Data Visualization for Better Debugging in Test Automation
By Vivek Mannotra, Community Contributor - June 16, 2022
Visualization is to software developers what vision is to the brain.
Just as our brains use vision to process and understand the world around us, product managers and technical leaders in startups use visualization to see and understand the applications and data they are working with.
The role of test suite visualizations in a CI/CD process is becoming increasingly important as the popularity of automation testing grows. There are many benefits to automating your tests, including the ability to run tests faster and avoid flaky tests. However, one of the challenges of automation testing is debugging automation test failures for complex websites and mobile apps.
Must-Read: Best Practices for Test Automation
According to this report, 30-40% of mature enterprises use tools for implementing unit and integration tests with visualization testing, dedicated functionality, and resources to help manage the test plans. On the other hand, among less mature companies, only 12-15% use such tools. Keeping that in mind, let’s deep dive into the visualization benefits and how your teams can use it for better debugging in test automation.
Science Behind The Importance of Data Visualization
Humans can process images in as little as 13 milliseconds, while it can take up to 150 milliseconds to process text. This difference is because our brains are wired to process visual information much faster than written information.
This difference in processing speed is significant and underlines the importance and benefits of data visualization in information processing. When we are presented with large amounts of data, it can be very difficult to process all of the information when presented in textual form. However, if that same data is presented in a visual format with proper tags and labeling, our brains can quickly and easily comprehend it.
With increased data generation, visualizations become critical.
Data visualizations allow us to take in large amounts of information quickly and easily, which is why it is such an important tool for information processing. It applies to all fields where data is generated and has to be analyzed. In the context of a tech startup, visualizations are a critical part of daily work and decision-making.
Need for Visualization Testing
As a startup grows, the number of automation test scripts they use to manage the quality of their product will increase. This can make it challenging to keep track of all the tests and their results. However, if the test suites and reports are visualized, it will be much easier to see which tests are passing and which are failing. This will help the startup identify and fix any issues with their product quickly.
Data visualization with visualization testing is a powerful tool that can help startups manage and debug their automation test scripts. By visualizing the test plan and reports, startups can quickly identify issues and take corrective action.
How to Solve Common Test Automation Debugging Challenges
Automation test plans and results can be visualized using graphs, charts, and tables on dashboards and documents. Using dashboards is especially popular as they are dynamic applications suitable for collaboration across teams and roles. Some common issues faced by tech startups while debugging complex automation test failures are:
1. Lack of Clear Error Messages
When an automation test fails, it is often difficult to understand why the failure occurred. If the code has improper error handling or there is no error message it can make it difficult to debug the failure and identify the root cause.
By visualizing the automation test results on a live dashboard, teams can monitor the execution of tests and see a list of all running and scheduled tests. Identifying the failing test by name can help locate relevant modules for fixing. System logs play a major role in debugging such scenarios.
A snapshot of popular CI tool Jenkins with TestComplete plugin for Unit Testing
2. Inconsistent Test Results
Another common issue with automation tests is that they often produce inconsistent results. This can be due to several factors, such as changes in the environment, code, or bugs in the test itself making it difficult to make decisions based on them.
Saving and then comparing test reports across time can help identify changing outcomes making it easier to see which tests are producing inconsistent results. Also, use an automation tool that can generate consistent test environments. This will ensure that the environment in which the tests are run is always the same, eliminating any inconsistencies in the results.
3. Lack of Test Coverage
If a test plan does not have adequate test coverage, it may lead to missed critical bugs that could impact the product. By recording and visualizing the test coverage, we can quickly identify the areas that are not covered by tests. With BrowserStack Test Insights & Analytics, you can fill in the gaps. It captures the breadth and width of your test suite, giving you insights into the types of devices, desktops, and operating systems that you have been testing.
4. Longer Test Runs
Automation tests that take a long time can be very frustrating for those who have to wait for them to finish. Delays could be due to technical issues with the implementation, or the test suite could be very large with many dependencies resulting in slow execution. This can impact productivity and lead to frustration and resentment towards the testing process.
By scheduling test runs and reports, we can eliminate the need to trigger tests manually. Also, monitoring the time taken for each run can help track which part of the test takes more time than it should.
