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A J2EE Testing Primer

, May 01, 2001

May 2001: A J2EE Testing Primer

It isn't enough to simply develop software—you need to build software that works. And there's only one way to prove that your software works: test it. Due to the inherent complexity of software developed with Java, particularly software based on the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) platform, testing often proves more difficult than it first appears. With J2EE, you're developing logic using a wide range of technologies including Java Server Pages (JSPs), servlets, Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs) and relational databases—therefore, you need to apply a wide range of testing techniques and tools. This month, I explore several best practices for testing J2EE-based software and describe how to organize your environment to support effective software testing.

EJB Testing Best Practices
First, it's critical that your project team and stakeholders understand that J2EE testing is difficult. In "Object Testing Patterns" (Thinking Objectively, July 1999), I described several process patterns for testing object-oriented software and summarized a collection of techniques, such as inheritance regression testing and function testing, applicable to the testing of J2EE software. That article was just the tip of the iceberg, as Robert Binder's 1,190-page book, Testing Object-Oriented Systems: Models, Patterns and Tools (Addison Wesley, 2000) suggests. There is a wide range of testing techniques at your disposal-techniques that you must understand to be able to apply appropriately.

Second, J2EE presents unique testing challenges. J2EE software is typically distributed across several types of logical components such as firewalls, Web servers, EJB application servers and database servers. The logical components are then distributed onto physical processors that are often organized into farms of machines for scalability and performance purposes. Organizations new to J2EE, often neophytes to testing distributed software, may not be prepared to handle the task. To test distributed software, you need tools and techniques that enable you to run both single-machine and cross-machine tests. For example, a typical end-to-end test may originate in a browser and connect to a Web server to access a servlet, which interacts with session beans that may access the database through Java Database Connectivity (JDBC), and/or interacts with entity beans that access the database through the EJB persistence container. The beans produce a result that the servlet passes to a JSP to produce HTML that can be displayed in the browser. Whew! To make matters worse, many aspects of J2EE are encapsulated (for example, the internal workings of your EJB persistence container); therefore, you're often limited to black box testing techniques. This can make finding the true source of defects a challenge—sometimes requiring excruciating effort to determine a bug's cause. Furthermore, Web-based applications present a novel set of security challenges to watch out for.

Another critical best practice for J2EE testing is the automation of your regression tests. When you take an iterative approach to software development (the most common way to develop J2EE-based software), it's critical to prove that previous functionality still works after you've made changes (the focus of regression testing). Without the ability to press a button and rerun all tests against the system, a developer can never feel safe making a change to his code.

Anything the team can build, they can test: requirements, review design models, user documentation and source code. After all, if something isn't worth testing, it probably isn't worth building. Your testing process must address more than source code testing—you can and should test all important project artifacts.

An important best practice is to recognize that silence isn't golden. Your goal is to identify potential defects, not to cover them up. Good tests find defects: Tests that don't find any defects may well have failed.

Your team should test often and test early. First, because most mistakes are made early in the life of a project: Developers tend to make more errors when gathering and analyzing requirements than when designing and writing source code. Second, the cost of fixing defects increases exponentially the later they are found. This happens because of the nature of software development—work is performed based on previous work. For example, your code is based on your models, which in turn are based on your requirements. If a requirement was misunderstood, all modeling decisions based on that requirement are potentially invalid, and all code based on the models is also in question. If defects are detected during requirements definition, where they are likely to be made, then they will probably be much less expensive to fix—you have only to update your requirements model. For best results, you need to test throughout the project's entire life cycle.

Also consider writing your testing code before you write the "real" code, as developers following Extreme Programming (XP) techniques do. This forces them to think about what they are developing, to ensure that it meets the actual requirements, and that, in fact, it can be tested. You'll have to write the test eventually, so you might as well benefit from its side effects.

Finally, plan for rework. Testing your system means little if you don't intend to make repairs. Include time in your project plan to rework your system before it's delivered to your users. Too many project teams fail to plan for this and, as a result, schedules slip.

Figure 1. How to Test Different Development and Production Environments.

Solve the problem of differing development and production environments by setting up three distinct technical environments: a development area, a staging area and a production area.

Java Testing Environment

In addition to an effective testing tool suite, you also need a software environment that reflects the realities of testing. For example, in many organizations, it's quite common for development environments to differ from production environments: Perhaps developers are working on Intel-based machines running Windows NT, whereas the production environment is made up of Sun servers running Solaris. This begs the question of organizing your work to reflect this reality, particularly with regard to testing. Figure 1 presents a common solution to this problem, depicting three distinct technical environments: a development area, a staging area and a production area.

Programmers do the bulk of their work in the development area, writing and unit testing software on their personal workstations and then integrating their results with the work of their teammates within a shared integration environment. This environment typically consists of one or more machines to which programmers deploy their work on a regular basis (often daily or even hourly) to perform integration testing. A common development best practice is to continuously integrate your source code—a core XP practice that requires an integration environment to support continuous integration testing of code.

Your staging area serves as a testing ground for software that will be released into production. This enables development teams to determine how a system is likely to work within your production environment without putting actual production systems at risk: Your system may work fine on its own, but it could have adverse effects on existing systems, such as the corruption of shared data or the reduction of the runtime performance of higher-priority applications.

Ideally, your staging area should be an exact replica of your production environment, although it's often a reduced version due to replication costs. For example, your production environment may be a cluster of 50 Sun servers, whereas your staging area is a cluster of three Sun servers. The important thing is to provide a hardware and software environment that is as close as possible to your production environment.

Your production environment is where your systems run to support the day-to-day business of your organization. It's typically the domain of your organization's operations department. One of your operations department's primary goals is to ensure that no software is deployed into production until it's ready. To move your system into production, your project team will often have a long list of quality gates that it must pass through, such as proper testing in your staging area.

So, how do you use these environments effectively? Throughout an iteration, your developers will do their work in the development environment. Toward the end of an iteration, they'll schedule a minor release of their system into the staging area. It's important to understand your organization's processes and procedures for releasing software into the staging area because the area is typically shared among all project teams; the managers of the staging area also need to ensure that each team gets fair access to the environment without adversely affecting the other teams' efforts. Finally, once your project has passed your final testing in the large efforts, you'll take your release one step farther and move it from the staging area into production.

J2EE Testing Is Difficult
At the best of times, software testing is hard. Testing object-oriented software often proves more difficult than structured and procedural software because object technology is used to address more complex problem spaces. Distributed technology is harder to test than nondistributed technology because of the additional complexities inherent in multinode deployment. J2EE is a distributed, object-oriented software development platform, which means that it's one of the most difficult platforms to test. To be successful, you need to use many, if not all, of the best practices that I've described, and to adopt a productive software environment that supports the realities of developing, testing and then releasing software into production.

Fundamental Testing Concepts
Get back to basics with these essential tips

Although the focus here is on J2EE, these fundamental concepts of software testing are independent of your development environment:

  1. Test throughout the project's entire life cycle.
  2. Develop your tests before you develop an artifact.
  3. Test all artifacts.
  4. Test continuously.
  5. Determine the specific cause of a defect.
  6. Do more, not less, testing of objects.
  7. Make the goal of testing to find bugs, not cover them up.
  8. Automate your regression tests.
  9. Invest in simple, effective testing tools.
  10. Have separate personal, integration and staging areas.

—Scott W. Ambler


Java Testing Tools
Try out these tools to reduce your test anxiety

Testing is a difficult process, but it can be eased by purchasing one or more testing tools-luckily, there is a wide variety for Java-based software:
Bean-test ( by RSW Software performs scalability (load and stress) testing on EJB applications. EJBQuickTest ( simulates method invocations by clients of your EJB application, supporting regression testing, generation of test data, and performance and stress testing. Man Machine Systems' ( JStyle critiques the quality of your Java source code, including the generation of code metrics. Parasoft's ( JTest supports sophisticated code testing and quality assurance validation for Java, including white box, black box, regression and coding standards enforcement. Sitraka Software's ( JProbe is a profiler and memory debugger for Java code, including a server-side version for EJB and a client-side version for ordinary Java code. JUnit (, a favorite among XP practitioners, is an open source framework for unit- and code-testing Java code that enables you to easily implement continuous code testing on your project.

Which tools should you adopt? The Extreme Modeling (XM) methodology (Thinking Objectively, Nov. 2000 and Apr. 2001) provides several insights to guide your tool selection efforts. First, use the simplest tools that will do the job. Simpler tools require less training and less effort to work with, and are often less expensive to purchase and install. Second, adopt tools that provide value. A tool should reduce the overall effort a task requires-if it doesn't, it detracts from your project and your organization. Do the least work possible to finish the job, so you can focus on the myriad remaining tasks necessary to deliver your project to your users. To find out more about XM, visit If you want to add your two cents' worth to the discussion, you can join the XM mailing list (

—Scott W. Ambler

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