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Activities, Activities, Activities!

A library of built-in activities are essential to a strong “no code” automation tool, and this release delivers 36 new activities in key areas that enable brand new automation scenarios.

The full list of new activities is below.  The new Flow Control activities include 3 loops designed to repeat actions for common scenarios where traditional programming might use a “for” loop.  With this update, AutoBloks now supports “if/then/else”, “while”, and “for” programming concepts.  The new “Text” category provides a wealth of opportunity for analyzing or manipulating any text, while the “Data” category has been expanded with several new activities related to work with date/time values.

File System

  • Overwrite text in file - which will overwrite the current file text with new text.
  • Read text from file - which can read individual lines, ranges of lines, or all text.
  • Count lines in file - to output the total number of lines in a file.
  • Find and replace text in file - to perform text replacement directly in a file.
  • Find and replace pattern in file - to perform regex-based text replacement directly in a file.

Data

  • Read random line from file - to help randomize data by pulling in a value from a file of seed values (e.g. first names, last names, phone numbers)
  • Random date of birth - to generate a date that will result in an age within the range given
  • Format date/time - to convert any date string into another format
  • Extract date parts - to break any date down into parts like month, day, year, milliseconds, day of the week
  • Adjust date/time - to add/subtract years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds to/from a date.
  • Create date/time - to define a new date from individual year, month, day, hour, minute, second

Text

  • Count characters - to count the number of characters in text
  • Make lowercase - to convert text to lowercase
  • Make uppercase - to convert text to uppercase
  • Trim white space - to remove leading/trailing white space and/or collapse repeated white space
  • Pad text - to add additional characters before and/or after text until it is a certain length
  • First characters - to return the first number of characters in text
  • Last characters - to return the last number of characters in text
  • Repeat text - to create a new text value by repeating a smaller value until the desired length is met
  • Extract text - to return a subset of text from a larger text value
  • Insert text - to insert a new text value into another text value
  • Join text - to combine multiple text values until a single value with optional separator between
  • Find text - to find explicit text in a larger text value
  • Find pattern - to match regular expression pattern against larger text value
  • Replace text - to replace all matches of explicit text with new value
  • Replace pattern - to replaces all matches of regular expression pattern with new value
  • Count separated values - to count the number of entries in a delimited list of values (CSV supported)
  • Get separated value - to return the value at a certain position in a delimited list of values (CSV supported)
  • Set separated value - to set the value at a certain position in a delimited list of values (CSV supported)
  • Find separated value – to find the position of a value in a delimited list of values (CSV supported)

Flow Control

  • For each separated value - allows you to loop over every entry in a list of separated values (e.g. “One,Two,Three”, or “One;Two;Three”) with full support for CSV formatting.
  • Counted repeat - for a simple loop that executes a set number of times.  Easier to configure than using a "Conditional repeat" loop.
  • Stepping repeat - to step from a start value to an end value while running the loop for every value encountered along the way.

Synchronization

  • Wait for property value to stabilize - can be used to make sure an element is not changing (e.g. moving on the screen or text updating).
  • Wait for expression value to stabilize - can evaluate any supported expression and wait for it to stop changing.

Element Interaction

  • Count Elements - to count how many elements match a given identification.

Verification

  • Updates to Verify expression and Verify property value allow you to optionally define a custom message to appear in the report instead of the auto-generated one.

Sample Scenarios Now Supported

All these new activities enable new scenarios that weren’t possible before.  Same examples of what you can do now include:

Random data

Good testing often involves randomizing the data used for input.  AutoBloks already supported “Random characters” and “Random number” to help with some data randomization, but you now have even more powerful capabilities.  The “Random date of birth” activity allows you to specify an age range you want, and then the activity will randomly generate a date of birth within the given range.  You can combine the “Random number” and “Create date/time” activities to generate random dates.

For any other random data, the new “Random line from file” activity has you covered.  Your application may want to randomize names of people, but you don’t want to use real names.  Simply create a file with as many real names as you want, and then use “Random line from file” to randomize the name.  If you do the same for both first and last names, you will be generating a highly randomized user every time.  The same concept could be used for anything else you need to randomize!  Just create as many entries in the file as you need and then randomly pull a value from the file.

Data drive your automation with CSV files

Comma-separated values (CSV) is a common format used to represent rows of data in plain text and is fully support by Microsoft Excel.  Several new activities in this release will allow you to data-drive your process.  The following illustrate how you would build activities to read a sample file with two columns of data in CSV format where Column 1 is “User Name” and Column 2 is “Password”.

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  1. Create a variable called “{DataFile}” and set the default value to match the path of your data file.
  2. Add the “File System \ Count lines in a file” activity.  Set the “File” input argument to use the “{DataFile}” variable.  Map the “LineCount” output argument to a new variable called “{LineCount}”
  3. Add the “Flow Control \ Stepping repeat” activity to your process.  This activity will be used to loop over each line in the file that defines data.  Set the “StartValue” input argument to 1 to start at the beginning of the file, or 2 if the first line of the file contains header data.  Set the “EndValue” input argument to the variable “{LineCount}” that was established in Step 2.  Finally, map the “CurrentValue” output argument to a new variable called “{LineNumber}” so you can track which line of the file you are on.
  4. The following activities will be added inside the “Stepping repeat” loop:
    1. Read the current line by adding the “File System \ Read text from a file” activity.  Set the “File” input argument to use the same “{DataFile}” variable from prior steps. Set the “StartLineNumber” variable to “{LineNumer}” so that it reads the current line. Set “MaximumLinesToRead” to 1 to only return the single line.  Map the “Text” output argument to a new variable called “{LineValues}”.  This variable will hold the comma-separated values for the current line.
    2. Add the “Text \ Get separated value” activity to read the value from column 1.  Set the “Values” input argument as the variable “{LineValues}”.  Set the “Separator” input argument to “CSV”.  Set the “Position” input argument to 1 for the first column.  Map the “Value” output argument to a new variable called “{UserName}”.
    3. Repeat the last step to add a similar activity for the “Password” column.  Except this time set the “Position” input argument to 2 for the second column and map the “Value” output argument to a new variable called “{Password}”.
    4. TIP: You could also create variables called “{UserNamePosition}” and “{PasswordPosition}” that are given default values of 1 and 2 to make it easy to update your process later if the column positions change.  If your CSV file contained a header row, you could also use the “Find separated value” activity to automatically determine the position of each value.

Next you simply add the activities that you want to have repeated with the loop and can use the “{UserName}” and “{Password}” variables for the current row’s data.  We have plans to create a special activity specifically for looping over a data set, but the above set of activities make CSV parsing available today.

Jump to Source from Reports

When reviewing the results of a run, you can now easily jump to the source that generated the entry in the report.  Simply right-click and select “Go To Location”.  You can also double-click the entry if it does not have children (where double-click would toggle expansion state instead).

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Note that if you open a report generated on older versions of the software, you may not be able to navigate to all location types as the necessary tracking information was not part of the old report.

Integer Data Entry and Validation

Many parameters take simple integer values, and those values are often limited to a range of numbers.  The month of a year, for example, is a value from 1 to 12.  Where applicable, range-based numeric values will now verify your data matches the range and generate errors in the Error List when necessary.  The following example from the “Create date/time” activity shows spinners on integer-based fields and a validation failure when hour is set to “24” since the expected range is “0 – 23”.

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New System Variables

The following new system variables have been added and can be used when defining argument values:

  • {EmptyText} – This system variable is just an empty value with no text.  When an activity has a required argument and you intend for the value to be explicitly empty, you can pass the {EmptyText} expression to avoid the error about leaving the required argument empty.
  • {Tab} – This variable represents the tab character that cannot be typed as an argument value.
  • {CarriageReturn} and {LineFeed} – These variables represent the characters used in files to mark the end of a line.  Every operating system is a little different with how it handles the default line terminator.
  • {NewLine} – Since every operating system uses “Carriage return” and “Line feed” characters differently, this variable will always represent the default for the current operating system.  On Windows, that is a combination of “Carriage return” followed by “Line feed” (aka “CrLf” or “\r\n”).

This release started with a simple goal to implement scenario support, but the journey brought many other features and enhancements along with it that properly enable the scenario feature to shine.

Introducing Scenarios

We’ll start by introducing the big new feature… scenarios.  Until now, the only way to execute your automated process was to open each Process individually and run it.  With a scenario, you can now group multiple processes into a single scenario and run them all!  Just like how you can call activities from a process, your scenario allows you to call processes.  Perhaps most importantly, you can configure how the process will execute.  Let’s take a look!

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The above screen shot shows an example scenario.  The UI layout is very similar to a process where you have a list of calls at the top and the instructions for the call detailed on various tabs at the bottom.  In this example, the same “CaptureWebPage” process is being called five times, but each call is different.  This purpose of the “CaptureWebPage” process is to open a URL and capture the screen shot of the resulting page.  By using a scenario, I am able to reuse the same process to capture screen shots for any URL, set the browser width, and control which web browser is used.  In the first three process calls, I visit the same URL but change between three different browsers (see the “Options” column in the call list and more about browser control listed below).

