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Cover image for Front-end productivity boost: Cypress as your main development browser

Front-end productivity boost: Cypress as your main development browser

noriste profile image Stefano Magni ・6 min read

Productivity, productivity, and productivity: how you should leverage a testing tool like Cypress as your main development browser.

I'm working on a big UI Testing Best Practices project on GitHub, I share this post to spread it and have direct feedback.


Do you test your front-end manually? If you test it with some E2E tests, do you write the tests as your last step? Yes? this article is for you! 🙌
Are you a TDD developer? Don’t read it, you lose your time 😉

Cypress is known because of its E2E testing effectiveness. It has some limitations, obviously, but it’s clearly created to bring E2E testing to another level. In this post, I’d like to share how you could use Cypress as your main development browser, not only as a testing tool.

TDD developers are already practiced to leverage their testing tools as much as they can. If you do not apply a strict TDD approach, do not worry, this post is about productivity only. And if you do not test your front-end application because you “do not have time”, I hope to change your mind!

Let’s analyze how we, as front-end developers, usually work while developing the evergreen authentication form example:

  • we code the username input field
  • we try it manually through the browser
  • we eventually fix it
  • then, we code the password input field
  • we try it manually through the browser
  • then, we add the submit button
  • we code the AJAX request management

Please note that, at this point, we probably have already added some default values to the input fields to avoid filling them manually at every CTRL+S… Anyway:
we try the whole form through the browser, inspecting that the AJAX call has been made and that it sends the right payload to the server

  • since we need to check if error paths are managed correctly, we force the request-making function to return a static response containing an error (probably we are searching on StackOverflow how to simulate a wrong network response with Axios…)
  • we check that the app behaves as expected in the error cases
  • we slow down the network speed to check how an AJAX delay could affect the user experience
  • in the end, we re-check everything to be sure that the recent changes did not break the already-tested flows

I shortened the steps for the sake of this article because for every above step you probably need 5 to 20 changes + form fill etc. The smartest of us use some Chrome DevTools snippets to speed up the process, add some scripts to the source code to present the UI directly at the desired point (if the code of the view is well decoupled from the rest of the application). Some of us add a lot of conditions to prevent that some changes are effective even while the site goes online… Adding a lot of garbage code in the codebase…

If you already write E2E tests, skip the next chapter!

The power of a testing tool

If you are not a tester and if the above description matches the way you work… I have good news for you: a made-on-purpose testing tool like Cypress (or TestCafé, but please do not consider generic browser automation tools like Selenium or Puppeteer) simplifies every working step! Without making your source code dirty! Because

  • you do not need to hardcode input field default values, an automated browser interacts with the page at a blazing speed. Take a look at some tests of mines to understand what I mean with blazing
  • you do not need to simulate strange network behaviors because Cypress allows you to simulate them from a browser perspective, not from a code perspective. Your front-end app performs a standard AJAX call ignoring that Cypress is responding with what you specified (you can specify the response, the network status, a network delay, etc.)
  • Cypress controls a Chrome browser, you can leverage the DevTools you are already used to
  • Cypress creates a dedicated and persisted Chrome user, so you can install your favorite Chrome extensions (like the React and Redux DevTools)

The React and Redux DevTools in action with Cypress (from the [cypress-react-devtools](https://github.com/NoriSte/cypress-react-devtools) repo)The React and Redux DevTools in action with Cypress (from the cypress-react-devtools repo

  • you can add a lot of assertions to have an immediate green/red feedback. An assertion is a sort of English-based guard in the form of, for example: “I expect that the form passes the username and the password as the payload for the AJAX request
  • you do not need to go back and forth testing manually both the latest implemented flow and the previous ones: once you have replicated a flow with a Cypress test, it’s here to stay. If you change the code accidentally breaking a previous flow, Cypress warns you!
  • if you heard that E2E tests are slow, read what UI Integration tests are

Do you already E2E test your front-end?

