Front-end testing helps ensure that the core functionalities of a web or desktop application work properly and appear correctly to the end-user. By automating front-end testing, teams can release new features and updates faster and with fewer bugs.
However, most of the automated testing tools that are used for front-end testing don’t actually interact with the front end of their application.
Most automated software testing tools work by interacting with the underlying code (also called the DOM) of the application, and don’t actually touch the visual user interface (UI). Not only does this mean you aren’t truly testing the front-end of your application as the user would see it, but it also means you need programming skills to write and maintain your tests.
Our platform, Rainforest QA, is the only automated software testing tool that lets anyone create tests that interact with the visual layer of your application just like a user would—without learning code.
In this post, we'll cover how to create front-end tests using Rainforest. Then, we’ll review nine other popular front-end testing tools.
Front-End Testing Tools
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The main goal of most software testing tools is to make sure all the essential elements of a web page (buttons, forms, menus, etc.) are working properly. If you also want to verify the visual appearance of the elements on the front-end, you can add additional test steps that spell out each visual aspect you want to check (i.e. color, shape, position, etc.). But, as we mentioned above, most functional testing tools don’t actually test the front end of the application.
Instead, these tools check that element locators in the underlying code of the application have the right HTML and CSS settings related to color, size, style, etc. As long as those settings are correct, the test will pass. However, this style of testing ends up missing a lot of visual bugs. For example, items might have the correct settings in the DOM, but still render off-screen or get obscured by a pop-up element.
There are also a few tools that let you take a screenshot of the entire UI at various points throughout the test so you can verify the visual layer. However, these tools are often very sensitive to minor changes in the UI that you weren’t trying to test for. Additionally, you can only test the front-end at the points of the test where you’ve inserted instructions for a screenshot to be taken—rather than with every test step.
Rainforest QA takes a unique approach that allows you to test the functionality and the appearance of each element you need to test. Every Rainforest test is run by a virtual machine that interacts with the browser from the front-end, mimicking how a real user would interact with an application in the UI—all without touching the underlying code.
Here are some of the benefits that come with this approach:
To write or edit a Rainforest test, you choose from a list of actions such as observe, click, scroll, etc. Then, you take a screenshot of the element or area you want the virtual machine to verify or interact with. This lets you get very specific about which parts of the UI you want to verify or interact with to complete the test.
With each screenshot, you have the option to use pixel-matching (this is the default) or text-matching. With pixel-matching, the virtual machine will look for an arrangement of pixels that matches the original screenshot. If matching pixels are found, the test can proceed, otherwise, the test will fail.
Text-matching, on the other hand, only examines the text content of the screenshot rather than the appearance created by the pixels. For example, both buttons below contain the words ‘Buy now’ even though their appearances are very different.
With text-matching turned on, the virtual machine will be able to find either button.
Once you’re ready to run one or more tests, you can manually kick them off within the Rainforest platform. Or, your software development team can run automated testing in CI/CD using our CircleCI Orb, GitHub Action, API, or CLI. With either option, you can access our network of virtual machines, so you can run multiple tests simultaneously.
Rainforest QA also comes equipped with:
Most automated testing tools are limited to testing actions within a single browser tab. For many applications, however, there are critical user paths that require a test step to leave the browser, interact with browser settings, or open a new tab.
Because Rainforest automates the entire operating system environment within a virtual machine, not just a single browser tab, Rainforest lets you leave the tab and browser to test any feature or browser setting for web applications and desktop applications.
Determining why tests fail can be one of the most time-consuming parts of the testing process. But with the right tool, categorizing test failures can be fast and easy.
We’ve found that viewing video replays is one of the most useful tools for understanding why a test failed. That’s why Rainforest QA records every test run, whether it passes or fails. With Rainforest video replays, you can:
To further support the failure categorization and debugging process, Rainforest QA also provides:
When choosing a test automation tool, it’s important to consider how easily you can scale your testing up and down as your needs change. Many teams also want a tool they can start using for free in order to see how well it fits into their release process before committing to an expensive contract.
At Rainforest QA, we have a Professional plan that offers 5 hours of free testing every month. Then, you’re only charged $5/hr for the time you spend running tests—and that’s it. You can spend as much time previewing, writing, editing and otherwise managing your test suite without being charged.
