User acceptance testing of snaps, with Travis

Travis CI offers a great continuous integration service for the projects hosted on GitHub. With it, you can run tests, deliver artifacts and deploy applications every time you push a commit, on pull requests, after they are merged, or with some other frequency.

Last week Travis CI updated the Ubuntu 14.04 (Trusty) machines that run your tests and deployment steps. This update came with a nice surprise for everybody working to deliver software to Linux users, because it is now possible to install snaps in Travis!

I've been excited all week telling people about all the doors that this opens; but if you have been following my adventures in the Ubuntu world, by now you can probably guess that I'm mostly thinking about all the potential this has for automated testing. For the automation of user acceptance tests.

User acceptance tests are executed from the point of view of the user, with your software presented as a black box to them. The tests can only interact with the software through the entry points you define for your users. If it's a CLI application, then the tests will call commands and subcommands and check the outputs. If it's a website or a desktop application, the tests will click things, enter text and check the changes on this GUI. If it's a service with an HTTP API, the tests will make requests and check the responses. On these tests, the closer you can get to simulate the environment and behaviour of your real users, the better.

Snaps are great for the automation of user acceptance tests because they are immutable and they bundle all their dependencies. With this we can make sure that your snap will work the same on any of the operating systems and architectures that support snaps. The snapd service takes care of hiding the differences and presenting a consistent execution environment for the snap. So, getting a green execution of these tests in the Trusty machine of Travis is a pretty good indication that it will work on all the active releases of Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora and even on a Raspberry Pi.

Let me show you an example of what I'm talking about, obviously using my favourite snap called IPFS. There is more information about IPFS in my previous post.

Check below the packaging metadata for the IPFS snap, a single snapcraft.yaml file:

name: ipfs
version: master
summary: global, versioned, peer-to-peer filesystem
description: |
  IPFS combines good ideas from Git, BitTorrent, Kademlia, SFS, and the Web.
  It is like a single bittorrent swarm, exchanging git objects. IPFS provides
  an interface as simple as the HTTP web, but with permanence built in. You
  can also mount the world at /ipfs.
confinement: strict

    command: ipfs
    plugs: [home, network, network-bind]

    plugin: nil
    build-packages: [make, wget]
    prepare: |
      mkdir -p ../go/src/
      cp -R . ../go/src/
    build: |
      env GOPATH=$(pwd)/../go make -C ../go/src/ install
    install: |
      mv ../go/bin/ipfs $SNAPCRAFT_PART_INSTALL/bin/
    after: [go]
    source-tag: go1.7.5

It's not the most simple snap because they use their own build tool to get the go dependencies and compile; but it's also not too complex. If you are new to snaps and want to understand every detail of this file, or you want to package your own project, the tutorial to create your first snap is a good place to start.

What's important here is that if you run snapcraft using the snapcraft.yaml file above, you will get the IPFS snap. If you install that snap, then you can test it from the point of view of the user. And if the tests work well, you can push it to the edge channel of the Ubuntu store to start the crowdtesting with your community.

We can automate all of this with Travis. The snapcraft.yaml for the project must be already in the GitHub repository, and we will add there a .travis.yml file. They have good docs to prepare your Travis account. First, let's see what's required to build the snap:

sudo: required
services: [docker]

  - docker run -v $(pwd):$(pwd) -w $(pwd) snapcore/snapcraft sh -c "apt update && snapcraft"

For now, we build the snap in a docker container to keep things simple. We have work in progress to be able to install snapcraft in Trusty as a snap, so soon this will be even nicer running everything directly in the Travis machine.

This previous step will leave the packaged .snap file in the current directory. So we can install it adding a few more steps to the Travis script:


  - docker [...]
  - sudo apt install --yes snapd
  - sudo snap install *.snap --dangerous

And once the snap is installed, we can run it and check that it works as expected. Those checks are our automated user acceptance test. IPFS has a CLI client, so we can just run commands and verify outputs with grep. Or we can get fancier using shunit2 or bats. But the basic idea would be to add to the Travis script something like this:


  - /snap/bin/ipfs init
  - /snap/bin/ipfs cat /ipfs/QmVLDAhCY3X9P2uRudKAryuQFPM5zqA3Yij1dY8FpGbL7T/readme | grep -z "^Hello and Welcome to IPFS!.*$"
  - [...]

If one of those checks fail, Travis will mark the execution as failed and stop our release process until we fix them. If instead, all of the checks pass, then this version is good enough to put into the store, where people can take it and run exploratory tests to try to find problems caused by weird scenarios that we missed in the automation. To help with that we have the snapcraft enable-ci travis command, and a tutorial to guide you step by step setting up the continuous delivery from Travis CI.

For the IPFS snap we had for a long time a manual smoke suite, that our amazing community of testers have been executing over and over again, every time we want to publish a new release. I've turned it into a simple bash script that from now on will be executed frequently by Travis, and will tell us if there's something wrong before anybody gives it a try manually. With this our community of testers will have more time to run new and interesting scenarios, trying to break the application in clever ways, instead of running the same repetitive steps many times.

Thanks to Travis and snapcraft we no longer have to worry about a big part of or release process. Continuous integration and delivery can be fully automated, and we will have to take a look only when something breaks.

As for IPFS, it will keep being my guinea pig to guide new features for snapcraft and showcase them when ready. It has many more commands that have to be added to the automated test suite, and it also has a web UI and an HTTP API. Lots of things to play with! If you would like to help, and on the way learn about snaps, automation and the decentralized web, please let me know. You can take a look on my IPFS snap repo for more details about testing snaps in Travis, and other tricks for the build and deployment.

screenshot of the IPFS smoke test running in travis