Microservices Expo Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Mehdi Daoudi, Flint Brenton, Gordon Haff

Related Topics: Microservices Expo, Java IoT, Mobile IoT, Agile Computing, Release Management

Microservices Expo: Article

Best Practices for Load Testing Mobile Applications | Part I

The differences between testing traditional web and mobile applications

Mobile applications and mobile websites have become a major channel for conducting business, improving employee efficiency, communicating, and reaching consumers. In the past, mobile played a smaller role in business applications, so performance issues and outages were less of a concern. This is no longer the case. Today, performance problems with mobile applications lead directly to revenue loss, brand damage, and diminished employee productivity. Part I of this article discusses the differences between testing traditional web and mobile applications, specific challenges associated with mobile load testing, mobile testing basics and best practices for recording mobile load test scenarios. In Part II, we will look at how to conduct realistic tests and how to best analyze the results.

Application developers have long understood the need for load testing conventional desktop web applications to ensure that they will behave properly under load with the expected number of users. With the advent of mobile apps and mobile websites the principles of load testing have not changed. There are, however, challenges specific to mobile load testing that must be addressed by your load testing solution.

Since mobile apps and applications for desktop web browsers use the same underlying technologies, the good news is that most load testing tasks and challenges are the same. This means that you don't necessarily need a brand new, mobile-specific load testing tool, but you do need a quality web load testing tool capable of handling the nuances of load testing mobile apps. Using a tool that enables testing of traditional and mobile web applications enables you to leverage existing in-house skills for designing and parameterizing your scripts, running your tests, and analyzing the results.

Aside from the similarities between traditional and mobile load testing, there are three key differences:

  • Simulating network and bandwidth for wireless protocols: With 3G wireless protocols, mobile devices typically connect to the Internet using a slower, lower quality connection than desktops and laptops. This has an effect on response times on the client side and on the server, which you'll need to account for as you define your tests and analyze your results. Additionally, latency and packet loss becomes more of a factor with mobile applications and needs to be considered.
  • Recording on mobile devices: Obviously, mobile apps run on mobile devices, and this can make it difficult to record test scenarios, particularly for secured applications that use HTTPS.
  • Supporting a wide range of devices: The many different kinds of mobile devices on the market have led web application designers to tailor content based on the capabilities of the client's platform. This presents challenges for recording and playing back test scenarios.

Mobile Load Testing Basics
As you may know, a typical automated functional test for a mobile application emulates user actions (including tap, swipe, zoom, and entering text) on a real device or an emulator. The objective of load testing, however, is not to test the functionality of the application for just a single user. Rather, the goal is to see how the server infrastructure performs when handling requests from a large number of users, and to understand how response times are affected by other users interacting with the application.

An effective load test simulates a high volume of simultaneous users accessing your server via your application. Using real devices or emulators for this task is impractical because it demands acquiring, configuring, and synchronizing hundreds or thousands of real devices or machines running emulators.

The solution, of course, is to use a load testing approach that is designed to scale as needed. With a client-based approach, user actions in the browser or the native application are recorded and played back. In contrast, a protocol-based approach involves recording and reproducing the network traffic between the device and the server. To verify performance under large loads, tools that enable protocol-based testing are superior to those that support only client-based testing because they can scale up to millions of users while checking errors and response times for each user.

The basic process for protocol-based mobile load testing is:

  1. Record the network traffic between the device and the server
  2. Replay the network requests for a large number of virtual users
  3. Analyze the results

It appears straightforward, but there are challenges at every step. The good news is that these challenges can be addressed with an effective load testing approach.

Recording Mobile Load Testing Scenarios
To generate a mobile test scenario, you first need to identify the type of mobile application under test. Challenges associated with capturing the data exchanges between a mobile application and the server depend on the design of the application:

  • Native apps - These apps are coded using a programming language (Objective-C for iOS, Java for Android) and API that is specific to the device. As such, they are tied to a mobile platform and are installed from an online store or market.
  • Web apps - Built with web technologies (such as HTML and JavaScript), these applications can be accessed from any mobile browser. More sophisticated web apps may use advanced features like geolocation or web storage for data or include customizations to better match the browser used. Two popular web apps are http://touch.linkedin.com and http://m.gmail.com.
  • Hybrid Apps - A web app embedded in a native app is known as a hybrid app. The native part of the application is limited to a few user interface elements like the menu or navigation buttons, and functions such as automatic login. The main content is displayed in an embedded web browser component. The Facebook application, installed from an online store or a market is a typical sample.

Recording Tests for Native Apps
Because native apps run on your device or within an emulator, to record a test you need to intercept the network traffic coming from the real device or the emulator.

To intercept this traffic, the equipment that records the traffic must be connected to the same network as the device. When the recording computer is on the intranet behind a firewall, it is not possible to record a mobile device connected via a 3G or 4G wireless network. The device and the computer running the recorder must be connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

Most load testing tools provide a proxy based recorder, which is the easiest way to record an application's network traffic. To use this approach, you need to configure the mobile device's Wi-Fi settings so that the traffic goes through the recording proxy. Some mobile operating systems, such as iOS and Android 4, support making this change, but older versions of Android may not. Moreover, some applications connect directly to the server regardless of the proxy settings of the operating system. In either of these cases, you need a tool that provides an alternative to proxy-based recording methods based on network capture or tunneling.

