Put Dynamic Web Pages to the Test

SAN MATEO (07/17/2000) - Dynamic, database-driven Web sites capable of generating pages of information in real-time based on end-user input are naturally a boon to e-commerce, allowing online storefronts to address the individual needs of online shoppers.

But serving personalized pages on the fly adds an additional level of complexity to the site building process and places heavier demands on quality assurance. If your Web site delivers the wrong pages to visitors, or processes purchases or payments improperly, you're going to lose customers.

With the trials and tribulations of testing dynamic, multi-tiered Web sites directly in its sights, ParaSoft Corp. has released WebKing 2. Borrowing a page from the C, C++, and Java debugging playbook, WebKing inserts itself directly into the Web development life cycle by treating the disparate pages that make up a Web site as a single application.

WebKing 2 allows Web developers to apply standard debugging techniques, including white-box, black-box, and regression testing, across an entire site to unearth faulty servlets, JavaScript and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) errors, and corrupt CGI scripts. By catching these and other problems before a site goes into production, WebKing not only can safeguard customer satisfaction, but save development time and money as well.

At US$3,495, WebKing 2 isn't cheap. But given the potential savings in developer time, not to mention the quality assurance it provides, the software should more than pay for itself in the long run.

Running under Windows NT Server 4 on a Dell Dimension XPS equipped with a 450MHz Pentium III processor and 256MB of memory, WebKing 2 successfully worked through every Web site I threw at it -- even larger sites containing more than 5,000 pages. My tests revealed that crunching through complex sites doesgenerate a fair amount of traffic, so it would be best to unleash WebKing 2 on your corporate network during times of off-peak usage.

Web King2 sports a utilitarian interface that makes it easy to get it up and running quickly. From the main console window, you have access to all of WebKing 2's standard tools and plug-ins, including a spell checker, a link checker, a source code viewer, and CodeWizard, a feature used to enforce HTML, JavaScript, and CSS coding standards. A link to Jtest, ParaSoft's automatic class testing tool for Java, is also available. To use this, you'll need to have a licensed copy of Jtest ($3,495) on your workstation.

I applaud ParaSoft for providing an uncluttered work environment, but I found WebKing 2 to be a little too Spartan at times. Context-sensitive help would be nice in spots to prevent frequent trips to the on-line manuals. The product also does not strictly adhere to Microsoft Windows GUI standards. For example, I could not access the Network Neighborhood from within any of the Open or Save As dialog boxes. Hopefully ParaSoft will improve WebKing's Windows integration in future releases.

A battery of tests

WebKing 2 allows you to perform four types of tests in a Web environment: white-box, black-box, regression, and "Web-box," ParaSoft's own method of testing dynamic output. Each test type addresses a different group of components that typically make up a Web site, from HTML coding in pages to a site's interaction with back-end databases.

Using white-box testing, you can create an instance of every static and dynamic page of a Web site and look for broken links and HTML, JavaScript, and CSS coding errors. In addition, you can test the validity of every form on a site using a set of predetermined inputs. WebKing 2 automates the entire white-box testing process; simply clicking a Test All button in the main console window causes the program to sift through the entire site from top to bottom. Results from white-box tests are presented in a tree diagram that shows you the location of errors within the file and directory hierarchy of your site.

Throughout my site shakedowns, WebKing was able to correctly identify numerous types of errors, including deliberate errors that I made in several JavaScripts. I was also able to employ WebKing 2's RuleWizard to establish custom Web coding rules for my site. For instance, I was able to create a common set of rules for any form elements on the site and have WebKing verify their implementation.

As a complement to white-box testing, WebKing 2's black-box testing component is used to test a site's functionality and integrity. Part of this process involves testing the critical paths an application takes through the site. For example, you could use black-box testing to verify that your credit-card processing application presented users with the correct Web pages in response to their inputs.

To protect developers against introducing errors when modifying Web applications, WebKing 2 provides regression testing. Basically, this allows you to determine if any incremental change in the code of your Web site has caused it to fail any of the black-or white-box tests that it passed earlier.

Rounding out the testing suite is Web-box testing, a technique that allows you to test a single dynamic Web page at a time. For example, in addition to validating a shopping cart applet located on my site, Web-box testing allowed me to automatically issue commands to recompile the applet, test for errors, and transfer the new executable to my production server when changes were made to the applet code.

As Web sites continue to evolve dynamically, tools such as WebKing will become more and more critical to maintaining high quality assurance standards. Organizations looking for an ally in the testing and debugging process should give WebKing 2 serious consideration.

Todd Coopee (todd_coopee@infoworld.com) covers Internet-based groupware, document management, Web site analysis tools, and application development for the Test Center.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

WebKing 2

Business Case: This Web site testing tool not only decreases the time and costs necessary to develop and maintain large-scale dynamic Web sites but also can improve online customer satisfaction by ensuring that Web sites function properly.

Technology Case: From validating code to spell-checking to application and form verification, WebKing 2 offers a number of useful testing options for Web developers.

Pros:

+ Multiple testing options

+ Detects errors in static and dynamic Web pages+ Enforces HTML, JavaScript, and CSS coding standardsCons:

- Expensive

- Quirky interface COST

Cost: $2,995 introductory price; $3,495 after July 31, 2000; WebKing Lite available for freePlatform(s): Windows 95, 98, 2000, NT 4, Linux, SolarisParaSoft Corp., Monrovia, Calif.; (888) 305-0041; www.parasoft.com.

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