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Best Debugging Tips and Tricks in Mobile Apps Testing

Naman Upadhyay
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Naman Upadhyay
  • Mar 27, 2024
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    10 min read
Best Debugging Tips and Tricks in Mobile Apps Testing
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The creation and usage of mobile applications have increased by 21% since last year; that's how fast the mobile industry is growing. In terms of testing mobile test automation, debugging stands as a guardian for the integrity of mobile apps. It is the process that ensures that automated tests are accurate and can be trusted to catch issues in the mobile application.

In this blog, we will provide a detailed look into mobil test automation debugging, discussing its importance, common problems, and how to solve them effectively using the right strategies.

What is mobile test automation?

Mobile app testing involves utilizing automated systems and structured frameworks to execute tests on mobile applications. It enables consistent test execution, and swift bug detection, and allows the testing team to allocate more time to strategic tasks.

What is debugging a mobile automation test framework? And what is the outcome of it?

Debugging a mobile test automation script involves identifying and resolving issues that prevent your test scripts from functioning correctly. Effective debugging is a strict process or discipline that will make sure that your automation script is not fragile and that the tests will not fail due to your scripting error.

Here are the key outcomes of effective debugging:

  • Improved test stability: Debugging helps pinpoint the root cause of issues, prevent them from recurring, and ensure the stability of your automated tests.
  • Enhanced confidence: Mastering debugging skills empowers you to tackle unforeseen challenges with confidence, maintaining the integrity of your testing process.
  • Faster test execution: Reduced debugging time translates to faster test cycles, allowing you to test your app more frequently.

Understanding common debugging scenarios

Now that you have an understanding of what debugging is and what benefits we can achieve through effective debugging, let’s understand common debugging scenarios and how to approach troubleshooting systematically.

First, we’ll look at the various common scenarios.

  • Element not found: Automation scripts may encounter difficulties in consistently identifying UI elements, leading to test failures. This issue commonly arises due to changes in element locators or the dynamic loading of elements, resulting in script execution errors.
  • Flakiness in test results: Test results may exhibit inconsistency, with tests passing or failing unpredictably across different test runs. Flakiness in test results can be caused by factors such as environmental instability, timing issues, or unexpected changes in-app behavior.
  • Network connectivity issues: Tests may fail intermittently due to network connectivity issues, such as timeouts, network errors, or fluctuations in network stability. These issues can disrupt communication between the test script and the application under test, leading to test failures or unexpected behavior.
  • Performance degradation in test execution: Test execution may suffer from performance degradation, characterized by slow execution times or stalls during test runs. Performance issues can arise due to inefficient test scripts, resource-intensive operations, or limitations in the testing infrastructure.

Now let's look at the troubleshooting approaches for the above-given scenarios.

Element not found:

For UI element identification failures, follow the given troubleshooting options.

  • Verify element locators: Double-check the correctness of locators used to identify UI elements.
  • Implement wait strategies: Use explicit waits to ensure that the UI elements are fully loaded before attempting to interact with them, preventing timing-related failures.
  • Utilize alternative locators: If one locator fails to identify an element reliably, try using alternative locators such as CSS selectors.

Flakiness in test results:

For flakiness in test results, follow the given troubleshooting options.

  • Stabilize the test environment: Ensure that the test environment remains consistent and free from external disruptions that affect test execution.
  • Reduce dependencies: Minimize dependencies on external factors that may introduce variability in test results, such as network availability or server responsiveness.
  • Rerun failed tests: Implement mechanisms to automatically rerun failed tests to mitigate the impact of transient failures.

Network connectivity issues:

For network connectivity issues, follow the given troubleshooting options.

  • Simulate network conditions: Use network emulation tools to simulate different network conditions, such as latency or packet loss, to test the app's behavior under realistic scenarios.
  • Handle timeouts gracefully: Set appropriate timeout values for network operations and implement error-handling mechanisms to handle timeouts gracefully and prevent test failures.
  • Retry mechanisms: Implement retry mechanisms for network-dependent operations to handle transient failures and use exponential backoff strategies to progressively increase retry intervals and prevent flooding the network with retry attempts.

Performance degradation in test execution:

For performance degradation in test execution, follow the given troubleshooting options.

  • Optimize test scripts: Get your test scripts reviewed to eliminate redundant steps, optimize resource usage, and improve the overall script.
  • Parallelize test execution: Execute tests concurrently across multiple devices or environments to distribute workload and reduce overall execution time.
  • Monitor resource usage: Use monitoring tools that will identify resource-intensive test scripts or operations and optimize resource allocation.

The most effective strategies and techniques to debug mobile test automation

Now, let’s equip you with the ultimate debugging arsenal of strategies and techniques for your mobile apps automation testing! Here are eight powerful strategies and techniques for your debugging challenges:

Log statements: Strategically place log statements throughout your script to track variable values and execution flow, providing valuable insights into script behavior.

