Microsoft Cloud Authors: Jim Kaskade, Lori MacVittie, Andreas Grabner, Janakiram MSV, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Microservices Expo, Java IoT, Mobile IoT, Agile Computing, Release Management

Microservices Expo: Article

Best Practices for Load Testing Mobile Applications | Part I

The differences between testing traditional web and mobile applications

Mobile applications and mobile websites have become a major channel for conducting business, improving employee efficiency, communicating, and reaching consumers. In the past, mobile played a smaller role in business applications, so performance issues and outages were less of a concern. This is no longer the case. Today, performance problems with mobile applications lead directly to revenue loss, brand damage, and diminished employee productivity. Part I of this article discusses the differences between testing traditional web and mobile applications, specific challenges associated with mobile load testing, mobile testing basics and best practices for recording mobile load test scenarios. In Part II, we will look at how to conduct realistic tests and how to best analyze the results.

Application developers have long understood the need for load testing conventional desktop web applications to ensure that they will behave properly under load with the expected number of users. With the advent of mobile apps and mobile websites the principles of load testing have not changed. There are, however, challenges specific to mobile load testing that must be addressed by your load testing solution.

Since mobile apps and applications for desktop web browsers use the same underlying technologies, the good news is that most load testing tasks and challenges are the same. This means that you don't necessarily need a brand new, mobile-specific load testing tool, but you do need a quality web load testing tool capable of handling the nuances of load testing mobile apps. Using a tool that enables testing of traditional and mobile web applications enables you to leverage existing in-house skills for designing and parameterizing your scripts, running your tests, and analyzing the results.

Aside from the similarities between traditional and mobile load testing, there are three key differences:

  • Simulating network and bandwidth for wireless protocols: With 3G wireless protocols, mobile devices typically connect to the Internet using a slower, lower quality connection than desktops and laptops. This has an effect on response times on the client side and on the server, which you'll need to account for as you define your tests and analyze your results. Additionally, latency and packet loss becomes more of a factor with mobile applications and needs to be considered.
  • Recording on mobile devices: Obviously, mobile apps run on mobile devices, and this can make it difficult to record test scenarios, particularly for secured applications that use HTTPS.
  • Supporting a wide range of devices: The many different kinds of mobile devices on the market have led web application designers to tailor content based on the capabilities of the client's platform. This presents challenges for recording and playing back test scenarios.

Mobile Load Testing Basics
As you may know, a typical automated functional test for a mobile application emulates user actions (including tap, swipe, zoom, and entering text) on a real device or an emulator. The objective of load testing, however, is not to test the functionality of the application for just a single user. Rather, the goal is to see how the server infrastructure performs when handling requests from a large number of users, and to understand how response times are affected by other users interacting with the application.

An effective load test simulates a high volume of simultaneous users accessing your server via your application. Using real devices or emulators for this task is impractical because it demands acquiring, configuring, and synchronizing hundreds or thousands of real devices or machines running emulators.

The solution, of course, is to use a load testing approach that is designed to scale as needed. With a client-based approach, user actions in the browser or the native application are recorded and played back. In contrast, a protocol-based approach involves recording and reproducing the network traffic between the device and the server. To verify performance under large loads, tools that enable protocol-based testing are superior to those that support only client-based testing because they can scale up to millions of users while checking errors and response times for each user.

The basic process for protocol-based mobile load testing is:

  1. Record the network traffic between the device and the server
  2. Replay the network requests for a large number of virtual users
  3. Analyze the results

It appears straightforward, but there are challenges at every step. The good news is that these challenges can be addressed with an effective load testing approach.

Recording Mobile Load Testing Scenarios
To generate a mobile test scenario, you first need to identify the type of mobile application under test. Challenges associated with capturing the data exchanges between a mobile application and the server depend on the design of the application:

  • Native apps - These apps are coded using a programming language (Objective-C for iOS, Java for Android) and API that is specific to the device. As such, they are tied to a mobile platform and are installed from an online store or market.
  • Web apps - Built with web technologies (such as HTML and JavaScript), these applications can be accessed from any mobile browser. More sophisticated web apps may use advanced features like geolocation or web storage for data or include customizations to better match the browser used. Two popular web apps are http://touch.linkedin.com and http://m.gmail.com.
  • Hybrid Apps - A web app embedded in a native app is known as a hybrid app. The native part of the application is limited to a few user interface elements like the menu or navigation buttons, and functions such as automatic login. The main content is displayed in an embedded web browser component. The Facebook application, installed from an online store or a market is a typical sample.

Recording Tests for Native Apps
Because native apps run on your device or within an emulator, to record a test you need to intercept the network traffic coming from the real device or the emulator.

