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The Value of Maintainable Test Code
Creating a Test Suite That Stands the Test of Time
Automated testing promises speed, reliability, and efficiency. However, over time, the code for automated tests can become difficult and costly to maintain. Brittle and opaque tests increase bugs and slow down development.
The key to sustaining test automation’s benefits is to intentionally design readable, understandable, and maintainable test code. Well-structured tests make the suite resilient to application changes. They also allow new testers to come up to speed rapidly.
What practices help create transparent and updatable automated tests?
Here are some key ideas to consider:
Use Consistent Style Guidelines
Like any code, tests require consistent structure and formatting. Stylistic standards improve comprehension for the original author and for future maintainers.
Style guides typically define things like:
Naming conventions — readable, intention-revealing names for tests, variables, methods
Code organization — structure for test classes, helper methods
Formatting — bracing, indentation, white space usage
Teams should agree on a test coding standard upfront and mandate adherence through reviews. There are well-documented conventions to follow for commonly used test frameworks like Selenium or TestNG.
Build a Reusable Library of Helpers
Don’t copy-paste common utility code across tests. Centralize it in a shared library of helper methods instead.
Helper methods encapsulate repetitive tasks like setting up test data, accessing page elements, or verifying responses. Calling pre-built helpers instead of reimplementing the same steps makes tests more readable. It also reduces maintenance effort when shared logic needs updating.
Aim for small helper methods with descriptive names like “enterUserData”, “fetchResultsTable”, and “verifyResponseCode.” Store helpers in a common class are visible to all tests.
Use Page Object Models for Stability
Page object models further improve test code reuse and stability. With this pattern, UI test code is separated from test scripts.
The test suite accesses page properties and actions through page objects. These encapsulate the UI locators and interactions for a page. If the UI changes, only the page object needs updating. Test scripts don’t need to be rewritten.
Page objects also enable better abstraction. A test could “loginUser” or “checkoutCart” rather than drill into elements. This improves readability.
Apply a Fluent API Design
Fluent APIs use method chaining to construct readable sentences. For example:
The chained methods tell a clear story. This technique works well for UI test automation frameworks. The Sequential pattern from Selenium PageObjects enables fluent style.
Code formatting and abstractions improve understandability. But tests often still require surrounding explanation. Self-documenting tests aim to embed that documentation within the test code.
Effective ways to self-document include:
Descriptive method and variable names
Explicit assertions and messaging
Annotations tying tests to requirements
Nested context blocks with summaries
With good naming and annotations, test code almost reads like a specification. This eases onboarding for new team members.
Favor Maintainability Over Cleverness
Test code experiments sometimes optimize for clever solutions and brevity. But hard-to-understand code eventually backfires.
Testers should favor simple, apparent approaches over convoluted logic. The goal is to reduce cognitive load.
Likewise, don’t build overly generic frameworks seeking to handle every scenario. Start simple and refactor to more general-purpose code once patterns emerge.
Think about future readers and favor maintenance over cleverness in the present.
Review and Refine Frequently
Like application code, tests need regular refactoring love. As suites grow, improve maintainability with:
Formatting updates to match current style guides
Deprecating or eliminating redundant helpers
Refactoring lengthy tests into smaller chunks
Renaming vague variables and methods
Schedule test code reviews into sprint processes. Refinement is easier when done continually versus allowed to accumulate.
Sustainable Test Code is a Team Effort
Building future-proof test code requires team buy-in. Foster shared ownership through practices like:
Involving developers in test code reviews
Rotating test code maintenance duties
Backlog grooming to allocate time for test code refinement
Recognizing maintainability work during retrospectives
With collective responsibility, automated test code can form a living documentation of the system. Tests become an asset rather than a liability over time.
Prioritizing Readability Now Saves Pain Later
Well-designed automated test suites stand the test of time. Intentional practices for readable, maintainable code create long-term efficiencies.
What techniques have you used to keep test code transparent and updatable? Please share other tips in the comments!