Fundamentals of testing microservices architecture

Increased adoption of digital has pushed the need for speed to the forefront. The need to conceptualize, develop, launch new products and iterate to make them better, much ahead of the competition and gain customer mindshare, has become the critical driver of growth. Adoption of agile principles or movement towards scrum teams for increased agility are all steps in this direction. Disruptive changes have also taken place on the application front with the 3-tier architecture of the late 90s and subsequent 2 tier monolithic architecture giving way to one that is based on microservices.

Having a single codebase made a monolithic architecture less risky but slow to adopt changes, the exact opposite of a services-based architecture. Microservices architecture makes it easier for multiple development teams to make changes to the codebase in parallel. By transforming an application into a distributed set of services that are highly independent, yet interdependent, provides the ability to create new services/functionalities and modify services without impacting the overall application. These changes can be achieved by teams cutting across geographies or locations and makes it easier for them to understand functional modules rather than the humongous application codebase. However, the highly distributed nature of services also gives them a heightened ability to fail.

Breaking it down

At the core, a microservices architecture comprises of 3 layers – a REST layer that allows the service to expose APIs, the database layer, and the service layer. A robust testing strategy needs to cover all these layers and ensure that issues are not leaked to production. The further an issue moves across stages, the impact increases on account of multiple teams getting affected. Hence the test plan must cover multiple types of testing like service testing, subsystem testing, client acceptance testing, performance testing, etc. Subsequent paragraphs outline key aspects of service level testing and integration testing in a microservices architecture-based application landscape.

In service level testing, each service forming a part of the application architecture needs to be validated. Each service has dependencies on other services and transmits information to others based on need. In a monolith architecture, since connections are being established from one class to the other within the same Java Virtual machine (JVM), chances of failure are far lower. However, in a services architecture, these are distributed, driving the need for network calls to access other services and makes it more complex.

Functional Validation: The primary goal in services testing is the functionality validation of a service. Key to this is the need to understand all events the service handles through both internal as well as external APIs. At times this calls for simulating certain events to ensure that they are being handled properly by the service. Collaboration with the development team is key to understand incoming events being handled by the service as part of its functionality. A key element of functional validation – API contract testing, tests the request and response payload along with a host of areas like pagination and sorting behaviors, metadata, etc.

Compatibility: Another important aspect is recognizing and negating backward compatibility issues. This happens during the launch of a changed version of the service that breaks existing clients running in production. Changes that happen to API contracts need to be evaluated in detail to understand if they are mandatory and capable of breaking clients in production. An addition of a new attribute or a parameter may not classify as a breaking change; however, changes to response payload, behavior, error codes, or datatypes have the ability to break. A change in value typically changes the logic behind it as well. They need to be uncovered much earlier in the service testing lifecycle.

Dependencies: Another aspect of focus is external dependencies, where one would test both incoming as well as outgoing API calls. Since these are heavily dependent on the availability of other services and hence other teams, there is a strong need to obviate dependency through the usage of mocks. Having conversations with developers and getting them to insert mocks while creating individual services will enable testing dependencies without waiting for the service to be available. It is imperative to make sure the mocks are easily configurable without needing access to the codebase. Usage of mocks also drives ease in automation giving teams the ability to run independently with no configuration.

Bringing it all together

Once each service is tested for its functionality, the next step is to move onto validate how the various collaborating services work together end to end. Known as subsystem testing or integration testing, it tests the whole functionality exposed together. Understanding the architecture or application blueprint by discussions with the development team is paramount in this stage. Further, there is a strong need to use real services deployed in the integration environment rather than mocks used for external dependencies.

As part of integration testing, there is a need to validate if the services are wired very closely and talking to each other. The event stream and inter-service API calls need to be configured properly so inter-service communication channels are proper. If the service functionality level testing is proper, the chances of finding errors are minimal in this stage, since the required mocks created in the functionality testing stage would have ensured that the services function properly.

Looking in-depth, we find that the testing strategies for microservices are not extremely different from those adopted for a monolith application architecture. The fundamental difference comes in the way the interdependencies and communication between multiple services forming a part of the larger application are tested to ensure that the application as a whole function in line with expectations.

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The What, When & Why of Mobile Interrupt Testing

Read an overview of mobile app testing.

