March 12, 2015

Lecture: Customizing Jenkins @ SiteSpect

What happens when a favorite open-source tool is stretched beyond its limit and needs severe customization? Two automation engineers at SiteSpect, Dustin Masterson and Josh Shapiro, talked Wednesday evening at the AutoTestCentral - Boston meetup about the problems they faced --- and solution they came up with -- when forcing Jenkins to run 350+ functional test scenarios comprising over 550,000 tests.

The following is compiled from my hastily scribbled notes, and a heck of a lot of late night last minute independent research. Please let me know in the comments section what needs to be fixed. 

History of Jenkins

For those who don't know about Jenkins, here is what I found out through some independent research: Jenkins -- initially called "Hudson" -- is a continuous integration (CI) tool that allows software developers to continuously check-in code to the main build after the code is examined with a series of pre-automated tests. Initially developed back in 2004 by Kohsuke Kawaguchi while at Sun Microsystems, it was a community-driven open source project from its beginning. When Oracle and Sun -- creator of Java and an early backer of MySQL -- finally merged after a lengthy process, the Hudson open-source movement voted back in January 2011 to change its name to Jenkins when Oracle trademarked the original "Hudson" name.

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What SiteSpect Does

Josh Shapiro started off the Automated Testing Meetup talk by introducing SiteSpect. According to my notes, SiteSpect allows businesses acts as a reverse web proxy letting business perform A/ B website testing. SiteSpect provides software that sits between the website and the users. Let's say that a business wanted to see what generated a better click-through rate -- an icon in the shape of either A) picture of an actual carrot or B) a picture of a stuffed carrot. Their software could use inject some Javascript into the HTML code so that a select group of people would get A and the rest of the people would get B, and then collect enormous amounts of data to measure and analyze the results. 

Creating a Test Harness

To get a better handle on all the tests, they used a test harness operating a "headless browser" -- one that doesn't have a graphical user interface in order to provide the content of web pages to other software programs. They use module called WWW::Mechanize ( GitHub link) programmed in the Perl programming language. They had good automated testing coverage of the product, but the job was so enormous a full test run of the SiteSpect product took 7.5 hours.

Jenkins did have a lot of good features. SiteSpect uses a lot of the popular Atlassian toolset: JIRA for collaboration of issue tracking, Confluence for a knowledge base, and Hipchat for a message board / instant messeging service, and Crucible to find bugs and improve code quality through peer-review. Jenkins has plugins to work with it all. Jenkins can integrate into Hipchat to sent messages to developers on the successes and failures of test runs.

With Jenkins, SiteSpect could set up custom jobs and distribute them to multiple machines. Even though Jenkins uses JUnit and SiteSpect uses Perl, these tools can still could work together. Users of Jenkins can modify Jenkins' behavior with various plug-ins, such as one that allows Jenkins users to create a project in the computer language Groovy.

Jenkins can act as an SSH (Secure Shell) server ( more ) where users can register their public keys to Jenkins to make it more secure, disallowing imposters to pretend to be the server. SiteSpect uses SSH to push Java archive ( jar ) files between the master where Jenkins issues out the tasks and worker nodes which run the tasks ( even more ). 
  • Nodes can have labels such as whether they are tests of type GeoIP allowing webmasters to gather data about the location of their visitors, or IOS tests for Apple mobile devices. 
  • Nodes can be placed in clusters so multiple nodes can work on the same job.
  • Nodes can have different states such as "Ready to Run" or "Needs to be configured". 
According to the automation engineers, Dustin & Josh, Jenkins jobs can be run on either the master or the worker. They recommend to push as much work onto the worker nodes in order to be efficient. With Jenkins, everything is distributed. The master controls all queuing jobs which get set up with the test harness. The worker nodes process the work. 

There are problems when you overload Jenkins: 
  • So much work gets processed that Jenkins' built-in reporting tool can't handle the workload. SiteSpect had to create its own custom static HTML reports.
  • Only one worker node can go to Jenkins, so the automation engineers had to figure out a solution where twenty-four other worker nodes had to be chained together. 
  • Jenkins stores data from its test runs as XML files, too long to sort through if you are trying to analyze data from them. This is why they built a system which feeds the results into a mySQL database mirroring the results. 