Note: You can use the following simple test to check if the application can be recorded using a proxy. First, configure the proxy settings on the device and record your interactions with any website in a mobile browser. Then, try to record interactions in the native application. If your testing tool successfully records the browser generated traffic, but does not record traffic generated by the native application then you can conclude that the native application is bypassing the proxy settings and that an alternative recording method is required.

Recording Tests for Web Apps and Mobile Version of Websites
Web apps use the same web technologies as modern desktop browsers. As a result, you can record the application or the mobile version of a website from a modern browser on your regular desktop computer, which is an easier and faster alternative to recording from the device.

Many web applications check the browser and platform used to access them. This enables the application, when accessed from a mobile device, to redirect to a mobile version of the content that may contain less text or fewer images. To test such an app from the desktop, you need to modify the requests to make them appear to the server to be coming from a mobile device. Otherwise, you will not be testing the mobile version of the application as the server may redirect to a desktop version. Some browser plugins provide the ability to alter the identity of the browser (by modifying the User-Agent header of requests). Support for this feature is also directly integrated in the recorder of advanced load testing tools.

Modifying the browser's identity is not always enough. You obviously cannot use this approach to transform Internet Explorer 6 into an HTML5 compatible browser. The browser you use on the desktop must be able to parse and render content created for mobile browsers, so it's best to record with a modern browser like Internet Explorer 9, Firefox 5, Chrome 15, or Safari 5 (or a more recent version of any of these if available). If the application includes WebKit specific features, you should use a WebKit based desktop browser, preferably either Chrome or Safari.

Recording Tests for Hybrid Apps
Obviously, tests for native apps cannot be recorded using a desktop browser. However, tests for many hybrid apps can. You may be able to directly access the URL used for the application, for example http://m.facebook.com for the Facebook application, and record your tests as you would for a classic web app.

Recording Tests for Secured Native Applications
There are additional challenges to consider when recording tests for a secured native application, that is, an application that uses HTTPS for the login procedure or any other processing.

By default, all HTTPS recording methods, whether proxy or tunnel based, are seen as man-in-the-middle attacks by the device. This raises a non-blocking alert in a desktop or mobile browser but it leads to an outright connection refusal in native applications, making it impossible to record the secured traffic.

The only way to record tests for secured native applications is to provide a root certificate that authorizes the connection with the proxy or tunnel. While this feature is currently supported by relatively few load testing solutions, it is essential for load testing any native application that relies on HTTPS.

Note: The root certificate must be installed on the device. This operation is simple for iOS devices; you can simply send the certificate via email and open the attachment on the device. For other platforms, including Android, the procedure is not as straightforward and may depend on the version of the operating system and the manufacturer of the device.

Running Realistic Tests
Once you've recorded a test scenario, you need to be parameterize it so that it can emulate users with different identities and behaviors as it is played back to produce a realistic load on the server. This step is required for traditional and mobile web applications, and the tools used to complete it are the same. When playing back the test scenarios, however, there are several challenges specific to mobile load testing and we will discuss this more in Part II of this article on "Best Practices for Load Testing Mobile Applications."

More Stories By Steve Weisfeldt

Steve Weisfeldt is a Senior Performance Engineer at Neotys, a provider of load testing software for Web applications. Previously, he has worked as the President of Engine 1 Consulting, a services firm specializing in all facets of test automation. Prior to his involvement at Engine 1 Consulting, he was a Senior Systems Engineer at Aternity. Prior to that, Steve spent seven years at automated testing vendor Segue Software (acquired by Borland). While spending most of his time at Segue delivering professional services and training, he was also involved in pre-sales and product marketing efforts.

