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Reducing Abstraction in Test Automation

Published on
November 17, 2022
Tessa McDaniel
Content Specialist

Abstraction in testing can streamline the authoring process, but is it really a benefit? Or can it do more harm than good?

There has been pushback against the increased level of abstraction in test automation. By restricting how much you can look behind the curtain, testing can actually get more frustrating, and the more abstraction, generally the more "codeless" an automation tool gets. This may come as a shock as a codeless test automation tool, but we're actually in favor of reduced abstraction in test automation!

What is Abstraction?

Let's start with the most important part: what exactly is abstraction? Abstraction happens when basic, implementation details are gathered while more specific information is left out. For example, if you want a nice, sweet cup of coffee, you go to Starbucks and buy one. All you have to focus on is ordering your iced grande gingerbread latte (tis the season) and bam, you have coffee. The process that the barista goes through of pressing the coffee grounds into the portafilter, starting the machine, steaming the milk, adding the syrup, getting the ice, etc isn't important to you. Well, it might be if you're a coffee fanatic, but ultimately it doesn't affect the way you order your coffee. 

Ok, so what does that look like in testing? Well, instead of ordering a coffee, you're ordering automated testing, and just like with Starbucks, you don't have to worry about the background process. With an automation framework like Selenium (not the IDE, where you do get a greater level of abstraction), you get to use your programming language knowledge to code your test steps and go through the implementation process (making the coffee) yourself. Now if you abstract that process, you put all that code behind a user interface and make it "codeless."

What Does Abstraction Look Like?

Abstraction in automated testing usually looks like recorders where you manually step through a test through the application and then the recorder replays the test exactly, or rather, tries to. The trouble with this is that it's brittle, and anything like a button that changed color can break the test instantly. The other method is the use of Natural Language Programming (NLP). By using plain English to author test steps, you gain the benefits of speed and accessibility in the test authoring process while still retaining the flexibility and control of scripted approaches.

Why Use Abstraction?

So why hide the coffee brewing process behind the counter? Also known as, why hide the coding process behind a user-friendly UI? Well, theoretically, this makes it easier to write automated test steps. But there are concerns that hiding the implementation waters down the results, kind of like instant coffee. You can order your iced gingerbread latte that normally comes with three pumps of syrup, but maybe you don't like it very sweet, so you order it once with one pump. But then that's not quite sweet enough, so the next time you order it with two pumps. Eventually, you get the right balance, but it takes a while. Not to mention the perfect amount of ice, milk, hey, maybe you like a very particular amount of whipped cream, too.

Ok, the point is while you can tweak and adjust your test steps, it can take a bit to find the right combination of test steps through codeless automation. So how about just a little bit of abstraction? Well, we call this scripted, codeless test automation. Using NLP, you can write all your test steps in plain English (ideally through an intuitive UI) without a lick of JavaScript. But pull back the curtain and dip below that abstraction layer, and you can make all those customizations exactly how you want with coding. 

This is exactly why we here at Virtuoso are all in favor of reduced abstraction levels. Our scripted, codeless test automation lets you write all your test steps in NLP, and the Advanced Mode lets you into the elements of a page and write commands in the console. No more trial and error with the plain English test steps. If you don't get exactly what you want the first time, dive in between the cracks and code exactly what you want. Ok, so maybe there are a few licks of JavaScript needed, but only so you can test everything to perfection. 

Ready to see what our (non)abstraction looks like? Well, you can sign up for our free, two-week trial to give it a try for yourself! Enjoy our easy-to-use interface and authoring in plain English while having the chance to make tweaks with code.

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