Just like a process, you can create variables to store dynamic data.  In the last two process calls, I used a scenario variable to define the URL to be captured and included a non-default argument for “BrowserWidth” (see the “Input” column in the call list to see which values are being passed).  It is worth noting that scenario values are not visible to the process.  You must explicitly pass values from the scenario to the process through parameters.  This decision was very intentional to allow a process to continue to be a self-contained set of instructions.

Exposing parameters to a process is very easy and utilizes process variables.

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Above is the standard view for the Variables tool window with a process variable selected.  The “Parameter Details” section at the bottom is only available on process variables and can be toggled to show/hide the information.  By checking the “Allow values to be passed as Input Parameter”, the default value of the variable can be assigned through an Input Parameter.  The default value and description you provide for your parameter will also be visible on the Arguments tab of the process call, so you will always be well-informed about the data you can provide.  Input parameters can optionally be marked as required, and doing so will generate an error in the Error List if the user calls the process without providing the input parameter.  The final value of a variable can even be exposed as an output parameter to allow a value from one process call to be used as input in a later process call.

Some other highlights of scenarios…

  • You can disable an individual process call if you need to stop it from running in your scenario
  • You can run one or more individual processes by selecting only the process calls you want to run and using the “Run Selection” command on the context menu.
  • An error or warning icon will display in the process call list if there are any issues with the process you want to call

Error Handling and Execution Status

We have greatly expanded the error handling capabilities in this release.  There is now a global setting (under Options –> Run) that defines the default error response for when there is an issue executing an activity.  By default, the user will be prompted as before.  When calling a process or an activity, you can choose to override the default setting with an explicit response instead.  In addition to the prior response, two new general responses have been added to “continue as warning” or “continue as ignored”.  Both options allow execution to attempt to continue but will change the result of the activity call to either a “warning” or a general “ignored” status.

When running a scenario or process, the status of the last executed item will appear in the view.

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Above is the result of a scenario run (two documents docked side-by-side).  On the left is the standard scenario editor where the status of each executed process is clearly displayed in the margin.  On the right is the detailed results view that has been expanded to support scenarios.  All the activities from each process are aggregated together to produce the summary information at the top and you can drill down into individual processes to see the activity details from that process.

In the scenario editor of the above screen shot, note how the non-default “OnError” settings for two process calls are displayed in the options column.  The “RunTimeError” process is specifically designed with an activity that will generate an error, but the “OnError” setting changed the status from “Error” to either “Warning” or “Ignored”.

Status indicators are also visible for individual activities in a process.

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The screen shot above shows several activities that were successfully executed, but the selected activity in the conditional block was never executed.  Since conditional blocks and loops may not always be executed, these visual indicators allow you to quickly see which activities were executed.  In this case, I know that my condition was not met, and I might need to research if that was the desired result.

Finally, the user prompt for when an error is encountered has been expanded to support the new options.

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The “Retry” option has not changed and will continue to allow you to repeat an activity call.  The previous “Continue” option has been replaced with three individual options dictating the Error, Warning, or Ignored status to be assigned before continuing.  The “Fail Process” response is only shown when executing a scenario.  That option will fail the current process while continuing to the next process in the scenario.  The “Stop Execution” option remains unchanged and will abort any further executions, but a new “Stopped” status has been added to the results to indicate that a process was stopped before it was completed.

Browser Control

Until now, the only way to control which web browser was used during playback was to change the default browser for the application.  This complicated multi-browser testing or automating processes on a site that expected a certain browser.  You now have two ways control the browser that is used for a process.

First, the “Launch browser” activity has been expanded to support “Browser” as an argument.  If not populated, the default browser will still be used, but you can now indicate either “Chrome”, “Firefox” or “Internet Explorer” as the browser.  Like all arguments, this can be replaced by a parameter to vary the browser.

Second, a process call in a scenario can change the default browser for a process.  This is defined on the Options tab for the process call instructions as shown below:

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In the screen shot above, the default browser has been explicitly set as “Internet Explorer”.  Unless the process uses the “Launch browser” activity with a non-default browser, the process will execute in the “Internet Explorer” browser even if the application default is set to something else.  The “Browser” option also supports expression syntax, so the hard-coded value could be replaced by a scenario or environment variable.

And More…

The following updates and enhancements were also included in this release

  1. A new “Report message” activity (in the Other category) that can write any message, status, and optional image to the results.
  2. Activity calls that are not enabled will be excluded from rule analysis
  3. A new “Home” tab on the back-stage menu combines the “New” and “Recent Files” lists into a single location.
  4. A new “Run” option added to control if page source is output after element identification issues.  This was previously always enabled and is now off by default.
  5. Using the “Open containing folder” command will now select the corresponding file in the folder after it is opened.
  6. A process can be reloaded without closing and reopening it.
  7. When navigating to the source of an error, the document will be opened in “preview” mode if not already opened.  Preview documents are temporary and automatically closed the next time a preview document is opened, so this can prevent opening too many files by accident.  As always, pin the preview document to keep it open.
  8. Lots of performance improvements and fixes

While creating or debugging a Process, you typically run it multiple times to verify proper playback.  If you also have the “Open Results After Run” option enabled, the document area can quickly become cluttered with too many open results.  Most users typically don’t care about keeping these development results around for longer than a single run, but it is easy to forgot to close the results before the next run.  You can always turn off “Open Results After Run”, but then you might miss important details.

Thinking about this scenario, the ideal solution is to open the results after each run, but automatically replace those with new results on the next run.  This is exactly what Preview Results enables.

When enabled, any results after a run are opened in Preview Mode and will appear as a special tab on the right of the document tab area as shown below:

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The document tab is a different color from non-preview documents and contains a special “Keep Open” button on the tab.

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If you want to keep the results open, clicking the “Keep Open” button will exit Preview Mode and the results will stay open until you close them.  If you leave the results in Preview Mode and run a process again, the prior Preview Results will be automatically closed and replaced with the new results.

The Preview Results feature allows you to keep your document area clear of unwanted results while giving you full control to retain the results you need.

This setting is on by default, but can always be disabled under “Options –> Run” by clearing the “Use preview mode” setting under “Open results after run”.

PreviewResults

We continue to iterate quickly on bringing new functionality to AutoBloks, and the latest release (19.1.1) adds two important new features… environment variables and “on error” playback control for when an activity call encounters an error.

Environment Variables

One of the more important aspects of a successful automation strategy is to separate your data from the steps you perform.  With AutoBloks, you accomplish this through the use of variables.  Until now, all user-defined variables had to be defined on a per-process basis.  If you have several related processes that all need the same data, this could result in unnecessary duplication of variables across those process and, most importantly, introduce a high degree of maintenance if the value of a variable needed to change.  Environment variables are here to specifically address this scenario!

Environment variables are defined in XML-formatted data files.  Each file represents a single variable repository, and you can instruct AutoBloks to load one or more of those repositories.  Once loaded, the variables defined within each repository will be available to all of the processes you execute.

The following screen shot shows how easy it is to define your own environment variables.  In this example, you can see a basic XML document which defines a single variable called “PattersonConsultingUrl”.  The Options dialog of AutoBloks is used to add this file as a variable repository.  Once added, the Variables tool window will include this repository and defined variables under the “Environment Variables” category.  This new variable is now access to you just like all the other built-in and user-defined variables.

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Tip: This file format is intentionally the same as the file format used by Micro Focus Unified Functional Testing, so you can easily share your data between the tools.

While not shown above, you can also define a “Category” property for your variables to better organize large repositories of data.  For more information on using variables, refer to the AutoBloks On-line Documentation.

On Error Playback Option

No matter how hard we try to avoid them, playback errors are inevitably going to happen.  For each Activity Call, you have a new option to control how AutoBloks will respond to errors.

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  • Show prompt with options – This is the default behavior and is how AutoBloks has always behaved up until now.  The user will be prompted with a dialog to retry, continue, or stop.
  • Stop running – Log the error and stop further execution.
  • Continue to the next activity call – Log the error, but try to continue the execution.

These additional options allow you to refine the behavior of a process to better handle situations where errors are expected and you want to perform a specific action without the delay of being prompted.

We’ve known from the beginning that AutoBloks needed to support more advanced error reporting than just letting you know if you forgot to populate a required field.  We are excited to announce that AutoBloks 18.12.1 is now available and brings support for a comprehensive rules-based engine that allows for the reporting of errors, warnings, or other informational messages based on how you use the tool.

Errors tend to be the types of problems that, when left unresolved, will cause issues if you try to run your Process.  In fact, if you try to run a Process that has errors, you will get a dialog prompting you if you really want to run it.

Warnings, on the other hand, tend to be less severe.  They should not be ignored, but also should not cause a Process to fail playback.

Messages are purely informational in nature.

Meet the Error List Window

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NOTE: Users upgrading from a prior version of AutoBloks may not see the Error List tool window by default since your previous layout (without that window) is being restored. You can use the View tab of the Command Ribbon to select the Error List command from the Tool Windows group, or, from the same View tab, select Restore to Default from the Layout group to apply the new default layout.

This new tool window provides a central location to view and manage any potential problems.  The tool bar at the top allows you to filter the view to only show the items that interest you.  Specifically, you can control if the list only shows problems from the Current Document (i.e. the document you are actively working on) or Open Documents to see every possible problem from all open documents.