This lets you easily scale your testing up or down at a moment’s notice, without ever paying for more than you need.
There’s no limit to the number of tests you can run or the number of users you can add.
Applitools is a plugin that can be added to tools that test the functionality of an application. The Applitools plugin supports over 40 application testing frameworks and languages, which means you can use it with most test runners.
Applitools takes a screenshot of the entire UI wherever you insert instructions to do so and lets you choose between four levels of sensitivity: exact, strict, content, or layout. If none of these levels work for you, you can also manually ‘carve out’ areas of the UI the test should ignore.
Although it can be added to many types of testing, teams that use Applitools often add it to their regression suite to cover visual regressions. Overall, Applitools relies more heavily on programming skills than other visual testing tools.
You can create unlimited tests and execute those tests on your own browsers.
Cypress currently supports cross-browser testing for Chrome and Firefox but not Safari. It’s also compatible with operating systems such as Linux, Unix, Windows, and Mac OS.
While Cypress can work well for testing the functionality of your application, many teams end up searching for Cypress alternatives for more effective front end testing.
Selenium is an open source testing framework that automates browsers. That means it’s free to use but the only support you’re offered is through the online community chat and written documentation. Additionally, you may need to pair it with other open-source or paid tools to run multiple tests at once.
Selenium also offers a record-and-playback feature called Selenium IDE and a WebDriver which allows you to connect to additional testing language libraries.
With the Selenium WebDriver, you can use programming languages such as Ruby, Java, Python, and more.
Selenium is the oldest test automation framework so it’s still widely used today. However, Selenium still has several disadvantages that we’ve written about in more detail in other articles.
Katalon Studio is a record-and-playback test automation platform built on top of Selenium and Appium. It also works with Groovy and Java.
Katalon provides helpful tools such as built-in keywords and project templates to help create test cases faster. You can learn more about Katalon in this article comparing Katalon vs. Selenium vs. Cypress vs. Rainforest QA.
TestComplete provides a library of code for frequently used actions. You can choose these actions from a dropdown list and the code for that action will automatically be inserted into your test. TestComplete also offers an object recognition engine which allows you to test elements inside a PDF or chart.
Ranorex Studio supports a combination of using record-and-playback and choosing drag-and-drop actions from a preset list or repository to write test scripts. You can also choose to insert code to have screenshots taken at any given point during the test to verify visual elements.
You can record a video of a test run, but you’ll have to choose this setting manually, and Ranorex only saves the most recent test videos. Finally, Ranorex tests are executed on real devices—either your own local devices or on remote Ranorex devices. So, you’ll need to add additional devices in addition to extra QA engineers as your software grows.
Micro Focus UFT is a record-and-playback tool that only supports the VBScript testing language. However, they do offer different methods for creating a test, from writing the code yourself to a record-and-playback option. Each method requires a different level of coding ability.
It only supports the Microsoft OS, but they do offer a few different browser options.
PhantomCSS is an open source tool designed for automated CSS testing (a type of visual regression testing). It uses PhantomJS as their headless browser, CasperJS to navigate the app and define actions, and ResembleJS to compare screenshot images to a baseline. The baseline is created with the screenshots taken from your first test run. Unlike other visual tools, PhantomCSS doesn’t offer any features to mitigate sensitivity—you will be notified of any inconsistencies.
For an open source tool, they have a relatively active community on GitHub.
The tool will automatically take a screenshot of the entire screen. If this doesn’t fit your need, you can go in and manually “cut out” areas that the test should ignore or retake a smaller screenshot. Additionally, you can set how strict of a match the test requires to pass.
With a good front-end testing tool, you can be confident your app is free of visual bugs while also testing the usability of your application.
Rainforest QA’s no-code automated testing platform lets you build automated front-end tests that simultaneously check the functionality and appearance of components of your app. It’s a scalable, all-in-one quality assurance solution that’s appropriate for small teams just getting started with automated UI testing or QA-mature teams practicing continuous integration and running 500+ automated software tests as part of their regular workflow.
Get started with Rainforest QA for free. You can run up to five hours of codeless automated UI tests for free, every month. It’s only $5/hour after that.
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