Breakpoints: Use breakpoints or pausing mechanisms to halt the script’s execution at specific points, allowing you to examine variable values and app states in detail.

Visual inspection tools: Leverage tools like Appium Inspector or Xcode’s UI element inspector to examine the app’s UI hierarchy and identify potential issues with element recognition.

Device and Emulator Logs: Analyze device or emulator logs to gain insights into system behavior during test execution. These logs might reveal resource limitations, compatibility issues, or unexpected app interactions.


// Command to collect logs from an Android device
adb logcat -d > device_logs.txt
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Network traffic capture: Use tools like Fiddler or Charles Proxy to analyze network traffic during test execution. This can be particularly helpful when debugging API interactions or network-related issues.

Test data management: Effectively manage test data to ensure proper isolation and prevent issues caused by data dependencies. Use separate data sets for different test scenarios to avoid conflicts.

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Clear and Concise script structure: Maintain well-organized scripts with meaningful variable names and comments. This improves code readability and simplifies the debugging process.

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Version control: Use version control systems like Git to track changes in your test scripts and revert to previous versions if necessary. This allows you to isolate regressions and pinpoint the root cause of issues.


# Revert to a previous commit by creating a new commit with the inverse of the changes
git revert <commit-hash>

# Example: Reverting to the commit with hash 'abc1234'
git revert abc1234

# Follow the prompts to complete the revert process
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Various advanced debugging tools

There are several open-source tool options available on the market for enhancing your mobile testing debugging experience, but choose the tool that will fit your project requirements.

In this section, we will discuss three open-source tools, what they are, how to use them, and their benefits for debugging mobile apps testing.

Various advanced debugging tools

Appium Inspector

What is it? Appium Inspector is a desktop application that acts like a magnifying glass for your mobile app’s UI. It allows you to visually inspect the elements that make up your app’s interface, providing valuable insights into their properties and structure.

How to use it (step-by-step):

  1. Download and Installation: Head over to the Appium Inspector project on GitHub and download the installer for your operating system (Windows, macOS, or Linux). Follow the installation instructions for your specific platform.
  2. Connecting your device: Launch Appium Inspector. Ensure your real device or emulator is turned on and connected to your computer with USB debugging enabled.
  3. Selecting the app: With Appium Inspector, you’ll see a list of connected devices and running apps. Choose the device and the specific app.
  4. Inspecting the UI: The Appium Inspector will display the app's UI elements in a tree-like structure. You can navigate through this structure to examine individual elements.
  5. Viewing element properties: Click on a specific element in the tree view. The right-hand panel will display detailed information about that element, such as its ID, text content, accessibility label, and other attributes.
  6. Interacting with elements: The Appium Inspector allows you to interact with elements directly. You can click buttons, swipe through screens, and perform other user actions to test their functionality and behavior within the app.

Benefits of the Appium Inspector in Debugging:

  • Identifying element recognition issues: Use Appium Inspector to verify if your test scripts are targeting the correct UI elements by examining their properties and location within the app's hierarchy.
  • Understanding app structure: Navigating the UI element tree helps you understand the organization of your app's interface, making it easier to write effective test scripts.
  • Simulating user interactions: Test element functionality and behavior by interacting with them directly within Appium Inspector, aiding in debugging mobile apps and their unexpected script behavior.

Android Studio Debugger

What is it? The Android Studio debugger is an integrated tool built directly into the Android Studio development environment. It allows you to step through your automated test scripts line by line, examine variables, and identify issues within your code.

How to use it (step-by-step):

  1. Writing test scripts: Develop your automated test scripts using a framework like Espresso or UiAutomator within Android Studio. Ensure your scripts are properly integrated with your testing project.
  2. Setting Breakpoints: Identify sections of your test script where you suspect issues might be occurring. Set breakpoints at specific lines of code by clicking next to the line number in the editor.
  3. Running the test script: Execute your test script within Android Studio. When the script reaches a breakpoint, the debugger will pause execution
  4. Stepping through code: Utilize the debugger controls to step through your code line by line. You can observe how variables change in value and how the app's state evolves after each line of execution.
  5. Inspecting Variables: The debugger allows you to view the values of variables in real-time as your script executes. This helps identify unexpected data changes or variable assignments that might be causing issues.
  6. Setting Watches: Focus on specific variables that you suspect might be problematic. Set watches on these variables to monitor their changes throughout the script's execution, making it easier to pinpoint where issues arise.

Benefits of the Android Studio Debugger:

  • Isolating code issues: By stepping through code line by line, you can pinpoint the exact line where an error occurs within your test script.
  • Understanding variable behavior: Inspecting variables in real-time helps you identify unexpected changes in data that might be causing your tests to fail.
  • Targeted debugging: Setting watches on critical variables allows you to focus your debugging efforts on specific areas of your code.

