Review of The Selenium GuideBook: Ruby Edition

tl;dr If you’ve ever wanted to learn Selenium but didn’t know where to start, The Selenium GuideBook is the place (doesn’t matter which edition you use, it’ll be good).


Learning Selenium

The challenge of trying to learn Selenium WebDriver (simply referred to as Selenium) or any relatively new technology is that there is either too much disparate information (on the web), the material is out of date (many of the books I found) or of poor quality. With Selenium too many of the tutorials available to beginners had you using the Selenium IDE, which is a really poor option for writing maintainable and reusable test code. (See my previous post’s video for more on this.) I’ve walked out on conference workshops that sought to teach people to use the Selenium IDE to start their automation efforts. It wasn’t for me. I was going to do it right, I just had to figure out what that meant and where to start.

From the start I knew I wanted to learn about GUI test automation and more specifically Selenium WebDriver. I had tried WATIR (Web Application Testing in Ruby) and a few other tools but Selenium was open source and quickly becoming the go-to standard for automating human interaction with web browsers. It was and is the only choice.

Naturally I went searching the web for some tutorial or examples when I stumbled across several tutorials including Sauce Lab’s boot camp written by someone named Dave Haeffner. After struggling through the Bootcamp series (and finding some bugs in the process) I found Dave also produced a tip series called Elemental Selenium. I signed up for the Ruby weekly newsletter tips and went through many of the tips. Satisfied that Dave was worth learning from (good quality, relevant code examples) I decided it was time to try his book The Selenium GuideBook. I knew going into it, I was going to be the person maintaining the test suite and since I was more or less comfortable with Ruby I was happy The Selenium GuideBook came in that language!

Book Options

There are a few packages (book, code examples, videos, etc. ) for the language of your choice. As I said above I was more or less comfortable with Ruby so I ended up getting the “Ruby Edition, Just The Book” package. If I was doing this over today I probably would have done the “Cheat Sheets + Book” package and for JavaScript instead of Ruby.

The package itself contains a lot of great information and a number of materials:

  • The Selenium GuideBook; the Ruby edition is roughly 100 pages
  • Ruby code examples broken out by chapter
  • Elemental Selenium Tips eBook in Ruby
  • The Automated Visual Testing Guidebook

The first time I went through the book and code examples, it seemed redundant having different code for each chapter and example. It was only after I had gone through the chapters and examples for a second time, trying to apply and understand the differences that I began to understand the relative importance of seeing the code change chapter by chapter, example by example. The code examples all target an open source application Dave created called The Internet. It seems simple enough but many of the books and materials I went through either tried using Google or some badly written / hurried example.

The Book

Despite being less than 100 pages the Selenium GuideBook covers:

  • Defining a test strategy for your automation goals
  • Programming basics
    • Using page objects and base page objects to keep code clean
  • Locator strategies and tools
    • Relying on good locators seemed like a smart way to design tests. I wanted to avoid any record and playback tools and the poor locator strategies often employed.
  • How to write good acceptance tests
  • Writing Re-usable test code
  • Running on browsers locally and then in the cloud
  • Running tests in parallel
  • Taking your newly built tests, tagging them and getting them loaded into a CI server.

The whole package literally. In the preface Dave says the book is not full and comprehensive, it’s more of a distilled and actionable guide. The book really shows you how to start thinking about and building a test suite. It’s up to the user to take what they learned here and apply it to their application. That’s the fun part of the Elemental Selenium tips as well.

Applying the Book and Examples

After I had gone through all of the chapters and examples once, I went back through the relevant to me chapters and examples doing the following:

  1. Start with some very simple login tests.
    1. The book starts out this way as well. Writing tests that are not DRY or re-usable. but eventually get that way.
  2. Continuing through the code examples, getting a little more complicated and applying it to my own application.
    1. As I built out tests and start to see commonly repeated patterns, abstract out repeated code into relevant page objects. Eventually getting to a base page object.

In hindsight the hardest part of applying the book was trying to understand and apply a locator strategy within our application. While The Internet target application is great, it’s also a bit simplistic. Good for teaching, hard for bridging the sample application to the target application. Our single page .NET application was far more complicated and it took several attempts before I understood how my own strategy would work.

The transfer problem is always difficult. I mean how do you take what you learned and apply it to a slightly more sophisticated problem? It’s a difficult problem, not really a criticism of this book. It’s worth noting that whenever I had questions about what was written in the book, found a bug or two, or got stuck I could email Dave and within a week or so get a helpful response back.

Mission Accomplished!

With the lessons in this book and the Elemental Selenium Tips I was, through some focused time and lots of iterations, able to get a fairly good set of automated acceptance tests running against our application.

In other words, I highly recommend you buy the book. It’s slightly more expensive than similar books about Selenium but it’s far more effective. You are also directly supporting the author and with free updates and email tech support I think its well worth the cost.

Don’t believe me? Watch this video of Dave giving an overview of the GuideBook:

Additional References: