Appium is an open-source tool you can use to automate mobile native, mobile web, and mobile hybrid applications on iOS and Android platforms. “Mobile native apps” are those written using the iOS or Android SDKs. “Mobile web apps” are web apps accessed using a mobile browser (Appium supports Safari on iOS and Chrome on Android). “Mobile hybrid apps” have a native wrapper around a “webview” — a native control that enables interaction with web content. Projects like Phonegap, for example, make it easy to build apps using web technologies that are then bundled into a native wrapper — these are hybrid apps.
Importantly, Appium is “cross-platform”: it allows you to write tests against multiple platforms (iOS, Android), using the same API. This enables a large or total amount of code reuse between iOS and Android testsuites.
For specific information about what it means for Appium to “support” its platforms, version, and automation modalities, please see the platform support doc.
Appium was designed to meet mobile automation needs according to a certain philosophy. The key points of this philosophy can be stated as 4 requirements:
- You shouldn’t have to recompile your app or modify it in any way in order to automate it.
- You shouldn’t be locked into a specific language or framework to write and run your tests.
- A mobile automation framework shouldn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to automation APIs.
- A mobile automation framework should be open source, in spirit and practice as well as in name!
So how does the structure of the Appium project live out this philosophy? We meet requirement #1 by using vendor-provided automation frameworks under the hood. That way, we don’t need to compile in any Appium-specific or third-party code or frameworks to your app. This means you’re testing the same app you’re shipping. The vendor-provided frameworks we use are:
- iOS: Apple’s UIAutomation
- Android 4.2+: Google’s UiAutomator
- Android 2.3+: Google’s Instrumentation. (Instrumentation support is provided by bundling a separate project, Selendroid)
We meet requirement #2 by wrapping the vendor-provided frameworks in one API, the WebDriver API. WebDriver (aka “Selenium WebDriver”) specifies a client-server protocol (known as the JSON Wire Protocol). Given this client-server architecture, a client written in any language can be used to send the appropriate HTTP requests to the server. There are already clients written in every popular programming language. This also means that you’re free to use whatever test runner and test framework you want; the client libraries are simply HTTP clients and can be mixed into your code any way you please. In other words, Appium & WebDriver clients are not technically “test frameworks” — they are “automation libraries”. You can manage your test environment any way you like!
We meet requirement #3 in the same way: WebDriver has become the de facto standard for automating web browsers, and is a W3C Working Draft. Why do something totally different for mobile? Instead we have extended the protocol with extra API methods useful for mobile automation.
It should be obvious that requirement #4 is a given — you’re reading this because Appium is open source.
Appium is at its heart a webserver that exposes a REST API. It receives connections from a client, listens for commands, executes those commands on a mobile device, and responds with an HTTP response representing the result of the command execution. The fact that we have a client/server architecture opens up a lot of possibilities: we can write our test code in any language that has a client. We can put the server on a different machine than our tests are running on. We can write test code and rely on a cloud service like Sauce Labs to receive and interpret the commands.
Automation is always performed in the context of a session. Clients initiate a session with a server in ways specific to each library, but they all end up sending a
POST /session request to the server, with a JSON object called the ‘desired capabilities’ object. At this point the server will start up the automation session and respond with a session ID which can be used in sending further commands.
Desired capabilities are sets of keys and values (i.e., a map or hash) sent to the Appium server to tell the server what kind of automation session we’re interested in starting up. There are also various capabilities which can modify the behavior of the server during automation. For example, we might set the
platformName capability to
iOS to tell Appium that we want an iOS session, rather than an Android one. Or we might set the
safariAllowPopups capability to
Appium is a server written in Node.js. It can be built and installed from source or directly from NPM.
There exist GUI wrappers around the Appium server that can be downloaded. These come bundled with everything required to run the Appium server, so you don’t need to worry about Node. They also come with an Inspector, which enables you to check out the hierarchy of your app. This can come in very handy when writing tests!
Congratulations! You are now armed with enough knowledge to begin using Appium. Why not head back to the getting started doc for more detailed requirements and instructions?