Xcode Debugger

What is it? Similar to Android Studio, Xcode, the primary development environment for iOS apps, includes a strong debugger specifically tailored for iOS development. This debugger allows you to step through your automated test scripts line by line, examine variables, and identify issues within your code. However, Xcode offers some unique features that are particularly useful for iOS test automation debugging.

How to use it (step-by-step):

  1. Writing test scripts: Develop your automated test scripts using frameworks like XCTest or XCUITest within Xcode. Ensure your scripts are properly integrated with your testing project.
  2. Set breakpoints and Assertions: Identify suspicious sections in your script, set breakpoints, and leverage Xcode's UI test assertions to verify expected UI element states.
  3. Running the test script: Execute your test script within Xcode. When the script reaches a breakpoint or an assertion fails, the debugger will pause execution.
  4. Leveraging the View Hierarchy Debugger: Xcode's View Hierarchy Debugger provides a visual representation of your app's UI elements. This allows you to inspect element properties and identify potential recognition issues within your test scripts.
  5. Inspecting variables and the Live View: The debugger allows you to view the values of variables in real-time as your script executes. Additionally, Xcode's Live View feature provides a real-time preview of your app as the script runs.
  6. Setting Watches and Using Quick Look: Focus on specific variables that you suspect might be problematic. Set watches on these variables to monitor their changes throughout the script's execution. Xcode's Quick Look functionality allows you to see the content of complex data structures (e.g., dictionaries, arrays).

Benefits of the Xcode Debugger:

  • Targeted debugging with UI test assertions: By incorporating UI test assertions, you can receive more specific feedback on UI interaction issues within your tests, guiding your debugging efforts.
  • Visualizing the UI with the View hierarchy debugger: The ability to visually inspect the app's UI hierarchy within Xcode streamlines the process of identifying element recognition problems.
  • Real-time insights with Live View: The Live View feature provides valuable visual cues regarding UI changes during test execution, aiding in debugging unexpected behavior.

Conclusion

In summary, we have explored the art of debugging within mobile test automation. It has equipped us with a keen understanding of debugging scenarios and a strategic approach to tackling the debugging challenges. By strategically employing the techniques and leveraging the open-source tools discussed, we can ease our mobile test automation debugging process.

If you are interested in mobile testing, then I highly recommend you check out our blogs, Best Strategies for Designing Test Frameworks for Mobile, Common Appium Mobile Automation Mistakes, and Best Practices for Appium Automation.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do you handle flaky tests that pass and fail intermittently?
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Flaky tests can be a significant challenge in mobile test automation. To handle them, start by identifying the root cause of the flakiness. Common causes include timing issues, reliance on external services, or non-deterministic test data. Once identified, you can address these issues by adding appropriate waits, using test doubles for external services, or ensuring deterministic test data.

What common issues are addressed during mobile test automation debugging?
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Debugging mobile apps typically involves addressing a variety of issues that can affect the accuracy and reliability of your tests. Some of the common issues include:

  • Flaky Tests: These are tests that produce inconsistent results, passing at times and failing at others, without any changes to the code. Flaky tests can be caused by timing issues, unhandled exceptions, or dependencies on external systems.
  • Synchronization Issues: These occur when the test script is not properly synchronized with the app’s state, leading to actions being performed before the app is ready. This can result in tests failing because elements are not found or are not in the expected state.
  • Environmental Bugs: These are issues that arise due to differences in the testing environment compared to the production environment. They can include variations in screen size, resolution, OS version, or hardware capabilities that cause the app to behave differently.
How do you manage test data during mobile test automation debugging?
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Managing test data effectively is crucial for reliable mobile test automation. It involves creating a structured approach to generate, maintain, and dispose of test data. You should have a clear understanding of the data requirements for each test case and ensure that the data is isolated from other tests to prevent cross-contamination. Using tools that can simulate various data sets and conditions can also be beneficial.

What best practices should be followed when debugging mobile test automation?
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When it comes to debugging mobile test automation, certain best practices can make the process more efficient and effective. These include:

  • Maintain clean code: Writing clear, concise, and well-commented test scripts is crucial. It makes understanding the test logic easier and helps identify issues quickly.
  • Version control: Using systems like Git to manage changes in your test scripts is essential. It allows you to track changes, collaborate with others, and revert to previous versions if a new change introduces issues.
  • Continuous Integration: Integrating your tests into a CI/CD pipeline ensures that tests are run automatically with every change. This helps catch issues early and reduces the time spent on debugging.

About the author

Naman Upadhyay

Naman Upadhyay

Naman Upadhyay, a proficient QA Engineer at Alphabin, excels in Python and React, proficiently managing diverse projects. Known for his precision-driven approach, he delivers high-quality software solutions.

More about the author
Join 1,241 readers who are obsessed with testing.
Consult the author or an expert on this topic.
Join 1,241 readers who are obsessed with testing.
Consult the author or an expert on this topic.
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