So, today I posted my report on "Testing Gnome" to the Desktop
Below is the full text of the report, attached is a PDF.
License of this is
CC-BY-NC-SA and if
you contact me, we'll discuss other options.
Some notes on Gnome Testing
A short report on my work exploring the various methods of testing
employed currently in the Gnome projects, the state of testing as a
whole, and our current state of qa work.
First a brief section about various kinds of testing, then how they are
currently in use or not. Following up with a suggestion on how to
improve the current state of things.
About the Author
I'm D.S. "Spider" Ljungmark, Long time Linux user, developer,
administrator and general geek. Over the last year I've become more
deeply involved in software testing; I decided to apply some more of
this domain experience onto the Gnome ecosystem in order to see what I
could learn and help out with.
Before this, I was a Gentoo packager for several years until retiring
from the project, where I was also working. ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
This article is a distilled form of my talks on the subject, held at
Guadec, Spain, July - August 2012.
About software testing
Software testing is a relatively young field in terms of popularity, and
has been developing rather rapidly during the last decade, especially as
development models have changed, causing the testing process to change
When naming things in "Software Testing" there's an abundance of
confusion, disparity and methodologies available. I'll just go over a
few of these.
Unit tests are probably the most well known method of testing, and is
generally well perceived. They are a programmer aid, at a low level of
the code, testing the smallest piece possible for known good / known bad
functionality. It is more a tool to prevent regressions when
re-factoring and maintaining code, than a tool to increase an arbitrary
term of "Quality".
The value of Unit testing vs. Code By Contract and strict syntax
languages can be debated forever in academia, but it is generally
recognized that unit tests increase in value as you add developers to a
Integration tests come in (at least) two shapes, but are in all forms
testing the edges and cooperation between projects and others.
In the simplest form, this is a linking level test, making sure that the
application still builds against libraries after upgrades.
In the more advanced setting it is a protocol level test, where tests go
against an external server in order to make sure that communication
doesn't break. Integration tests of this kind usually belongs on the
lower end of the protocol stack, in libraries defining HTTP/IMAP access,
Dbus calls, and similar.
Smoke testing has it's name from the hardware world, where a unit was
plugged into a power source. If blue smoke didn't happen, it passed
In the software world it's usually centred around software starting
after build, supporting something minimal.
Performance Tests (KPI tests)
KPI stand for "Key Performance Index" and they are a way of measuring
that there are no regressions in performance. The testing is either done
manually (stopwatch and button presses) or programmatically. Commonly
they contain start-up, common actions, or load testing.
Example: measuring the time of an import job ran repeatedly; measuring
the CPU load of a user login to a web forum. Me
Acceptance Tests come in two forms, classical, and "Agile"
In Classical acceptance testing, it is the job where a client verifies a
delivered product ( Bridge, software, car ) against the contract or work
order, and is only performed at the end of the development cycle. It
usually involves massive amounts of work and long hours of lawyers.
In the more modern "Agile" method of the same name, this is limited to
testing the desired function of a single feature after completion. This
usually also involves making sure that development process was followed
(documentation, unit tests, check-ins) as well as ensuring that the user
story was fulfilled according to spec.
Acceptance tests of this kind are usually Automated, while the first
kind are a mix of automation and manual.
Functional Testing, System Testing
Functional Testing is what is considered when we ask if something meets
design criteria. It is usually pitted against System Testing, which is
asking if something meets User Criteria.
Both are commonly performed manually.
Gnome Method of Testing
The Gnome Method of Feature Testing was established in the 1.4 to 2.0
days, and reintroduced to popularity in the 3.0 release. It involves
removing all traces of a feature from the code base, waiting for a
release cycle and listening for complaints that it was removed and that
Gnome developers aren't listening to feedback. If there are no
complaints, the feature was broken and doesn't need to be fixed. If
there are complaints, it's considered for redevelopment.
For more information about Software Testing, see
http://www.satisfice.com/ or similar resources.
The Status and History of Software Testing in Gnome
Unit Testing is commonplace in many OSS projects, and are what people
mostly consider when they hear "testing". Various projects use it to
differing degrees, but overall it's well considered, recommended and in
Integration tests is done by several parties in the Development and
Distribution cycle. Of the two flavours, a few projects have service
type of integration tests, testing the ability to connect to localhost
with sftp, imap servers, libsoup tests against remote servers. On the
whole, this kind of testing requires a formal setup and laboratory with
various kinds of servers to integrate against, something that few OSS
developers have access to, and which would require the infrastructure
support by a larger organisation to support. There is certainly some of
this happening behind closed doors at various distributions, but this
remains a hidden effort, if it exists.
