Sunday, February 15, 2009

Part of the problem testing UI technologies is that they change so frequently

[This was originally posted at]

Anyone who has actually tried to write automated tests knows that testing the UI is much harder than testing a backend class library. Besides having an obscure interface to the test (like parsing an HttpResponse), and juggling far more dependencies (like needing a live application, complete with database and HttpContext), another problem is that UI technologies change much more frequently than backend ones. For example, you could still call a C# .Net 1.0 library from 8 years ago. However, during that time, the web UI has gone from Html (request/response) to JS-enabled, to advanced JS with Ajax/JSON/JQuery (by now your test harness needs its own JS engine), to Silverlight (where the request/response model no longer even applies). By the time you've built a robust UI test framework, your UI could be using a different technology that your framework cannot handle.

This makes it much harder to write automated tests for the GUI - i.e. not the sort of thing you just add in hindsight. There seems to be a lot of projects out there that have designed themselves into a corner. A manager rushes the project to market with an un-testable design because they think they'll just whip up UI testing later, but then they find they've accrued an insurmountable technical debt, and they just can have it. It's like they spent years constructing the pyramid on the east side of the river, but oops - now they realize they wanted it on the left side instead.

I think this is one of the reasons why good unit testing (and MVC) is becoming so popular in many circles.

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