Performance Testing AJAX web sites is not impossible

Date: 23rd February 2010
Author: Deri Jones

It’s been a busy period , with a number of large eRetailers upgrading their websites, to really go the Web 2.0 way.
Generous sprinklings of AJAX and javascript.

All well and good; but what is now slowly dawning, is that these sites are now no longer an easy thing to monitor – in terms of 24/7 web performance and User Experience.

Traditional, simple monitoring: just a list of fixed URls that a tool runs through, no longer work. Well they work, in that they may show an OK response: but they no longer Do What the Customer Does… so provide false security.

In contrast, our Dynamic User Journey monitoring approach, can handle the latest AJAX usage – because our Journeys are not URL based, they are not following pre-cooked URL lists.

Instead, at each step of a User Journey, our technology looks into the page, and dynamically pulls out what is needed, to meet the client’s Journey specification.

A typical client’s User Journey specification might be:

Home page -> search for ‘blue widgets’
Search Results – > click on VIEW at random from one of the products shown
Product page – > choose a random size offered
Product page – > choose a random tab eg: ‘product photos’, ‘product quality’ ‘
Product page – >click Add to Basket
Basket – Finish

There are several AJAX pages there in the middle of the Journey: and the complex URLs and POST data needed, are all generated dynamically by our test engine: pulled from the live pages.

In contrast to a fixed-URL journey, this dyanamic one will continue to Do What the Customer Does, even after substantial web site changes.

Eg, if the site search function changes: maybe new software is bought in for it, and the search URL is no longer:

/search.do?search =xyz

but

/searchNew.do?search=xyz

then no problem – our engine will pick up the change and follow it seamlessly.

So long as the search button is still called Search, our web monitoring will find the correct URL and correctly follow real customers.

And of course there are layers more complexity in AJAX sites to follow: we’ve just helped a London AJAX web client get some monitoring back in place: their site pushes product SKU and colour/size availability down to the user’s PC over javascript, and then uses that mini-database in later steps in the Journey: so there’s no longer the usual connection that 1 URL has 1 page, with all the necessary info within that 1 page.

It does take a rethink to ensure you can carry on monitoring your money-making Journeys: and keep all the vital 24/7 alerting and performance tracking in place: else the new AJAX goodness may be offset by increasing lost sales due to technical hiccups that are too hard to spot with old style monitoring.

So, if your site is being heavily AJAX’ed up; watch out that your current monitoring is not stuck in the past, following fixed URls that no longer being used by your real users.

If someone tells you it’s impossible to test your AJAX web site for 24/7 performance, and end to end sales Conversion Journeys – it’s not true, but it is getting more difficult.

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