5. Tests Not Covering All Scenarios
Automation tests should visualize all possible scenarios that could occur during the use of the software being tested. However, this is often not the case, and the tests may miss some important scenarios. This can lead to critical errors being missed by the tests and cause serious problems for software users.
This is a tricky situation because if the scenario is not a part of the test plan, there is no way for the visualization to pick up the missing part. Hence, it is recommended to make sure all approved business requirements are properly documented and communicated to the developer and automation tester. Also, you can add a layer of white-box tests like an automated visual regression test as the final validation step before releasing a build version.
6. Inconsistent Test Environments
If the environment in which the automation tests are run is inconsistent, or the environment is not an accurate representation of the real-world use case, it can lead to false positives or false negatives. This can make it difficult to trust the tests’ results and make debugging more difficult.
You can minimize the issues by using a tool that provides a high-quality and reliable execution environment. BrowserStack’s Real device cloud provides access to 3000+ real devices, OS, and browser combinations for accurate test environments.
7. Unstable Dependencies
Automation tests often rely on other software components, such as libraries or frameworks. If these dependencies are unstable, this can lead to test failures. It can also occur due to improper versioning in code or using deprecated or unsupported functionality in the app.
Maintaining the versioning of dependencies as part of project specification and documentation can help. Also, by capturing and visualizing the logs at various checkpoints in the CI/CD process, you can ensure that all dependencies are installed correctly and the build is completed with all necessary version requirements resolved.
8. Race Conditions
Race conditions can occur when two or more threads of execution access shared data, and one thread modifies the data before another thread can read it. This can lead to unpredictable results and makes debugging very difficult.
A dashboard with live updates and configurable warnings on resource consumption can help monitor and avoid deadlocks. Ideally, test runs should be scripted, keeping in mind the available computing capacity and memory.
Parallel Testing on BrowserStack gives you the same benefits as running a multi-threaded application and helps you reduce the run time of your test suite, resulting in faster build times and faster releases.
Visualization Testing & Debugging with BrowserStack Insights
BrowserStack Enterprise provides advanced control, security, and data-visualization features specifically for larger organizations. Data security is increased by adding team-based access control across the platform, and users can be easily provisioned and de-provisioned from your organization’s IdP. Test coverage, parallel utilization, and other data analytics are also available for visualization testing.
BrowserStack’s Test Insights platform is a powerful tool that can help QA teams improve their testing efficiency and quickly release quality software. Test Insights is an interactive dashboard that provides actionable insights to help organizations identify high-impact issues or bottlenecks so they can quickly release quality software.
Test Insights also allows you to toggle different data points on and off in each report simply by turning on or off the toggle. The corresponding data point in the report’s legend works as the toggle. This provides great flexibility in terms of what data is displayed.
Filter analytics on the Test Insights dashboard provides the ability to restrict the data displayed based on criteria such as builds from the last two months or for a specific project. Multiple combinations of these sections can be added to create powerful data visualization options.
Each filter on the dashboard includes three sections:
- Filter field name (e.g., Teams)
- Operator type (for example, is equal to)
- Target filter value.
Scheduling periodic email reports or sending one-time emails are easy to set up. They can be shared with team members who may not be present on BrowserStack. Reports can be downloaded in PDF or CSV format for sharing via internal mediums.
BrowserStack’s Audit Logs track key activities within your BrowserStack organization account. These logs can be used to analyze how your BrowserStack account is being accessed and how members of your organization are using BrowserStack. This will enable security teams to diagnose problems or answer questions related to users’ product access, accounts, organization settings, etc.
The Automate Dashboard provides a range of debugging tools to help you quickly identify and fix bugs discovered through your automated tests. These tools include the interactive session feature, video recordings, raw Selenium logs, text logs, visual logs, console logs, and network logs.
Video recordings for visualization testing are particularly helpful whenever a browser test fails as they help you retrace the steps which led to the failure. You can access the video recordings from Automate Dashboard for each session and download the videos from the Dashboard or retrieve a link to download the video using REST API for sessions. If your enterprise or testing teams are looking to approach visualization testing with robust test insights and debugging analytics, trust the frontrunners in the testing ecosystem – BrowserStack.