Additionally, each message type can be toggled on or off. If you only want to see Error messages, for instance, you can toggle off Warnings and Messages.

Each problem in the Error List also has a context menu with the available actions:

  1. Go To Location – When available, this command will adjust the selections within AutoBloks to highlight the source of the problem and move focus to the relevant control (Tip: This is the default action and will be executed if you double-click the item in the Error List)
  2. Show Help – Most commands should have a help page associated with them, and this command will open the corresponding page in your browser (Tip: The Code value in the Error List is also hyperlinked to open the same page quickly)

Error and Warning Indicators

As you use the application and introduce Errors or Warnings, you will see indicators appear throughout the user interface to help draw your attention.

Activity Call List

In the Activity Call list, small overlay icons will appear in the bottom-right corner of the standard Activity icon.  When you see one of these icons, it means one or more of the corresponding problems is present in the configuration of your Activity Call.  You can either look at the Error List window to review the problems or select the Activity Call to populate the Instructions pane and drill down into the issue.  The following shows a Warning on the “Start timer” activity and an Error on the “Verify expression value” activity.

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Instructions

When defining the Instructions of an Activity Call, there are multiple tabs where details may be provided.  Tabs will have a Red or Yellow indicator on the relevant tab if Errors or Warnings on present on the controls within that tab.  The following shows there is an Error on the Arguments tab:

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Individual controls will also have a Red or Yellow indicator next to each control with one or more problems.

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If you hover the mouse over the indicators, a tool tip will display the details of the first problem and indicate if other problems are present as well.  The following shows a tool tip for a control that has two errors:

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The body of the tool tip displays the message for the first problem.  In the footer, the text “(+1 more)” indicates that 1 additional error has also been detected and will be available in the Error List tool window.

Rules

The initial release includes rules to cover the most common problems that might arise while using AutoBloks.  The full list of rules is available here.  A summary of key functionality provided by these rules includes:

  1. Required fields for arguments and element identification must be populated
  2. Expression syntax must be used correctly
  3. Variables used within expression syntax must exist
  4. When arguments expect certain values or data formats, the input must match the expectation

This is just the beginning!  We spent a lot of time developing a rules engine that is very flexible and, as a result, we can easily add new rules to expose additional information to the user.  Have an idea for a rule you’d like to see implemented?  Please contact support and share your idea.

More Hints

Resolving errors is so important to successful automation that we have included some other hints in the user interface as well.

If the Error List tool window has any errors that match the current filter settings but the tool window is not selected, the tab will “glow red” (fades in an out).  In the following screen shot, the “Output” tool window is selected and the “Error List” tool window is tinted red to indicate errors are present:

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The following shows a button that will appear on the right edge of the status bar if any errors are detected.  This is a total count of known errors and is not impacted by the filter settings of the Error List tool window.  Clicking the status bar button will activate the Error List tool window.

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Say “hello” to AutoBloks!  Earlier this year, we set out to build a new automation tool, and the initial offering from that journey is officially launching today with support for web automation through Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.  With so many automation tools already on the market, you may be asking “why build yet another automation tool?”  We believe the answer to that question is easy… too many people who could be using automation simply are not doing so.  The tools have been around for decades, so why aren’t people using them?  Answering this question is a little harder than the first and there is surely no one answer, but we believe a big part of the problem is that the tools don’t fit the users.

While functional testers in a QA department are part of an IT organization, that does not automatically grant them the technical skills of some of their IT colleagues.  Automation tools are often complicated or unapproachable to these users, so they keep doing their work manually.  This is the user who is underserved by automation tools on the market today and are exactly who we believe can benefit the most from AutoBloks.

What About Keyword-Driven Frameworks?

For many years, the solution to the complexity of automation tools has been for a team of advanced users to create keyword-driven frameworks.  Users of any skill level could then use familiar tools, like spreadsheets, to build their automation from a series of keywords established by the automation team.  A special driver script, written in the automation tool itself, could then read these keywords one-by-one to perform an action corresponding to each.  This is a great concept because it allows a small team of expert users to handle the complexities of automation while enabling a much larger group of users to translate their business knowledge into automated scripts.

While the concept is great, the execution is often flawed.  The initial set of keywords is rarely enough, so users are frequently asking the automation team for more support.  As the number of keywords grows, it becomes more difficult for users to know which keywords are available or to fully understand what each keyword does.  Most keywords cannot properly execute without one or more arguments as input, so users now must understand which data is required, the types of data allowed, and how to populate it.  That’s even before you try to tackle having the output from one keyword be used as input on another.  Automation is also an iterative design process (try, fail, fix, repeat), so users are not removed from needing to use the original automation tool.  What starts as a solid effort to improve automation then turns back into the exact problem they were trying to solve in the first place… a complicated automation solution.