Being in the load and performance testing space since 1999, Steve has been involved in load and performance testing projects of all sizes, in industries that span the retail, financial services, insurance and manufacturing sectors. His expertise lies in enabling organizations to optimize their ability to develop, test and launch high-quality applications efficiently, on-time and on-budget. Steve graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell with a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MS in Computer Engineering.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@MicroservicesExpo Stories
There is a huge demand for responsive, real-time mobile and web experiences, but current architectural patterns do not easily accommodate applications that respond to events in real time. Common solutions using message queues or HTTP long-polling quickly lead to resiliency, scalability and development velocity challenges. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ryland Degnan, a Senior Software Engineer on the Netflix Edge Platform team, will discuss how by leveraging a reactive stream-based protocol,...
"We started a Master of Science in business analytics - that's the hot topic. We serve the business community around San Francisco so we educate the working professionals and this is where they all want to be," explained Judy Lee, Associate Professor and Department Chair at Golden Gate University, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
For over a decade, Application Programming Interface or APIs have been used to exchange data between multiple platforms. From social media to news and media sites, most websites depend on APIs to provide a dynamic and real-time digital experience. APIs have made its way into almost every device and service available today and it continues to spur innovations in every field of technology. There are multiple programming languages used to build and run applications in the online world. And just li...
The general concepts of DevOps have played a central role advancing the modern software delivery industry. With the library of DevOps best practices, tips and guides expanding quickly, it can be difficult to track down the best and most accurate resources and information. In order to help the software development community, and to further our own learning, we reached out to leading industry analysts and asked them about an increasingly popular tenet of a DevOps transformation: collaboration.
We call it DevOps but much of the time there’s a lot more discussion about the needs and concerns of developers than there is about other groups. There’s a focus on improved and less isolated developer workflows. There are many discussions around collaboration, continuous integration and delivery, issue tracking, source code control, code review, IDEs, and xPaaS – and all the tools that enable those things. Changes in developer practices may come up – such as developers taking ownership of code ...
The dynamic nature of the cloud means that change is a constant when it comes to modern cloud-based infrastructure. Delivering modern applications to end users, therefore, is a constantly shifting challenge. Delivery automation helps IT Ops teams ensure that apps are providing an optimal end user experience over hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud environments, no matter what the current state of the infrastructure is. To employ a delivery automation strategy that reflects your business rules, making r...
Cloud Governance means many things to many people. Heck, just the word cloud means different things depending on who you are talking to. While definitions can vary, controlling access to cloud resources is invariably a central piece of any governance program. Enterprise cloud computing has transformed IT. Cloud computing decreases time-to-market, improves agility by allowing businesses to adapt quickly to changing market demands, and, ultimately, drives down costs.
Modern software design has fundamentally changed how we manage applications, causing many to turn to containers as the new virtual machine for resource management. As container adoption grows beyond stateless applications to stateful workloads, the need for persistent storage is foundational - something customers routinely cite as a top pain point. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Bill Borsari, Head of Systems Engineering at Datera, explored how organizations can reap the bene...
How is DevOps going within your organization? If you need some help measuring just how well it is going, we have prepared a list of some key DevOps metrics to track. These metrics can help you understand how your team is doing over time. The word DevOps means different things to different people. Some say it a culture and every vendor in the industry claims that their tools help with DevOps. Depending on how you define DevOps, some of these metrics may matter more or less to you and your team.
"CA has been doing a lot of things in the area of DevOps. Now we have a complete set of tool sets in order to enable customers to go all the way from planning to development to testing down to release into the operations," explained Aruna Ravichandran, Vice President of Global Marketing and Strategy at CA Technologies, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"We are an integrator of carrier ethernet and bandwidth to get people to connect to the cloud, to the SaaS providers, and the IaaS providers all on ethernet," explained Paul Mako, CEO & CTO of Massive Networks, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"Grape Up leverages Cloud Native technologies and helps companies build software using microservices, and work the DevOps agile way. We've been doing digital innovation for the last 12 years," explained Daniel Heckman, of Grape Up in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"NetApp's vision is how we help organizations manage data - delivering the right data in the right place, in the right time, to the people who need it, and doing it agnostic to what the platform is," explained Josh Atwell, Developer Advocate for NetApp, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"Outscale was founded in 2010, is based in France, is a strategic partner to Dassault Systémes and has done quite a bit of work with divisions of Dassault," explained Jackie Funk, Digital Marketing exec at Outscale, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"I focus on what we are calling CAST Highlight, which is our SaaS application portfolio analysis tool. It is an extremely lightweight tool that can integrate with pretty much any build process right now," explained Andrew Siegmund, Application Migration Specialist for CAST, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Let's do a visualization exercise. Imagine it's December 31, 2018, and you're ringing in the New Year with your friends and family. You think back on everything that you accomplished in the last year: your company's revenue is through the roof thanks to the success of your product, and you were promoted to Lead Developer. 2019 is poised to be an even bigger year for your company because you have the tools and insight to scale as quickly as demand requires. You're a happy human, and it's not just...
The enterprise data storage marketplace is poised to become a battlefield. No longer the quiet backwater of cloud computing services, the focus of this global transition is now going from compute to storage. An overview of recent storage market history is needed to understand why this transition is important. Before 2007 and the birth of the cloud computing market we are witnessing today, the on-premise model hosted in large local data centers dominated enterprise storage. Key marketplace play...
Cavirin Systems has just announced C2, a SaaS offering designed to bring continuous security assessment and remediation to hybrid environments, containers, and data centers. Cavirin C2 is deployed within Amazon Web Services (AWS) and features a flexible licensing model for easy scalability and clear pay-as-you-go pricing. Although native to AWS, it also supports assessment and remediation of virtual or container instances within Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), or on-premise. By dr...
With continuous delivery (CD) almost always in the spotlight, continuous integration (CI) is often left out in the cold. Indeed, it's been in use for so long and so widely, we often take the model for granted. So what is CI and how can you make the most of it? This blog is intended to answer those questions. Before we step into examining CI, we need to look back. Software developers often work in small teams and modularity, and need to integrate their changes with the rest of the project code b...
Kubernetes is an open source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. Kubernetes was originally built by Google, leveraging years of experience with managing container workloads, and is now a Cloud Native Compute Foundation (CNCF) project. Kubernetes has been widely adopted by the community, supported on all major public and private cloud providers, and is gaining rapid adoption in enterprises. However, Kubernetes may seem intimidating and complex ...