Mobile Interrupt Testing is a form of mobile application testing that deals with the behavior of an application when it is interrupted in the foreground and resumes to a state before the interruption.

Interrupt Testing, on the other hand, applies to any application type, i.e. web, mobile, stand-alone, etc. However, the variety of devices, networks, configurations, etc. makes this form of testing appropriate for mobile applications.

What is Mobile Interrupt Testing?

We all have our daily interruptions in day-to-day life. Consider a real-life example of being interrupted by a call when reading a newspaper. Some of us may notice the call, ignore it and continue to read the paper, some see the call, acknowledge it, and continue reading, a few more might attend the call, and then resume reading the paper. However, in all the above instances, one’s thought process when reading the paper has been interrupted or lost. To translate this to mobile technology, Interrupt Testing tries to find out which behavior your application exhibits when an interruption occurs.

Given below are a few examples of interruptions in smartphones:

  • Battery low
  • Battery full – when charging
  • Incoming phone call
  • Incoming SMS
  • Incoming alert/push notification from another mobile application
  • Plugged in for charging
  • Plugged out from charging
  • Device shut off
  • Application update reminders
  • Alarm or calendar reminders
  • Network connection loss
  • Network connection restoration

This list is not exhaustive and only includes the most common scenarios.

Before we move on let us understand the phrases, ‘application running in the foreground’ and ‘application running in the background’.

The application running in the foreground is the app on which the user has direct control and which will be seen on the smartphone screen.

Background applications are those apps running on the smartphone but on which the user will not have direct control until it is brought to the foreground. Apps running in the background are expected to resume to the last controlled screen/action when called to the foreground.

Usually, an app goes to the background when we open multiple apps and then we toggle between apps based on our need without closing/quitting the app. The app which is in the background will be using the memory of the phone till it is quit by killing.

The application needs to handle the interruptions adequately to meet user requirements. The expected behavior of an app for these interruptions might resemble the following:

  1. Run in the background: The interruption takes over while the application goes to the background. It gains control after the interruption ends. For example, A phone/WhatsApp/Skype call that you attend while you are reading/playing a game on the smartphone. When the call ends the game or the activity you were involved with, should resume to the state it was in, before the interruption.
  2. Show alert. Alert disappears, and you work as usual. ‘SMS received’- messages appear in the header. The user does not bother about it and continues working with the application as normal. Other mobile app alerts, such as a new friend request on Facebook or WhatsApp messages, also fall into this category. But if the user decides to read the message, the behavior described in Point 1 is followed. If ignored, the application’s state is unchanged.
  3. Call to Action: Alarms have to be turned off or snoozed before you continue working. The same thing applies to app update messages. You either have to ‘Cancel’ or ‘Accept’ the changes before you proceed. Another example is that of the low battery alert – You can choose to continue as usual or go into a low power mode (if the device allows it).
  4. No impact: An example is: if a network connection becomes available and your device connects to it. Also, when you plug your device in for charging, no alert or call to action step is necessary. It will probably do its job while you continue using your application.

Thus, depending on the interruption you are testing for, understand the behavior, and see if your application satisfies it.

Also, the behaviors described above need not be the same for all applications and devices. Be sure to find out specific details about your particular Mobile App.

Now that we understand what Interrupt Testing is and what to validate when conducting it, it is time to talk about how to do it.

How to Conduct Mobile Interrupt Testing

Look at this scenario: Google Chrome or any browser app for that matter has to run in the background when the user receives an incoming phone call.

Would you not call this a functional requirement of the google chrome app? I know, I would.

So, Interrupt Testing is a subset of Mobile Application Functional Testing. And, to conduct Interrupt Testing, you would follow the same Mobile Application Test Frameworks and Tools. It is the skill of the tester to conceive these scenarios. Once done, you would design the test cases and execute them in the same way as any other test. And do not get confused with the interrupt testing with the recovery testing. The recovery Test is to validate the restoration from a failure. Interrupt Testing is not necessarily a failure. It is a mere distraction.

The need for interrupt testing with various scenarios is very much necessary in this mobile app enriched world where competition between similar apps is at its peak. The best app with excellent usability is always talked about, referred to, and chosen by users.

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