Understanding XCUITest Framework: Your Guide to Efficient iOS Testing

Pcloudy
8 min readNov 20, 2023

In today’s era of swift technological progression, effective and efficient testing of iOS applications is vital to ensuring high-quality app development. One such invaluable tool in our testing toolkit is the XCUITest framework developed by Apple. This guide will elucidate what the XCUITest framework is and why it is an ideal choice for iOS testing.

What is the XCUITest Framework?

The XCUITest framework, launched by Apple in 2015, is a robust automated UI testing tool designed for iOS automation testing. The XCUITest framework operates in conjunction with XCTest, which is a comprehensive test environment integrated into Xcode, Apple’s primary development environment.

This potent combination empowers developers and testers to create automated UI tests for native iOS & macOS applications. Tests are written using either Swift or Objective-C, which are native programming languages to Apple. The XCUITest framework stands as one of the premier mobile app testing tools, known for its maintainability, resistance to test flakiness, and ability to streamline the continuous integration (CI) process.

Why Choose XCUITest for iOS Testing?

The mobile market offers an array of testing frameworks, but the XCUITest framework has unique advantages that make it particularly beneficial for iOS application testing. Here are some of the key reasons to select XCUITest for your iOS app testing needs:

  1. Simplicity: Xcode comes pre-loaded with XCUITest, meaning there’s no additional installation required to get started with mobile automation testing.
  2. Native Testing Support: The XCUITest framework supports the native iOS languages, Swift and Objective-C. This native support promotes the confident, efficient creation of UI tests, with faster test execution and excellent integration.
  3. Promotes Collaboration: XCUITest’s compatibility with native iOS languages ensures developers and testers can collaborate effectively, writing test code in the same language.
  4. Fast and Reliable Test Execution: Because XCUITest is specifically designed for UI testing, it assures each unit test and UI test is thorough and error-free. The tests are quick, reliable, and robust.
  5. iOS Test Recorder: XCUITest, coupled with XCTest, allows for UI recording using the Xcode IDE. This feature generates test code and records UI interactions, providing a base that testers can adjust and utilize to write effective test cases.
  6. Supports Continuous Integration (CI): The XCUITest framework enables seamless integration into the CI process, enabling automated app testing. This allows for continuous feedback under actual end-user conditions and on real devices.

Mastering XCUITest: A Deep Dive into Key Concepts and the XCUITest API

When we consider the practice of automated UI testing for mobile applications, we essentially assess how the user interface reacts to user interactions and compare these test outcomes with our expected results. XCUITest, a robust testing framework developed by Apple, allows us to perform this app test automation efficiently and effectively.

Unpacking the Core Concepts of XCUITest

The power and proficiency of XCUITest are grounded in two pivotal concepts — XCTest and Accessibility.

  1. XCTest: XCTest is a pre-built testing framework in Xcode that enables the creation and execution of UI tests, unit tests, and performance tests for your Xcode projects. Utilizing either Swift or Objective-C languages, XCTest ensures certain conditions are fulfilled during code execution, recording any failures if these conditions aren’t met.
  2. Accessibility: Accessibility testing of mobile applications examines the app’s functionality, particularly for people with disabilities. The core functions of the Accessibility feature are used in UI test cases to execute and validate tests.

A Closer Look at the XCUITest API

To truly harness the power of XCUITest, we need to familiarize ourselves with its API. The XCUITest API offers several classes packed into a single file — XCTest. Here’s an overview of some essential classes you can employ to automate iOS apps:

XCUIElementQuery: This class helps identify a user interface element, allowing for certain actions to be performed on it.

  1. Declaration: class XCUIElementQuery: NSObject

XCUIElement: This class signifies a UI element in an iOS app, enabling the testing of the app through gestures such as touching, swiping, dragging, and rotating.

  1. Declaration: class XCUIElement : NSObject

XCUIApplication: This proxy class represents an iOS application, providing capabilities to launch, monitor, and terminate the app.

  1. Declaration: class XCUIApplication : XCUIElement

XCUIElement.ElementType: A vital part of a user interface test involves interacting with various UI elements. This enumeration lists the types of UI elements that can be interacted with during tests, such as .button, .image, etc.

  1. Declaration: enum ElementType: UInt, @unchecked Sendable

XCUIScreen: This class represents the physical screen of the device, be it iOS, macOS, or tvOS. This class is crucial for capturing screenshots during test execution.

  1. Declaration: class XCUIScreen: NSObject

XCUIScreenshot: As the name suggests, this class represents the screenshots of a screen, app, or UI element.

  1. Declaration: class XCUIScreenshot: NSObject

XCUIDevice: This class is a proxy that can simulate physical buttons, device orientation, and interaction with Siri.

  1. Declaration: class XCUIDevice: NSObject

XCUIRemote: This class represents the simulation of interactions with physical remote controls.

  1. Declaration: class XCUIRemote : NSObject

By delving into the core concepts of XCUITest and gaining an understanding of its API, we can truly maximize the potential of this powerful testing framework for iOS application testing.

XCUITest and Appium: A Comparative Study

Appium provides testing capabilities for both Android and iOS applications and supports multiple programming languages including Java, JavaScript, Python, PHP, and more, whereas XCUITest is specifically tailored for iOS applications and supports Swift and Objective-C, which are native to Apple.

Limitations of the XCUITest Framework

While XCUITest is a powerful tool, it has a few limitations too:

  • While XCUITest provides reliable testing on iOS Simulators and helps avoid flaky tests, the same cannot be ensured when running tests on real devices.
  • It’s not ideally suited for smoke or regression testing on real devices.
  • XCUITest currently supports only Objective-C and Swift, limiting its language scope.
  • It does not provide capabilities for Android automation testing.

