By: on June 8, 2006

I have been looking for something to help me do some automated functional tests on an existing web application, and came across Selenium. It is a framework that executes tests from within a browser using a combination of Javascript and DHTML. It supports IE, Firefox and Mozilla, thus allowing browser compatibility testing.

There are three Selenium components:

The latter component provides an easy way in and so I looked at this first.

Selenium IDE

I decided to use a source build (2006-05-19) as the project looked active and I like to tinker. The build was very straightforward and once installed there was a “Selenium IDE” entry in the tools menu. Clicking this brings up the IDE window:

Blank IDE screenshot

I tried it out on the BBC News site as it is publicly available and has good quality HTML. The “record” button in the IDE is depressed at startup so I just entered into the location bar in my browser and the site appeared. Nothing happened in the IDE window though – it waits for the first action within the site itself before updating. For the first test suite, I limited myself to simple link checking. Clicking on “World” in the BBC site navigation brings up the page as expected, but also updates the IDE window:

IDE after first click screenshot

The base URL has been filled in. All test commands apply to relative paths meaning that tests can be run on development, stage and production servers just by changing this field. The actions have also been populated:

– open; command to open a URL. This can be relative or absolute but as mentioned above, relative URLs will allow your tests to be used on different hosts.

– assertTitle; after each page load, Selenium IDE will automatically insert an assertion to check the title. This can be disabled in the “Options” dialog.

– clickAndWait; clicks an item in the page. The “AndWait” suffix is available on several of the commands and forces the IDE to wait for a page load before continuing. Depending on how a link is constructed, for example, where Javascript is used to load the next page, the IDE may not recognize that it has to wait and may just record a click command. In these cases you must manually change the command otherwise the subsequent tests may be applied to the wrong page.

The target for the click is shown as link=World which means Selenium looks for a hyperlink with the visible text of “World”. The Selenium Core reference has more information on how elements can be located.

To build up the test I continued to go through and click the other navigation links, i.e., UK, England, Northern Ireland, etc. I then clicked the “Play” button and Selenium directs the browser through the path just taken and checks the specified assertions. Commands that succeeded are coloured green in the IDE and those that failed will turn red:

IDE after test execution screenshot

Selenium supports several formats for test scripts but the IDE supports just two; HTML (also known as Selenese) and Ruby. HTML is the easiest to parse for non-programmers, and the default. It is visible in the “Source” tab:

IDE source tab screenshot

I saved this test to disk and created a new blank test.

Selenium also supports forms and so in the search box at the top of the BBC News website, I entered theo and clicked “Search”. The IDE shows these actions including the command type. The target is listed as just q which is the name of the input element where the typing should go:

IDE after search screenshot

One thing to note is that the BBC uses a separate host for searching ( The tests will run in the IDE because it is a Firefox extension, but they will not work in Selenium Core or RC because Javascript is security restricted to making calls to the page origin host and port only (See “The Same Origin Policy“).

The football player, Theo Walcott, has been in the news a lot so I want to assert that his name comes back in the search results. I highlight the text “Walcott”, right click on the selection and then click “assertTextPresent Walcott”:

IDE context menu screenshot

This creates an entry in the IDE that checks that the text “Walcott” is present somewhere in the document:

IDE after asserting text present screenshot

It is possible to do a more precise check for text. Looking at the web page source code, the search summary “Page 1 of 145 pages for theo” is contained within a paragraph. In the IDE, I click the row below the last command in the IDE and below the test list, select “assertText” in the Command column. In the Target column, I enter the XPath that identifies that paragraph element: //p[@class='bodymainResults allmainr borders']. Clicking on “Find” in the IDE will flash the selected node (this requires the DOM Inspector to be installed):

IDE highlight element screenshot

Because the actual number of pages will change, I use a wildcard to match this part of the text and enter Page 1 of * pages for theo in the “Value” column:

IDE after wildcard text check

Selenium Core and RC

The Selenium Core component contains the main test runner. A web page within the test runner directory provides the necessary controls to run the tests.

Because of the same origin restriction and the fact that I could not deploy Selenium Core onto the BBC web site, I used Selenium RC to automate the test running. As well as a server that can launch browsers and initiate the tests, it contains a proxy server that makes it look like the Selenium Core test runner is hosted on the target web site.

Both of these components can be driven using various languages, e.g., Java, .NET, Python, Ruby. They can also use the HTML style tests that were saved from the IDE and this is the most interesting method of test execution for me at the moment as it allows non-programmers, i.e., not me, to build up test suites.