Keywords Evolved

AutoBloks builds on the great concept of a keyword-driven automation framework while addressing many of the shortcomings.  First and foremost, users are given a tool purpose-built for automation at any skill level and not asked to use spreadsheets, text editors, or other tools designed for anything BUT automation.

Relying on an automation team is a bottleneck, so we have given the user all the power.  Keywords are presented in AutoBloks as categorized Activities.  Each one has a description of what it does and the arguments, if any, are clearly defined with all the details the user needs to know.  Users simply drag-and-drop the needed activities, populate any arguments, and move on to the next activity.  When it comes time to test what you’ve built, you do so directly in AutoBloks.  Run your process from end-to-end, step over activities one-by-one, or set breakpoints to pause at a certain step.  If your playback fails, AutoBloks will let you retry the activity, skip over it to continue, or stop playback completely.  You can even correct a bad activity before retrying it, so you don’t have to start all over again!

Just the Beginning

This is, quite literally, just the beginning of AutoBloks.  There are many more capabilities we want to add to AutoBloks but believe what we have today can already address the automation needs of many.  In the near future, we will be adding support for important automation concepts like centralized element repository and reusable activity blocks (i.e. user-defined functions).  Of course, we will also be expanding the list of built-in activities to provide more and more functionality out-of-the-box.  It is going to be a long journey, and one we are excited to continue.

FREE Community Edition!

We are delighted to make this new product accessible to non-enterprise users who may not have otherwise had access to automation tools.  Individuals, non-profits, and small businesses (under $1 million of annual revenue in US dollars) can all download and use the Community Edition of AutoBloks completely free!  Absolutely no strings attached, although we hope the community will share their feedback with us and help us build a better product for everyone.

Go ahead and check it out today, and please let us know what you think.

We are ready with another maintenance release of Test Design Studio that brings a significant new feature. You can see the change notes and download now.

Run Code Analysis from the Command Line

This is a big one!  The Code Analysis functionality of Test Design Studio is perhaps the most important functionality in the tool, and this one little update opens up a world of new possibilities.  You can now trigger Test Design Studio to load a Project or Solution, analyze the code, and export the results… all from the command line without having to interact with the user interface!  Of particular interest, this should enable you to integrate Test Design Studio into your DevOps pipeline.

TestDesignStudio.exe "C:\TDS Solutions\MySolution.tdssln" -Analyze "C:\Results\MySolution.Analysis.csv"

The above loads a solution called “MySolution.tdssln” and outputs the analysis results to “MySolution.Analysis.csv”, a comma-separated values file.  This standard format can be opened in Excel or parsed by any number of 3rd-party solutions.

We started with CSV because that format was already supported by Test Design Studio using the File –> Export -> Excel option from the main menu, but more formats can be supported.  If you need a different format, please reach out and let us know what you are looking for.  If you have any challenges integrating Test Design Studio with your DevOps platform, we’re ready to work with you and make sure you get the functionality you need.

Naming Convention Rules Change

The naming conventions feature allows you to create a series of rules that are applied to named declarations in your code to make sure you are following a standard naming convention.  Use our built-in rules or create your own!  With this release, we changed how the “Matches” rule looks at regular expressions to ensure the expression fully matches the given term.  Previously, the ^ and $ characters were added to any pattern that did not include them to ensure a full match, but this caused issues with some alternation patterns.  Those characters are no longer added to your pattern and, instead, we now make sure that the length of the pattern match is the same as the name being verified.  Make sure any regular expressions you define will fully match the entire name to be successful.

If you are using our built-in rules, your files are automatically updated with this release.  If you copied our rules or created a new one of your own, make sure you look at the changes in the macro patterns we define in our rules so you apply the same to your own files.  If you modified the built-in files without copying them to a new location, your modifications will be overridden by this update.  Please make sure you are maintaining your edits outside of the application installation folder to avoid future overwrites.

Incremental Search

We always included an introduction to the Incremental Search feature in our getting started walk through, but it never had a dedicated help topic until now.  For those that skip the walkthrough, you might have missed out on this great productivity booster.  As a reminder for those who missed it, Incremental Search allows you to quickly and easily navigate to matching search terms in the document, all without removing your hands from the keyboard or loading a blocking UI element.

To begin Incremental Search, press the keyboard shortcut Ctlr+I to start searching forward, or Ctrl+Shift+I to start searching backwards. The status bar will then display “Incremental Search:” or “Reverse Incremental Search:” to match the shortcut you pressed.