The other kind of integration is an area where the Distributors today
are doing a stellar job. Both testing new libraries against previously
compiled software, as well as testing rebuilds of the whole software
stacks to ensure source level compatibility. The job is spread out
between many parties but with "upstream first" and similar incentives. A
lot of work is being shared between parties. Trivial fixes tend to be
solved on many places at once, while more advanced fixes usually end up
upstream with a "formal blessing". Of course, there have been rare
cases of the procedure not working, though on the whole, this level of
testing is a solved issue.
Smoke testing is basically done by a developer in the compile - launch -
crash cycle, and is universally performed by developers as well as
distributions. There are some notable exceptions such as Fedora's
Rawhide ( re: https://lwn.net/Articles/506831/ )
As a rule there are few performance concerns, and fewer tests still. The
GTK+ toolkit has some, but there are no regular tracking of performance
regressions ( due to in large part, lack of continuous integration and
associated quality reports )
Examples of regular KPI's that could be done, and maybe, should be done,
would be "start-up until icons rendered" in Gnome Documents ( currently,
8+ seconds at times) "Start-up time of Rhythmbox" (until it can select a
song and play it) ( varies depending on library size. ), "nautilus
browsing of /bin" or the time it takes Evolution to display a mailing
On lower levels, there are tests on performance of gstreamer encoding,
decoding, as well as timing issues of certain unit tests, however there
appears to be little concern for this overall, and no continuous
reporting of progress, regression or stagnation.
Automated Acceptance Testing
There has been attempts in the past, with Mago ( last 2.12 or similar? )
Linux Desktop Testing Project and Dogtail.
Some applications ( PiTiVi ) have actively maintained acceptance tests
using this/that work and are a core part of the current development, but
as a whole this has been a largely abandoned and ignored part of
development culture. The various attempts to organise such testing have
stagnated as they are not part of the daily development.
In order to have such tests working, they have to be part of the
project and be maintained together with the project. This means being
part of the build system (not building without testing infrastructure in
place) as well as being part of the commit and release criteria. Staged
commits, automatic reverts and a culture of accepting the fact that
"breaking tests are bad" needs to work before we can enforce testing.
Also, adding testing as an external project is doomed to obsolescence
and breakage during the next development cycle. Making the tests a
burden rather than a gain.
There is no concentrated effort in Gnome at the moment to do this kind
of testing. Various distributions have organised test days (Fedora,
Ubuntu) test teams ( Ubuntu, SUSE ) which do manual testing with users
as well as professional testers.
These tests are probably overlapping, and vary in quality and range of
what is tested. All from "Create a new launcher in the dash" to "merge
conflicts in file copying between Samba and local content."
Other than that, there is the well known Debian model, to release
software to a range of users (experimental, testing) , and if nobody
complains for a time, assume that it's working. This method has dubious
value to the quality of actual testing going on, and while not time
efficient it is definitely cost efficient. That is as long as time is
not related to money.
The Development Model and Testing
The current development model is based in a few layers;
First the Original Developer
Then the code reaches "other developers" (jhbuild users)
functional acceptance tests ("This feature doesn't
integration tests ( limited to compiling and launching)
Then a release is rolled out, and Distributions take over
Function tests (Gedit can't edit files!)
( Functional Acceptance Tests )
The distributions then roll out to beta users
And then it reaches users
Without changing the world, building CI systems and forcing a culture of
testing and reverts on the world, there is an somewhat easy way of
changing the current state of things.
My suggestion is to write test cases for System Testing and to give our
Distributors a coherent set of tests for System Testing as well.
The tests do not have to be all encompassing, but they should target the
"core applications" to make sure that we retain functionality and do not
regress there. Currently, there are several such test-cases both from
Ubuntu, SUSE and Fedora, and organising this effort upstream appears to
This could later be coordinated with Live Images for a faster feedback
loop between "Code hitting tree" and "user testing it", and would also
give a basic set of functionality that should not be broken before a
release of the software.
Furthermore, I suggest having these kinds of tests for all features
announced in Release Notes, as those features are seen as "promises" to
Other than the immediate gains, this would give us an easier way of
getting interested parties involved. By bridging the step between "just
use jhbuild" and "I want to try something" we can engage more users in a
Having this set of tests would be a way for us to indicate the features
that we consider "core" to the heart, and where we have an assumption on
the distributions that they should not break without very good reason.
It may also serve as a check on our own development model that we do not
accidentally break work flow and user experiences during redesigns.
We do not need to aim for complete coverage of the tests, doing so is
unnecessary and will complicate things. It is better to have a small
amount of tests that we can maintain, than to reach too far and become
85% test coverage is a noble goal in Unit Testing, but is impossibly
high for Acceptance Testing and System Testing.
At the beginning - it's better to keep things simple, working from the
Wiki and organising test cases. Based on feedback and interest from
various parts, we can then branch out and maybe formalise and
systematise things further.
Why not automated? Isn't automation better?
Not in this case. Mostly for many cases we would end up spending more
time running and maintaining test suites than here. Tests suites are
also not proof that the software is sane and doing something useful.
This would also allow us to involve our large community.