, which requires a common language for communicating what is critical and how it should be tested.

I'm going to run this example using jruby in order to use another great tool, Celerity, which is a jruby wrapper around a headless browser. You don't have use Celerity to do this; lots of people use the Webrat library to make web requests instead. I like Celerity because it can execute the javascript on a page, meaning you can test more complex applications and more complete functionality.

An Example

I'm going to show a real world test from FreeAgent, which checks that the login box appears when you click the login button on the homepage. This would be just one part of a larger smoke test suite but is hopefully a good simple but non-trivial example.

First we need a few dependencies. Here are the instructions for installing on a recent version of Ubuntu, although any system you can run jruby on should be fine.

apt-get install jruby
jruby -S gem update --system
jruby -S gem install jruby-openssl gherkin cucumber celerity rspec

Next we create a cucumber feature file in features/homepage.feature, which describes in a structured but human readable format exactly what we're testing.

Feature: Homepage
  So we can keep existing users happy
  Visitors to the site
  Should be able to login

Scenario: Check login box appears when login button is clicked
    Given I'm on the homepage
    When I click the login button
    Then I should see the login box

You don't have to use cucumber for writing smoke tests, but I find it useful because I can easily discuss what is being tested with other non-developers simply by sharing the feature file contents (above).

Next we write the actual code that makes the test work in features/steps/homepage.rb. I've included everything in one file for simplicities sake but in a larger example you would probably separate out utility functions and configuration from the step code. For a larger test suite you'll also find that you can reuse many steps by passing in arguments from the features files.

require 'rubygems'
require 'celerity'
require 'rspec'


# this is a simple utility function I use to find content on a page
# even if it might not appear straight away
def check_for_presence_of(content)
    timeout(TIMEOUT) do
      sleep 1 until BROWSER.html.include? content
  rescue Timeout::Error
    raise "Content not found in #{TIMEOUT} seconds"

Given /^I'm on the homepage$/ do

When /^I click the login button$/ do
  check_for_presence_of "Log In"
  BROWSER.div(:id, "login_box").visible?.should == false, "login_link").click

Then /^I should see the login box$/ do
  BROWSER.div(:id, "login_box").visible?.should == true

To run the feature we've just created just run the following command in the directory where you created the files - cucumber looks for a 'features' directory.

jruby -S cucumber

This should output test results showing what ran and whether it passed:

Feature: Marketing Site
  So we can keep existing users happy
  Vistors to the site
  Should be able to login

Scenario: Check login box appears when login button is clicked # features/homepage.feature:6
    Given I'm on the homepage             # features/steps/homepage.rb:1
    When I click the login button         # features/steps/homepage.rb:5
    Then I should see the login box       # features/steps/homepage.rb:11

1 scenario (1 passed)
3 steps (3 passed)

Cucumber provider a number of other output formats that might also be useful (html, etc), and Cucumber Nagios has an output formatter for the nagios plugin format, too:

% jruby -S gem install cucumber-nagios
% jruby -S cucumber --format Cucumber::Formatter::Nagios
CUCUMBER OK - Critical: 0, Warning: 0, 3 okay | passed=3; failed=0; nosteps=0; total=3

Start Simple

A more complex example might step through a multi-stage form to test the purchase of a product, or it could conduct a series of searches to check a search index has been populated. Smoke testing and Cucumber are not just for web apps either. You should be testing all of your important services and systems. Unlike lower level testing you want to touch as many individual parts of the app as possible, including testing that third party API's or parts of your infrastructure are up and running. You definitely don't want to mock out your database calls and then find that the app actually fails due to a problem with the database coming back up after a deployment.

Once you have a smoke test you can run manually each time you deploy, you can take the next step: automation. Running the smoke tests automatically as part of whatever deployment mechanism you have might be useful, logging the results or integrating the output into a reporting tool like nagios might work well for your team, too. Automated deployment followed by a smoke test failure could invoke an automated rollback.

Deployment actions are still a time of higher-than-average risk for most projects, and strong smoke tests are important regardless of your deployment frequency or project size. If you have only a few machines, then smoke testing might tell you that you need to roll back a deployment immediately. If you have a larger infrastructure, then smoke testing a newly upgraded application server before putting it back into a load balancer rotation could save you from any ill effects in production at all.

Further reading:


Anonymous said...

Similar to

Anonymous said...

Take it one step further and you have nagios checks written with cucumber: