Feature tests

Telling user stories

Tests that use Capybara or similar libraries, and tests that use a headless browser, often have a slightly different format from the tests that we’ve written so far.

These tests tell stories per test, they explain the features that our app has, and that our users care about.

For example, for our members app, we explain:

When I go to the members list, click the link “New member”, fill in the name, and click submit, then I want the member details page for this new member to be shown, with a confirmation message.

This is also called a user story. Tests that implement such stories are called feature tests. [1]

We’ll write some feature tests for our members app, and then later discuss the differences to the Rack::Test based tests that we’ve written for this app before.


Let’s write down our user stories first.

This way we can focus on them, and figure out the implementation later. Also, we’ll know exactly how much work we still have in front of us.

Does this make sense?

We think this describes the functionality of our little application fairly well, from the perspective of a user.

And unsurprisingly we have 5 stories. These correspond to the 5 groups of routes on a typical resource.

Test setup

Ok, let’s get started.

We’ll want our spec_helper.rb file to look like this. For now you can also just stick it to the top of your test file. Let’s call it feature_spec.rb.

require "app"
require 'capybara/dsl'
require 'capybara/poltergeist'

Capybara.default_driver = :poltergeist
Capybara.app = proc { |env| App.new.call(env) }

RSpec.configure do |config|
  config.include Capybara::DSL

As you can see we need to require both Capybara’s DSL and the Poltergeist driver. We then tell Capybara to use Poltergeist as a driver, and tell RSpec to include the DSL into our tests, so we can use these methods.

The line Capybara.app = proc { |env| App.new.call(env) } tells Capybara how to call our app. This is the equivalent of the let(:app) statement in our Rack::Test based tests: The test libararies we use do not know about our app, and how to create or call it, so we have to tell them.

Also, while we’re at it, let’s make sure our members.txt file does not leak state again, and add this to our configuration:

  config.before { File.write("members.txt", "Anja\nMaren\n") }

We’ve had this in a before block in our tests before. Moving it to our general RSpec configuration is a sensible choice, too. This way we make sure that we don’t forget about it.

Test implementation

Ok, now we’re ready to write our first feature test.

Remember how we’ve used browser.visit when we played with Capybara? The Capybara DSL that we’ve included to our RSpec tests allows us to just directly call these methods without using browser:

describe App do
  let(:links) { page.all('li').map { |li| li.all('a').map(&:text) } }

  it "listing members" do
    visit "/members"
    puts page.html

Awesome, this outputs the HTML from our members index page, just as expected.

Let’s make sure that the links are all there. We’ll just test for the link texts for now:

describe App do
  let(:links) { within('ul') { page.all('a').map(&:text) } }

  it "listing members" do
    visit "/members"
    expect(links).to eq ['Anja', 'Edit', 'Remove', 'Maren', 'Edit', 'Remove']

Ok, how do we look up those links there?

within expects a CSS selector. In our case we select the ul tag. Inside that tag we then look for all a tags, and return the text (content) of each tag. I.e. we end up with an array that has the texts of all links in our ul tag.

That seems like a good way to make sure all the links are there. We’ll want to check their href attribute, too, but we can leave that for the following tests that will click these links.

Hmmm, isn’t that a little brittle though? What if we decide to change our HTML at some point, and not use a ul tag any more. Maybe we’d use a table or some other tag. Our app would still function the same, but our tests would now fail.

Unfortunately our HTML does not give a lot of clues what’s what. There’s no way to identify the list of members, other than looking for the ul tag.

One good way of dealing with this is to use a HTML id. In HTML an id is a unique identifier on a page, and it can be used to … well, identify that element.

So, let’s change our index.erb view to add that id:

<ul id="members">

That seems good. An ul is a list, and we call it members. Pretty straightforward.

Now we can change our tests to look for the element with the members id. Since we’re using a CSS selector here, #members selects our list.

  let(:links) { within('#members') { page.all('a').map(&:text) } }

That’s better.

Let’s implement the next story.

  it "showing member details" do
    # go to the members list
    visit "/members"

    # click on the link
    click_on "Maren"

    # check the h1 tag
    expect(page).to have_css 'h1', text: 'Member: Maren'

    # check the name
    expect(page).to have_content 'Name: Maren'

See the pattern? We go to the members list, click the respective link, and then we can assert that the page shows the contents we care about.

We’re using the have_css and have_content matchers here. Again, have_css expects a CSS selector, and h1 simply selects the element with this tag name. We then also specify the content that we expect on this h1 tag. There’s no matcher for expecting various elements on the page at once, which is why we had to find and check the links on the members list manually in our first test.

Ok, let’s try the next story:

  it "creating a new member" do
    # go to the members list
    visit "/members"

    # click on the link
    click_on "New Member"

    # fill in the form
    fill_in "name", :with => "Monsta"

    # submit the form

    # check the current path
    expect(page).to have_current_path "/members/Monsta"

    # check the message
    expect(page).to have_content 'Successfully saved the new member: Monsta.'

    # check the h1 tag
    expect(page).to have_css 'h1', text: 'Member: Monsta'

Woha. This actually works, our test passes.

You see that, after navigating to the “new member” page, filling in the form, and submitting it, we can assert that we’re now looking at the right path, and there’s a confirmation message, and the right h1 tag on the page.

However, if you look closely, when we select the input tag to fill in, we need to use the actual name attribute of that input tag (which happens to be name in our case).

We said we wanted to forumate tests in a way that they reflect what our users see, and care about, right? They don’t see the name attribute of an input tag at all.

Our test tells us something about our HTML here: There’s no way for the user to know what the input field is for.

Also, in the next line, we select the submit button with find('input[type=submit]'). This, again, is a CSS selector that selects an input tag that has the attribute type set to submit.

That’s the same problem, isn’t it? The user does not see the type attribute, and they don’t care about it.

Let’s fix that.

In HTML the right way to name an input field is adding a label tag. A label tag has a for attribute that identifies the input field it is, well, for. This way software, i.e. browsers, screenreaders, but also our tests, can identify the field.

Adding labels to form elements generally is a good idea in web development. So let’s add a label to our new.erb, and edit.erb views:

  <label for="name">Name</label>
  <input type="text" id="name" name="name" value="<%= @member.name %>">

You can see how the for attribute of the label tag relates to the id attribute of the input tag. Here is the specification for for on MDN (a great resource about all things HTML).

While we’re at it, let’s also add a value attribute to the submit input tag in both forms. This tells the browser to display a certain value to the user.

  <input type="submit" value="Save">


Now we can change our tests to use the actual texts that the user sees on the page:

    # fill in the form
    fill_in "Name", :with => "Monsta"

    # submit the form
    click_on "Save"


Our tests now really read like a story about our user’s experience, except, maybe when we assert the current path. This one is debateable:

On one hand users can see that path in the URL in their browser. On the other hand most users usually don’t really care about it, and often don’t look at it.

We’ll just keep this assertion because it helps us express in our tests which page we expect to be on.

How about you go ahead and try to fill in the two remaining user stories. That seems like a great exercise at this point.

Doing so you’ll want to select a specific “Edit” link, and then later a “Remove” link.

The Capybara documentation does not mention this for some reason, but there’s an option match: :first that you can pass to the click_on method (e.g. click_on "Edit", match: :first). This will click the first matching link.

Have fun!


[1] In the short history of software development the semantics of testing, and terms for various kinds of tests, have changed a lot. If you ask 10 different developers to define the most important kinds of tests you’ll probably get 10 different lists of definitions.