Best Practices for XCUITest

The efficiency of your XCUITest automation script largely depends on your test design, implementation, and analysis. Here are some best practices to make your XCUITest automation suites more efficient and stable:

  1. Page Object Model (POM): Page Object Model is a widely used design pattern for test automation that promotes the creation of an object repository to store UI elements. It enhances the maintainability of the tests and reduces code duplication. In the context of XCUITest, you can form Swift classes for each screen in your application, with properties that represent the main elements on the screen.
  2. Descriptive Test Names: Adopt the practice of giving descriptive names to your test methods. The test method names should be self-explanatory and indicative of the test’s function. This allows for easy understanding in case of test failures and better maintainability.
  3. Use Accessibility Identifiers: Employ Accessibility identifiers to locate UI elements in your application. Accessibility identifiers are user-invisible and don’t need localization, providing a robust way to identify elements.
  4. Minimize External Dependencies: Your tests should have minimal dependency on external factors like network conditions or database states. Changes in these conditions may result in test failures.
  5. Deal with Flaky Tests: For tests that intermittently fail, identify the cause of flakiness and address it. If it’s not possible, consider flagging these tests as “flaky” and handle them separately.
  6. Avoid Hardcoding: Refrain from hard-coding values in your tests. Instead, use constants, variables, or data sources which makes your tests more maintainable.
  7. Independent Test Cases: Ensure that each test case is independent of others and does not rely on the state created by other test cases. Independent test cases can be run in isolation, making debugging easier.
  8. UI Test Recorder: XCUITest’s built-in UI test recorder is a useful feature that captures information about UI interactions and the internals of your app. Use this feature to record a test interaction and save it as source code.
  9. Test After Full Display: Since some views may take time to fully display, always wait for the view to fully display before making any assertions.
  10. Specify User Interactions: XCUITest allows you to specify user interactions like a tap(), doubleTap(), and two-finger tap (). With press(), you can specify a duration or both a duration and a dragging target.
  11. Run Web Accessibility Tests: Along with UI testing, run web accessibility tests using the UIAccessibility protocol. This will help you to cater to a larger potential customer base, including people with impairments.
  12. Create a Framework and Guideline: It’s good practice to create a framework and guideline to aid your team in adding more tests.

By adhering to these best practices and patterns, you can optimize the maintainability and reliability of your XCUITest tests, thereby making your testing process more efficient.

Troubleshooting Common XCUITest Issues

In the course of working with XCUITest, you may come across some common issues. Here, we aim to provide solutions to these problems:

  1. Test Execution Failure: At times, XCUITest may fail to execute tests due to issues like unrecognized selectors or unexpected nil values. This can be mitigated by ensuring that your test methods do not contain any parameters and return void.
  2. Interacting with System Alerts: XCUITest may have trouble interacting with system alerts, causing test cases to fail. To handle these alerts, use the addUIInterruptionMonitor(withDescription: handler:) method to set up handlers for expected system alerts.
  3. Accessibility Identifiers not Set: XCUITest may fail to find elements if their accessibility identifiers are not set. Ensure that all UI elements that need to be interacted with have accessibility identifiers.

Advanced XCUITest Techniques

XCUITest not only allows for basic UI testing but also enables users to handle complex testing scenarios. Here are a few examples:

  1. Testing Asynchronous Behavior: Testing asynchronous operations like network requests or timers can be tricky. XCUITest provides XCTestExpectation and the wait(for timeout:) function that allows for testing asynchronous code by pausing the test execution until a condition is met or a timeout occurs.
  2. Handling System Interruptions: XCUITest can handle system interruptions like alerts and notifications using the addUIInterruptionMonitor(withDescription: handler:) function. This method allows setting up handlers that can dismiss or interact with these alerts, enabling the test to continue.
  3. Screen Interactions: Complex user interactions such as swipes, pinch, drag, or rotate gestures can be simulated using XCUIElement‘s various functions like swipeLeft(), swipe-right (), pinch(with scale: velocity:), and more.

By leveraging these advanced techniques, you can make your tests more robust and simulate a wide variety of user interactions, ensuring thorough test coverage.

Kickstarting Your Journey with XCUITest: A Primer with pCloudy

XCUITest framework, a native iOS testing utility, has emerged as an optimal choice for automation testing. However, setting up and scaling an in-house Apple device lab can be both challenging and costly. This is where a comprehensive real-device cloud platform like pCloudy comes into play. It effectively circumvents the difficulties of creating an in-house device lab by providing a platform to perform XCUITest on real iOS devices anytime, anywhere.

Introducing pCloudy

pCloudy is a globally recognized app testing platform empowering users to perform both manual and automated testing across a vast array of browsers, operating systems, and real device combinations. With pCloudy, organizations can expedite developer feedback on code modifications, thus ensuring a quicker market launch. Today, over a million users from more than 130 countries, including 500+ enterprises, trust pCloudy for their testing requirements.

Embarking on XCUITest Automation with pCloudy

Starting your XCUITest automation journey with pCloudy is simple and straightforward. With pCloudy, you can overcome XCUITest infrastructure challenges as we provide you with a cloud XCUITest Grid featuring zero downtimeBesides, you can take advantage of an array of other testing capabilities including cross-browser testing, manual app testing, visual UI testing, responsive testing, and much more.

Elevate your testing game and experience the power of XCUITest with pCloudy today!

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Pcloudy

Pcloudy is a unified app testing suite developed to replace fragmented tool chain in testing with a comprehensive platform featuring Codeless Automation, AI