To intercept this traffic, the equipment that records the traffic must be connected to the same network as the device. When the recording computer is on the intranet behind a firewall, it is not possible to record a mobile device connected via a 3G or 4G wireless network. The device and the computer running the recorder must be connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

Most load testing tools provide a proxy based recorder, which is the easiest way to record an application's network traffic. To use this approach, you need to configure the mobile device's Wi-Fi settings so that the traffic goes through the recording proxy. Some mobile operating systems, such as iOS and Android 4, support making this change, but older versions of Android may not. Moreover, some applications connect directly to the server regardless of the proxy settings of the operating system. In either of these cases, you need a tool that provides an alternative to proxy-based recording methods based on network capture or tunneling.

Note: You can use the following simple test to check if the application can be recorded using a proxy. First, configure the proxy settings on the device and record your interactions with any website in a mobile browser. Then, try to record interactions in the native application. If your testing tool successfully records the browser generated traffic, but does not record traffic generated by the native application then you can conclude that the native application is bypassing the proxy settings and that an alternative recording method is required.

Recording Tests for Web Apps and Mobile Version of Websites
Web apps use the same web technologies as modern desktop browsers. As a result, you can record the application or the mobile version of a website from a modern browser on your regular desktop computer, which is an easier and faster alternative to recording from the device.

Many web applications check the browser and platform used to access them. This enables the application, when accessed from a mobile device, to redirect to a mobile version of the content that may contain less text or fewer images. To test such an app from the desktop, you need to modify the requests to make them appear to the server to be coming from a mobile device. Otherwise, you will not be testing the mobile version of the application as the server may redirect to a desktop version. Some browser plugins provide the ability to alter the identity of the browser (by modifying the User-Agent header of requests). Support for this feature is also directly integrated in the recorder of advanced load testing tools.

Modifying the browser's identity is not always enough. You obviously cannot use this approach to transform Internet Explorer 6 into an HTML5 compatible browser. The browser you use on the desktop must be able to parse and render content created for mobile browsers, so it's best to record with a modern browser like Internet Explorer 9, Firefox 5, Chrome 15, or Safari 5 (or a more recent version of any of these if available). If the application includes WebKit specific features, you should use a WebKit based desktop browser, preferably either Chrome or Safari.

Recording Tests for Hybrid Apps
Obviously, tests for native apps cannot be recorded using a desktop browser. However, tests for many hybrid apps can. You may be able to directly access the URL used for the application, for example http://m.facebook.com for the Facebook application, and record your tests as you would for a classic web app.

Recording Tests for Secured Native Applications
There are additional challenges to consider when recording tests for a secured native application, that is, an application that uses HTTPS for the login procedure or any other processing.

By default, all HTTPS recording methods, whether proxy or tunnel based, are seen as man-in-the-middle attacks by the device. This raises a non-blocking alert in a desktop or mobile browser but it leads to an outright connection refusal in native applications, making it impossible to record the secured traffic.

The only way to record tests for secured native applications is to provide a root certificate that authorizes the connection with the proxy or tunnel. While this feature is currently supported by relatively few load testing solutions, it is essential for load testing any native application that relies on HTTPS.

Note: The root certificate must be installed on the device. This operation is simple for iOS devices; you can simply send the certificate via email and open the attachment on the device. For other platforms, including Android, the procedure is not as straightforward and may depend on the version of the operating system and the manufacturer of the device.

Running Realistic Tests
Once you've recorded a test scenario, you need to be parameterize it so that it can emulate users with different identities and behaviors as it is played back to produce a realistic load on the server. This step is required for traditional and mobile web applications, and the tools used to complete it are the same. When playing back the test scenarios, however, there are several challenges specific to mobile load testing and we will discuss this more in Part II of this article on "Best Practices for Load Testing Mobile Applications."

More Stories By Steve Weisfeldt

Steve Weisfeldt is a Senior Performance Engineer at Neotys, a provider of load testing software for Web applications. Previously, he has worked as the President of Engine 1 Consulting, a services firm specializing in all facets of test automation. Prior to his involvement at Engine 1 Consulting, he was a Senior Systems Engineer at Aternity. Prior to that, Steve spent seven years at automated testing vendor Segue Software (acquired by Borland). While spending most of his time at Segue delivering professional services and training, he was also involved in pre-sales and product marketing efforts.