Selenium RC works with test suites rather than the test files themselves. A test suite file is a HTML document with a table referring to the test files:

Test Suite

Test Suite
Check nav links

I put the test suite and test files into a directory along with “server/selenium-server.jar” from the Selenium RC distribution. I launched the server and tests via the following command line (Windows):

java -jar selenium-server.jar -htmlSuite "*firefox" "" "C:selenium-rctest-suite.html" "C:selenium-rctest-output.html"

This launches the proxy server, forwarding non-Selenium requests onto “”. It then launches the designated browser, in this case, Firefox. Internet Explorer can be launched by substituting "*iexplore" for "*firefox". I found that occasionally IE would try and run the tests before the proxy server was fully functional and would therefore trigger a 404 error (Release 0.7.1. Release 0.8 is already out and so this may be fixed). This is because the Selenium specific URL does not exist, e.g.:

Other browsers can also be launched and the documentation has details on how to do this. When using Firefox or IE, a new profile is created in the current working directory.

Once the browser is launched, it ran the core test runner via the proxy:

Selenium test runner screenshot

A HTML copy of the report was written to disk when it finished.

It is also possible to run the server in interactive mode. The documentation gives some good examples of this.


Selenium provides a quick and powerful way to write functional tests for web applications, and an environment where they can be run across different hosts. I am sufficiently impressed that I am looking for projects which could benefit from this approach.

Ideally, I would like the tests to integrate with Ant, NAnt or Maven. Because Selenium RC can be driven via Java, this should not be a problem; use a JUnit TestDecorator to start and stop the proxy server and JUnit setup and tear down methods to control the browser instances. Reading the tests from HTML format is a little trickier but a new major version has just been released and contains a tool to convert Selenese HTML tests to Java.

No doubt there are other goodies in the new release too which I shall report on in due course.



  1. sana says:

    I’ve been using Selenium Core and it was working okay for me, but
    I wanted to run my test suite from a command line so tried using selenium-rc’s selenium-server.jar like you’ve described but i keep getting this 404 error:

    HTTP ERROR: 404

    /boo/selenium-server/TestSuite.html Not Found


    (where the application i’m testing is at “http://blah/boo/index.html for me)

    any idea what i’m doing wrong?

  2. lee says:

    Hi sana,

    My first suspicion is that your browser is connecting directly to the site rather than going via the proxy. If you have access to the logs on ‘blah’ you can check this, or if not, use a tool like Ethereal to trace the network calls.

  3. jo says:

    Hi, did you find the solution to this problem?

    I’m getting the same HTTP ERROR: 404
    /appname/selenium-server/TestSuite.html Not found

    My application i’m testing is at “http://somehost/appname/login.aspx”


  4. dinesh says:

    How can i change the agruements of the java -jar selenium-server.jar command so tht i could change the port number whihc it binds to !!? i have tried it using the default one .. but it just wont start !!!!

  5. “How can I change… port…?”

    Like this…

    java -jar selenium-server.jar -port

  6. Nikhil Bhadake says:

    I am working on selenium rc and facing one problem while running test suite.
    Selenium rc server launches browser but does not execute the test suite and wait on command prompt for “checking resource aliasing”.
    If you know how to solve this problem then please send me a mail.

    Thank You.

  7. sameer says:

    hi how to run test suite in selenium rc

  8. Priya says:

    I using Selenium IDE for the first time.When I run test a warning error displayed ““[warn] triggerMouseEvent assumes setting screenX and screenY to 0 is ok”.Do suggest what should be done!!!

  9. its me says:

    how to creat a test suite.. iam ableto create a test case but iam not able to create a test suite

  10. Moshe says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thank you for this good article,i was able to us the IDE script in selenium RC test . Hope you would add more articles


  11. lijine says:

    while running by the procedure you mentioned.. i am getting an error permission denied ..please help me with a solution

    thanks a lot lee..

    good work!!!!!

  12. Harry says:

    Hi Lee,
    its one of the best introductory information i hav seen about selenium, am eagerly waiting for more to come.. or has it already come.

  13. Harry says:

    As faced by quite a few above.. am facing the same problem of testsuite not being execuited, the browser gets launched but with 404 error ->
    description The requested resource (/selenium-server/tests/testsuite_CE.html) is not available.

    can someone guide me as to where shud my testsuite be located or any other way toresolve this.
    Anticipating help from all you experts out there


  14. Harry says:

    got the thing working.. it was more of a configuration issue where i had to set proxy ->

    Open IE -> Tools>Connections>LAN Settings
    Check the “Use a proxy server for your LAN…” uncheck everythingelse
    In the proxy settings, please put in http://localhost and port: 4444 (This is the port my selenium is running on, yours may be different)

    chk this out as well:

  15. Zahid says:

    This works fine. Thanx

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