Tag Archives: htmlunit

Watir, Selenium & WebDriver

Please also see my new ‘Watir-WebDriver: a detailed introduction‘ post.

Background

Of all the open source automated web testing tools available, Watir and Selenium have been the two most popular ones. Traditionally there has been advantages and disadvantages of each. Selenium’s most useful features have been its support for multiple programming languages, and is support for testing a wide variety of browsers. This is because Selenium uses JavaScript to interact with the browser, and all modern browsers support JavaScript.

Watir

Watir was originally designed to support Internet Explorer only, and was originally designed as a ruby library, meaning you had to use ruby. Watir’s most useful feature was, and is, its neat API, most likely that way because it was designed by testers. Also Watir has been traditionally had more functionality than Selenium, because it was designed to interact directly with IE instead of using JavaScript, as there are limits to what you can do with JavaScript, ie. you can’t script uploading a file.

The limitations of Watir have been addressed over time, for example, by creating new versions that support other browsers (FireWatir, SafariWatir and ChromeWatir for example), but the task of porting Watir to a new browser isn’t an easy one, and the task of keeping every port of Watir in sync, with the same API, is difficult. Because of Watir’s power, there has been lots of interest in it as a tool, particularly from developers who use other languages. Understandably, they have wanted to use the language they are accustomed to, and use for production code, and hence numerous language ports of Watir have also been created: Watij and WatiN to name two.

Selenium & WebDriver

Selenium has had its challenges also. Whilst it has traditionally been flexible in language choice, it has technical limitations because of its JavaScript architecture. It also hasn’t offered a way to control a headless browser. Late last year WebDriver was announced. WebDriver is a common browser automation tool that uses what ever is the most appropriate mechanism to control a browser, but with a common API. WebDriver supports not only real browsers (IE, Chrome & Firefox) but also headless ones (using HtmlUnit). Watir uses have had access to a headless browser by using Celerity. WebDriver was quickly merged with Selenium, to become Selenium 2.0.

Watir & WebDriver

So, what does WebDriver mean to Watir? Some people in the Watir project see an opportunity to leverage the effort put into WebDriver, but to continue to offer the clean neat API that Watir does. Jari Bakken has released an early version of Watir-WebDriver, essentially Watir’s ruby API utilising the WebDriver engine. By using WebDriver, Watir can support any browser that WebDriver does, including a headless HtmlUnit browser, without using Celerity.

What does this mean for the future of Watir?

If you’re a Watir user, it doesn’t really make that much difference. If you think of automated web testing as a car, Watir is the steering wheel and dashboard, which interact with the engine. Allowing Watir users to use WebDriver is like providing an additional engine choice, but keeping the steering wheel and dash the same.

Ultimately, I think that Watir will remain a very popular automated web testing tool, one that has been designed by testers for testers. I can see the usage of WatiN and Watij reducing as more developers move to Selenium 2.0/WebDriver which will offer the same functionality as Watir using a different API and multiple programming languages. If WebDriver can focus on the detail of controlling browsers, ultimately Watir will be a better tool as more effort can be spent on improving the Watir API, upgrading the steering wheel and dash, so to speak.