With Incremental Search active, begin typing your search term. The characters you type will not be entered in the editor, but, instead, will be used to define the search. As each character is typed, Incremental Search will move the selection to the first match and the status bar will be updated to display your search term to help confirm what you have typed (e.g. “Incremental Search: MySearchTerm”). If at any point you have typed a term that is not matched in the text, the status bar will display “(not found)” after your search term.

Once you have defined your search term, you can easily navigate to all the matches for the same term. No matter whether your started with Ctrl+I or Ctrl+Shift+I, pressing Ctrl+I while Incremental Search is active will move forward to the next term, and Ctrl+Shift+I will move backwards to the previous term. Continue issuing either of these keyboard shortcuts to navigate through all the matched terms.

Incremental Search mode will be automatically cancelled if you change the selection with mouse or keyboard. You can manually cancel Incremental Search with the Esc key.

If you’ve never tried Incremental Search, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.  Try performing Incremental Search for the term “dim” to quickly jump between all your declarations, or enter the name of a variable to cycle through all the places it appears in the file.  Once you see how easy it can be to perform these simple navigations, you’ll wonder who you ever lived without it. We put together a quick 2-min video highlighting the feature. Check it out!

We are pleased to announce the availability of Test Design Studio 4.5 (Build 7220).  You can see the change notes and download now.  There are two notable changes in this release that we want to highlight.

Goodbye .NET Framework 3.5

With this release, we were able to remove the final components that were forcing us to keep a dependency on .NET Framework 3.5.  This is particularly nice for our Windows 10 users who would have to enable that feature in Windows if not already turned on.  You will still need .NET Framework 4.5.2 (or newer).  Windows 7 and Windows 8 users will still need to install the .NET Framework, but Windows 10 users should already have what they need since even the first release of Windows 10 included .NET Framework 4.6.

Next/Previous Declaration Commands

These commands have been missing since Test Design Studio 3, but now they’re back and better than ever.  The restored Edit.NextDeclaration and Edit.PreviousDeclaration commands allow you to easily navigate to major declarations in your file.  They intentionally do not stop on every declaration, only the major ones.  Those include:

  1. Script-level function/sub declarations
  2. Class declarations
  3. Class-level public variables
  4. Class-level function/sub declarations
  5. Class properties

The default shortcut for “Next” is CTRL+SHIFT+Right Arrow, and “Previous” is CTRL+SHIFT+Left Arrow.  We created a quick 90-second video highlighting the new commands so you can see it in action.

We are pleased to announce that Test Design Studio 4.5 is now generally available and can be downloaded here.  Much like version 4.0, this release continues our journey to modernize the application by shifting away from .NET Windows Forms toward Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF).  While there is still a lot to migrate, we have completed the migration of all Tool Windows to WPF.

Release Highlights

WPF Conversion

As noted in the introduction, several windows were converted to WPF for this release.  Those include:

  1. Find and Replace tool window
  2. Find Results tool window
  3. Object Browser tool window
  4. Bookmarks tool window
  5. Solution Explorer tool window
  6. Task List tool window
  7. ALM Version History dialog

The end goal is to convert the entire application to WPF as that platform provides more flexible UI options and will better support hi-dpi monitors that are becoming more common today.

Search Solution Explorer

The WPF update enabled us to implement one of our favorite new features of this release, Search Solution Explorer.  This feature adds a search box at the top of solution explorer.  As you type, the entries in Solution Explorer are filter to only include the items that match your filter.  In projects with a lot of files, this can help you quickly navigate to the file you are looking for.

The picture below shows a side-by-side view of a project open in Solution Explorer.  On the right, the search term “check” has been entered in the “Search Solution Explorer” box, and the content of Solution Explorer has been filtered to only show items containing the text “check”

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Error List Column Updates

The error list now supports two new columns of data, Code and Path.  Description and File were also updated as noted below.

The Code, which is used to identify a code analysis rule, was previously displayed as part of the description, but has now been separated for display in a dedicated column.  Not only does this make it easier to sort, the value of the code is now hyperlinked to help about the particular code if you are unsure why Test Design Studio is making a recommendation.

The File column previously displayed the full path of a the file.  This has now been separated into two columns, Path and File.  The Path will display the folder location, while File now only displays the name of the file.  This helps reduce visual clutter when file path is not important, and can also make it easier to sort errors independently by either location or file name.

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Object Browser Parameter Details

VBScript does not support overloads directly in the language, but many of the built-in functions provided by VBScript do.  When the Object Browser would repeat these overloaded methods, it was not clear which entry matched which overload.

The member list has now been updated to show the type of data passed as parameters to each method call.  As seen in the picture below, it makes it easier to determine which overloaded method matches a particular parameter signature, and the faded color of the data helps keep emphasis on the function name itself.