Kicking Off a Test Harness Run

A Test Harnesses can be kicked off in two ways:
  • Subversion (SVN), what SiteSpect uses for version control, polls for commits to the trunk, constantly checking to see if there are any new additions which need to be added to the main body of code. 
  • Software developers can request a new run. 

... From there, you can map multiple repositories to a single job. At  SiteSpect, half of their jobs are kicked off from automatic polling, and half are from jobs being manually started. 

On a sidenote: SiteSpect mentioned that because they are using an older version of the Linux operating system as a company standard, they cannot use tools like Chef or Puppet, two popular and competing configuration management tool that are currently used.

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When first setting up the master and worker jobs, it is important to test it out with one worker node first, to see if there are any errors. Then, if everything passes, they configure the rest of the workers. 

A Few Jenkins Plugins

Matrix Project Plugin: ( Jenkins Wiki ): 
Problem:  Jenkins is built around testing, but it wants to do ONE test in ONE unique environment. What if you need to do this is similar customized environments? There is a Matrix Project Plugin for Jenkins, but the automation developers believe, quote, "It's a trap!", endquote. The problem with that plugin that if one machine happens to be down, since it is a static list, it stalls out, waiting for that one machine to come back up.  

NodeLabel Parameter Plugin ( Jenkins Wiki ): 

This Jenkins plugin allows all workers to be labelled such as "Harness Labs". A Groovy script can be used to tie all the nodes together.

More About The Test Runs

Each test is optimized so that it takes no longer than seven minutes to run a test. Why? They just chose that number, and it seems to work so far. 

As tests run, results are added into their mySQL database. The person who made the commit gets an email. 

Each test run can consist of:
  • A GeoIP test run which provides information about the location of users on the web, or on mobile devices using technology such as such as WURFL.js (Wireless Universal Resource FiLe). 
  • iOS testing with OS X worker nodes. 
  • Appium testing with the iOS simulator using the software product backed by Sauce Labs. 
  • Virtual Machine Setup Tables, for those not familiar with the command line interface. 

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Learning Curves and Workaround

This new process was designed, tested, and when unveiled ... it started crashing all the time. The CPU resources on the machines involved would be maxxed out. Jenkins is very good with a small setup. SiteSpect's setup was large. There needed to be a lot of trial and error when it came to customization. Heap memory consumption would easily go through 6 gigabytes of memory. The master had to be restarted every day, and still would crash. The problem that there was a runaway restart call chewing up the CPU. They use a CLI (Command Line Interface) connect instead. 

Nodes can be labelled with names such as harness_tests, harnass_lab, harnass_lab_all_jobs. testing_jobs. Developers can even customize their own jobs. Jenkins won't let you customize their "All" tab. Their workaround is to create a tab named "All", then delete Jenkins' original "All" tab.

With the amount of jobs they have, they can't use the user interface of the reports that come shipped with Jenkins. There are so many jobs to keep track of that opening the reports or dashboards would cause Jenkins to crash. As part of a Hackathon project, they came up with customized HTML pages showing results. 

The test runs need to be optimized. When running jobs in parallel, the jobs that take longer need to be started first, with the shortest job being run at the end of the cycle. 


All in all, the automation engineers at SiteSpect thinks that Jenkins is a good tool. With their custom implementation of Jenkins they were able to get it from taking almost eight hours to complete their tests to only thirty minutes per run.

Jenkins is powerful, flexible, and quirky. Some of the components you can add to Jenkins may have memory leaks. Make sure to perform Google searches on them and review the Jenkins forums before implementation. 


  • Only failures are saved. SiteSpect save the successful results. 
  • Who writes the tests? In theory, developers write the tests. QA just examines the quality of the tests.
  • My keen powers of observation picked up that SiteSpect is hiring. I deduced this from the announcement the HR Recruiter made before the lecture, the sign that was placed next to the neat stack of business cards and other tchotchkes they were giving away. Pens, mugs, USB chargers, all with their name on the items. Good luck guys! I hope find people! 

... Personally, I thought the lecture was amazing. I could not believe that a company would be so transparent to tell forty strangers all their triumphs and tragedies, and at such an in-depth level. 

Good luck, SiteSpect! I wish you well! And thank you very much for the pizza.    

-T.J. Maher
 Sr. QA Engineer, Fitbit
 Boston, MA