Robot Framework Test Automation book review

9 Dec

I recently volunteered to review a book about Robot Framework (RF) in exchange for an eBook copy. As a user & fan of RF, a previous technical subject matter reviewer for Packt publishing (publisher of the book), and one who loves free stuff, I volunteered to review the book to see what it had to offer. Here’s my review, reposted from my Amazon review below. And first, here’s a link to the book:

http://www.packtpub.com/robot-framework-test-automation/book

I think some of the reviewers may have been a bit harsh in their reviews, so I’ll be one of the few to provide a balanced assessment. However, do note that I’ve read most of the book but skimmed over parts of it and have not looked at the accompanying source code that you have to download from the internet. Therefore, the review is not a complete review of the whole content of the book including the source code.

This appears to possibly be the first book about Robot Framework (excluding the framework’s user & quick start guides), which I think is a positive thing regardless of the quality of the book. As a whole, the book is nicely written for someone not familiar with Robot Framework (RF) and for non-technical people. It provides a good introduction about RF, delves into some of capabilities and benefits of RF, and is a good stepping stone to use & learn more about RF. It is a good bridge or companion to the RF project’s existing User Guide and Quick Start guide, which provide more technical detail and information not covered by this book. For more advanced coverage of RF, look elsewhere, hopefully there will be such a book to cover that in the future.

Having said that, the book does have its downsides. As pointed out by others, there are some typos in the current/first edition of the book, not a whole lot, but a few here and there as I’ve seen. Understandable, but sadly that these were missed before publication. The organization of the book is decent, but could be improved, and the chapter titles don’t reflect well against the actual topics in the chapters, at least from a technical user for what they expect to see based on the title alone as the content vs title doesn’t quite fit descriptively. Only by reading the details of the chapter summary at beginning of chapter or in the Preface do you see what the chapter is really about (compared to its title).

I also found the book a bit lacking in some areas in terms of subject matter or content. The section about Data Driven testing and Behavior Driven Development (BDD) testing could have benefited from elaboration with some actual test case examples and/or code implementation (in the book, not as external accompanying source code samples). The BDD information I felt was too brief in coverage. In same area, the book mentions “DSL” without actually defining the abbreviation (DSL = Domain Specific Language), which is bad form in technical writing as we don’t expect the user to already know abbreviations. The book also mentions RF generically without mentioning which version of RF is being covered at the time of publication/writing.

I may be incorrect in assumption, but the author also might not be active with and well informed of the RF user and developer community. I say this because while the book does mention some common & useful test libraries, there are some omissions whether by choice or ignorance. For example: AutoItLibrary (for desktop UI testing with free AutoIt tool), ranorex-robot-library (for desktop UI testing with Ranorex commercial tool) SimpleSikuli (Java test library alternative version of Sikuli integration that was covered in the book), SSH library. Another thing the author missed was the fact that the Remote Library interface/API of RF provides for much more than what was mentioned in the book, particularly that it can be used to interface RF to other languages, tools, platforms not natively supported by RF (Python/Jython/IronPython) and as such to execute tests in those areas as well. For example: (pure/native) Java (as opposed to through Jython), pure .NET as opposed to via IronPython, Ruby, Perl, PHP, and more. Furthermore, the book mentions that only the Python and Ruby versions of the (generic) remote server are implemented for users to make use of for remote libraries, and for anything else, one would have to create it themselves, though it is not necessarily hard to do so. But in reality, as of this review (and at least about 1-2 years before it), there have been other (generic) remote libraries server implementations already available (Java, .NET/C#, Perl, PHP, Clojure, node.js), so it is truly really easy to use remote libraries and for other platforms. The author should have also put in some references that for more technical information and whatever not covered by the book, the reader can look to the RF user guide and discussion with the RF user/developer community via the online Google Groups, providing the links to them with the references.

So given all this, to an (or a more) advanced/technical user, the book is not very helpful, and for what you can get for free with online searching, the RF user/developer community discussion group, and the framework’s existing user guide, the price of the book may also seem extravagant. But I think it is a useful book that can be used to help try and convince upper management, non-technical business stakeholders to adopt RF, etc.

I’d like to end the review with some positive points at least. Unless one is well familiar with RF, there are some useful things that can be learned or be reminded of from this book. For me, I hadn’t noticed that RF offered a randomization feature when executing test cases and test suites. And the coverage of the test configuration/data files like variable files was a helpful reminder to me. Last, I like the fact (at least what is stated in the book) that Packt publishing has a “Packt Open Source Royalty Scheme, by which Packt gives a royalty to each Open Source project about whose software a book is sold”. Which would mean RF should get monetary donations from Packt for each copy of this book bought by someone. I wonder what happens in the case of refunds/returns by customers though. Does that get removed from the donation amount or Packt still passes that on to OSS projects for the “initial” sale.

Maybe a future edition of the book will be more improved. And/or look forward to seeing an advanced coverage version of the book for RF for more advanced/technical readers.

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