Being in the load and performance testing space since 1999, Steve has been involved in load and performance testing projects of all sizes, in industries that span the retail, financial services, insurance and manufacturing sectors. His expertise lies in enabling organizations to optimize their ability to develop, test and launch high-quality applications efficiently, on-time and on-budget. Steve graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell with a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MS in Computer Engineering.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@ThingsExpo Stories
The Internet of Things (IoT), in all its myriad manifestations, has great potential. Much of that potential comes from the evolving data management and analytic (DMA) technologies and processes that allow us to gain insight from all of the IoT data that can be generated and gathered. This potential may never be met as those data sets are tied to specific industry verticals and single markets, with no clear way to use IoT data and sensor analytics to fulfill the hype being given the IoT today.
Donna Yasay, President of HomeGrid Forum, today discussed with a panel of technology peers how certification programs are at the forefront of interoperability, and the answer for vendors looking to keep up with today's growing industry for smart home innovation. "To ensure multi-vendor interoperability, accredited industry certification programs should be used for every product to provide credibility and quality assurance for retail and carrier based customers looking to add ever increasing num...
In the next forty months – just over three years – businesses will undergo extraordinary changes. The exponential growth of digitization and machine learning will see a step function change in how businesses create value, satisfy customers, and outperform their competition. In the next forty months companies will take the actions that will see them get to the next level of the game called Capitalism. Or they won’t – game over. The winners of today and tomorrow think differently, follow different...
“Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CloudBerry Backup is a leading cross-platform cloud backup and disaster recovery solution integrated with major public cloud services, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, will discuss how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team a...
The security needs of IoT environments require a strong, proven approach to maintain security, trust and privacy in their ecosystem. Assurance and protection of device identity, secure data encryption and authentication are the key security challenges organizations are trying to address when integrating IoT devices. This holds true for IoT applications in a wide range of industries, for example, healthcare, consumer devices, and manufacturing. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lancen LaChance, vic...
What are the successful IoT innovations from emerging markets? What are the unique challenges and opportunities from these markets? How did the constraints in connectivity among others lead to groundbreaking insights? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Carmen Feliciano, a Principal at AMDG, will answer all these questions and share how you can apply IoT best practices and frameworks from the emerging markets to your own business.
Big Data has been changing the world. IoT fuels the further transformation recently. How are Big Data and IoT related? In his session at @BigDataExpo, Tony Shan, a renowned visionary and thought leader, will explore the interplay of Big Data and IoT. He will anatomize Big Data and IoT separately in terms of what, which, why, where, when, who, how and how much. He will then analyze the relationship between IoT and Big Data, specifically the drilldown of how the 4Vs of Big Data (Volume, Variety,...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftNet Solutions will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SoftNet Solutions specializes in Enterprise Solutions for Hadoop and Big Data. It offers customers the most open, robust, and value-conscious portfolio of solutions, services, and tools for the shortest route to success with Big Data. The unique differentiator is the ability to architect and ...
For basic one-to-one voice or video calling solutions, WebRTC has proven to be a very powerful technology. Although WebRTC’s core functionality is to provide secure, real-time p2p media streaming, leveraging native platform features and server-side components brings up new communication capabilities for web and native mobile applications, allowing for advanced multi-user use cases such as video broadcasting, conferencing, and media recording.
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform and how we integrate our thinking to solve complicated problems. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm ...
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
A completely new computing platform is on the horizon. They’re called Microservers by some, ARM Servers by others, and sometimes even ARM-based Servers. No matter what you call them, Microservers will have a huge impact on the data center and on server computing in general. Although few people are familiar with Microservers today, their impact will be felt very soon. This is a new category of computing platform that is available today and is predicted to have triple-digit growth rates for some ...
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
In past @ThingsExpo presentations, Joseph di Paolantonio has explored how various Internet of Things (IoT) and data management and analytics (DMA) solution spaces will come together as sensor analytics ecosystems. This year, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Joseph di Paolantonio from DataArchon, will be adding the numerous Transportation areas, from autonomous vehicles to “Uber for containers.” While IoT data in any one area of Transportation will have a huge impact in that area, combining sensor...
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
Most people haven’t heard the word, “gamification,” even though they probably, and perhaps unwittingly, participate in it every day. Gamification is “the process of adding games or game-like elements to something (as a task) so as to encourage participation.” Further, gamification is about bringing game mechanics – rules, constructs, processes, and methods – into the real world in an effort to engage people. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Endo, owner and engagement manager of Intrepid D...
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
SYS-CON Events announced today that CDS Global Cloud, an Infrastructure as a Service provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CDS Global Cloud is an IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) provider specializing in solutions for e-commerce, internet gaming, online education and other internet applications. With a growing number of data centers and network points around the world, ...
Established in 1998, Calsoft is a leading software product engineering Services Company specializing in Storage, Networking, Virtualization and Cloud business verticals. Calsoft provides End-to-End Product Development, Quality Assurance Sustenance, Solution Engineering and Professional Services expertise to assist customers in achieving their product development and business goals. The company's deep domain knowledge of Storage, Virtualization, Networking and Cloud verticals helps in delivering ...