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Task List Filter to Active File

This feature has been available on the Error List tool window for a while, so this release brings “Filter to Active File” to the Task List tool window as well.  When activated, the Task List will only show entries that are related to the currently selected file.  This allows you to stay focused on the file at hand.

Output Window Provider Filtering and Output Buffering

The Output tool window provides a method for various parts of the application to provide textual feedback about a process.  There is a drop-down to select which output you want to see.  New in this release, we now only show entries in the drop-down list that are actually providing content in the current.  The first time a provider publishes content, it will also become the active selection to make sure that content is easily seen.

Some output providers, like the one used when generating documentation, produce a lot of detail in the output window.  Updating the UI with the new output could cause poor performance.  We are now buffering the output so that instead of pushing updates on each new line, we are building a buffer of lines and only push updates about once a second.  That may not sound like much, but Documenter could easily produce many lines of output a second.  With the new buffered approach, content is still updated in near-real-time but without the performance penalties.

Open Help from Options

Test Design Studio has a lot of options to allow the end user to customize the application experience, and sometimes those options need a little explaining.  A new “Help” button has been added to the Options dialog to allow you to open the Help file to the corresponding topic.

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Cache COM References

Test Design Studio has long supported the ability to parse a COM library and provide rich IntelliSense when editing files.  Unfortunately, some of the larger libraries can take a long time to fully parse.  After a library is parsed, that data is now cached in a temporary folder for future use.  On subsequent launches of the application, the cached data can be read significantly faster than returning to the original COM library.  This greatly improves the time needed to launch a new instance of the application.

Documenter Improvements

Built-in references rarely change, yet the Test Design Studio documenter was generating HTML pages for members of the built-in references every time you generated documentation with that option.  This easily exploded the amount of time it took to generate documentation.  These generated files are now cached as they are generated.  On future documentation updates, any previously generated cache file will be used instead of re-creating the file.

We also identified a scenario where the XML data used to provide details about a project would duplicate some information for each project.  This resulted in files that were larger than they needed to be, and could result in OutOfMemory exceptions when processing the data.  Any data that can be shared between projects is now shared to reduce the file size.

We are pleased to announce that Test Design Studio 4.0 is now generally available and can be downloaded here.

Splash.TDS4_thumb[4]

This release continues our push to re-architect and modernize the back end code of the application while also moving the front-end away from Windows Forms and toward Windows Presentation Foundation with a modern look-and-feel.  The tool windows for Output, Server Explorer, and Toolbox were all converted in this release.  Even the splash screen saw the first update since v2 with a flatter design.

Release Highlights

The following are some highlights from the 4.0 release

Naming Conventions

We’re very excited about this feature.  So excited, in fact, that it gets its own blog post!

Floating Document Windows

Those with multiple monitors know how convenient it can be to float your tool windows on a secondary monitor while leaving Test Design Studio on a primary monitor, but document windows were also bound to the main window.  Not anymore!  You can now drag the document tab outside of the main window to float it, or simply right-click the document tab and select ‘Floating’.  When combined with the long-standing ability to dock document windows side-by-side in the main part of the application, you now have a new tool to customize your view to see exactly what you want and where you want to see it.

Disable Code Analysis Rule from Context Menu

We love the code analysis feature, but sometimes a rule just isn’t a good fit for your organization.  You no longer have to dig through the options dialog to find the rule you want to turn off.  If it shows up in the Error List and you don’t want to see it, simply right-click and turn it off.  You can always turn it back on from the original Options dialog.

ALM Updates

Sometimes it’s the little things.  Many users were confused about how to get Test Design Studio connected to ALM or, even worse, didn’t know the feature was available.  The Server Explorer tool window, when not connected to ALM, should remove all doubt about the capability and how to get started:

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We even redesigned the login screen with a friendly reminder that you must register the ALM Client for the integration to work properly:

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We also removed the special feature called “Offline Mode”.  This was a carry over from functionality prior to TDS 3 where server connections were managed very differently, and it created a confusing interface.  You no longer have to enter “Offline Mode” to work with any files offline.  If you’re not connected to ALM, you’ll be in offline mode.  Simple as that!  We even added the option to have your credentials stored so that your ALM connection is automatically restored every time you launch TDS.

Now TDS even scans a project before you open it to look for any ALM files and will prompt you to connect to ALM before opening (with the option to cancel) so that you are not presented with errors opening the files.

Customer Upgrades

All customers with an active maintenance agreement will receive this upgrade at no change.  Users with a Seat License will need a new serial number for this version and it will begin with "TDS40-".  Users with a Concurrent License will not need to modify their License Server, but will need a new client license file to use along with the new version.

Please contact support@patterson-consulting.net if you are ready to upgrade and have not already received your new license.