Kudos 👍 only one question: do you write the tests only when you’re sure that everything works correctly? That’s the point! When you write a test, you instrument your testing tool to repeat what you’ve done manually! The same, exact, actions:

  • filling a form
  • clicking buttons
  • asserting some elements exist or are visible
  • checking the AJAX request payload

Why do you do that? Because when you test manually you have more freedom! Because you can choose the flow you want to test, because you can leverage the browser extensions and the React/Vue.js etc. DevTools, because you can access the Chrome DevTools etc.

How I leverage Cypress as my main development browser

Take a look at the repository I prepared for the Working Software Conference. The fourth commit (before all the front-end related commits) is the following:

An outside-in acceptance E2E testAn outside-in acceptance E2E test

and, while coding the front-end “app” (it was a demo, a single-component app) I have never interacted manually with the front-end. I testes it manually only when I finished developing it. How?

  • first of all: open Cypress and place it in your second monitor
  • open a Chrome of yours with Cypress and check that the DevTools you need are installed
  • install the skip-and-only-ui plugin for Cypress, it helps you to run a single test, skip some tests, etc. directly from the Cypress UI

The [cypress-skip-and-only](https://github.com/bahmutov/cypress-skip-and-only-ui) plugin in action
The cypress-skip-and-only plugin in action

  • install the watch-and-reload plugin for Cypress, you can configure it to re-launch the Cypress tests on every CTRL+S of your source file
  • write the first interaction in the Cypress test: speaking about the authentication form, the username input filling. If you are so good to be able to write the full test, kudos again!
  • start writing the source code of your front-end. The watch-and-reload plugin re-run the Cypress test without you leave the code editor

Please, stop on the last point: you hit CTRL+S and Cypress, without any manual interaction! And it’s faster and faster than you! Think about the amount of work it avoids you! Let’s continue:

  • as soon as everything works, write the next interaction in the Cypress test and code your app to make the test work
  • as soon as you need to check a different flow (AJAX 500 response, 401 response, 403 response, no network, etc.), duplicate the test and leverage the Cypress APIs to simulate it (like cy.route)
  • repeat the flow until you are done

Well done 😊 and please, share your feedback to help other developers make this productivity switch 💪

Summing up

The advantages of leveraging Cypress (and the plugin cited above)as your main development browser are:

  • you reduce manual, and slow, testing to the bare minimum saving you a lot of time
  • in the end, your app is automatically tested and the tests will remain forever
  • you avoid completely the “annoying” process of writing the test after you have coded your flow
  • you avoid adding temporary states and fake returns into your source code

Discussion

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kentcdodds profile image
Kent C. Dodds

This is great! I talk about it in TestingJavaScript.com and I call it "Cypress Driven Development." Great tips here!

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noriste profile image
Stefano Magni Author

I love your course Kent, I bought it the very first days ❤️
Anyway: thank you, I avoided that name because I was scared that some not-expert users could skip the post because they associate it to the "scary" name of TDD 😊

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

I really like Cypress! Thanks for the post.

To have a whole set of use case driven e2e tests with Cypress to replace server side integration tests would be a dream.

It's also future proofing: by decoupling e2e tests from your architecture means that you could potentially change it without touching the tests

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umutahmet profile image
Umut Ahmet

Love it.
I've been looking to change my workflow recently and I think this is what I need!

Nice one!

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noriste profile image
Stefano Magni Author

Perfect time! 😊
Let me know what works and what does not work so I will update the post if needed 😊

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codestuff2 profile image
Adam Whitlock

This is great. I will certainly give this a shot. Seems like it could help me out a ton! Thanks for writing

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Really worthwhile ideas here. I might have to take this for a spin.

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emma profile image
Emma Goto 🍙

Never thought about doing this before!

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Manuele J Sarfatti

The simplicity you communicate in this article is what finally made me dive into testing. Writing my first UI integration tests right now ✌️

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noriste profile image
Stefano Magni Author

Wow, I'm proud of getting you to dive into this amazing world ❤️ let me know if you need some help or there is something unclear during your approaching process 😊