Saving my sanity with browser-automation testing?!

In the rough-and-tumble world of creating a SaaS start-up, I find it all too easy to fall off the automated testing wagon. It starts with a few quick-fixes, hacked in to meet a new customer need and before I know it, all my tests are nasty red, unmaintainable mess! Then comes the dilemma: when do I spend precious feature development time paying down that technical debt?

I need to be pragmatic about how and what I test in my application. What do my customers care about? They need to be able to log in, enter data and view various reports. So a basic set of high-level, browser-automation tests that verify common customer scenarios should be a great start. They'll give me the confidence to push code live, without worrying if it broke something essential!

I'm sure some kind of 80/20 rule applies. 80% of the application's usage can be covered by 20% of the tests. So for now, I'll focus on getting that 20% in place.

I'm on a journey to restore sanity to my application's tests. I'll be blogging here more about what I learn on the way.

The set-up

My web application uses AngularJS. The future of browser-automation testing for this lies with Selenium's WebDriverJS and the Protractor wrapper library.

After a few false starts, and hours spelunking through half-finished documentation and library source code, I've managed to get a working environment for browser-automation tests.

Currently, I'm not using Jasmine, Mocha, or any other test runner. I'm yet to find one that makes WebDriverJS's promise-based approach to async testing feel natural. I don't need fancy BDD DSLs and pretty output reports. For now, it's enough to simply run node my-scenario.js and see no exceptions :)

Here's one of the first scenarios I got working. It tests the login page of the application.

var browserTest = require("../browserTest");
var LoginPage = require("../pages/LoginPage");
var db = require("../utils/db");

// browserTest is a helper that manages creating a WebDriverJS instance and wrapping it with Protractor.
browserTest(function (browser) {
    var loginPage;
    // Set up some basic data in my test database
    db.createSchoolUser("", "1234567");

    // Login with invalid credentials
    loginPage.errorMessage().shouldBe("The email address or password you entered doesn't match our records. Please try again.");

    // Login with valid credentials
    // Should be redirected to school home page

    function loadLoginPage() {
        loginPage = new LoginPage(browser);

UI tests have a tendency to be very brittle. The slightest change to a page can result in every test failing!

To keep my test code clean and maintainable I'm making use of the "Page Object" pattern. This abstracts away the messy business of interacting with the web page, leaving the test code to be a clear expression of a user's intent.

Here's the LoginPage module.

var protractor = require("protractor");

var LoginPage = function (browser) {
    this.browser = browser;

LoginPage.prototype = {

    setEmailAddress: function (emailAddress) {

    setPassword: function (password) {

    clickLogin: function () {

    errorMessage: function () {
        return this.browser.findElement(protractor.By.css(".alert")).getText();

module.exports = LoginPage;

I'd love to hear about your experiences with browser-automation testing. What handy tools/libraries have you tried? What's tripped you up?

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