iOS Application Testing Strategies at Shopify

iOS Application Testing Strategies at Shopify

At Shopify, we use a monorepo architecture where multiple app projects coexist in one Git repository. With hundreds of commits per week, the fast pace of evolution demands a commitment to testing at all levels of an app in order to quickly identify and fix regression bugs.

This article presents the ways we test the various components of an iOS application: Models, Views, ViewModels, View Controllers, and Flows. For brevity, we ignore the details of the Continuous Integration infrastructure where these tests are run, but you can learn more from the Building a Dynamic Mobile CI System blog post.

Testing Applications, Like Building a Car

Consider the process of building a reliable car, base components like cylinders and pistons are individually tested to comply with design specifications (Model & View tests). Then these parts are assembled into an engine, which is also tested to ensure the components fit and function well together (View Controller tests). Finally, the major subsystems like the engine, transmission, and cooling systems are connected and the entire car is test-driven by a user (Flow tests).

The complexity and slowness of a test increases as we go from unit to manual tests, so it’s important to choose the right type and amount of tests for each component hierarchy. The image below shows the kind of tests we use for each type of app component; it reads bottom-up like a Model is tested with Regular Unit Tests.

Types of Tests Used for App Components
Types of Tests Used for App Components

Testing Models

A Model represents a business entity like a Customer, Order, or Cart. As the foundation of all other application constructs, it’s crucial to test that the properties and methods of a model ensure conformance with their business rules. The example below shows a unit test for the Customer model where we test the rule for a customer with multiple addresses, the billingAddress must be the first default address.

A Word on Extensions

Changing existing APIs in a large codebase is an expensive operation, so we often introduce new functionality as Extensions. For example, the function below enables two String Arrays to be merged without duplicates.

We follow a few conventions. Each test name follows a compact and descriptive format test<Function><Goal>. Test steps are about 15 lines max otherwise the test is broken down into separate cases. Overall, each test is very simple and requires minimal cognitive load to understand what it’s checking.

Testing Views

Developers aim to implement exactly what the designers intend under various circumstances and avoid introducing visual regression bugs. To achieve this, we use Snapshot Testing to record an image of a view, then subsequent tests compare that view with the recorded snapshot and fails if different.

For example, consider a UITableViewCell for Ping Pong players with the user’s name, country, and rank. What happens when the user has a very long name? Does the name wrap to a second line, truncate, or does it push the rank away? We can record our design decisions as snapshot tests so we are confident the view gracefully handles such edge cases.

UITableViewCell Snapshot Test
UITableViewCell Snapshot Test

Testing View Models

A ViewModel represents the state of a View component and decouples business models from Views—it’s the state of the UI. So, they store information like the default value of a slider or segmented control and the validation logic of a Customer creation form. The example below shows the CustomerEntryViewModel being tested to ensure its taxExempt property is false by default, and that its state validation function works correctly given an invalid phone number.

Testing View Controllers

The ViewController is the top hierarchy of component composition. It brings together multiple Views and ViewModels in one cohesive page to accomplish a business use case. So, we check whether the overall view meets the design specification and whether components are disabled or hidden based on Model state. The example below shows a Customer Details ViewController where the Recent orders section is hidden if a customer has no orders or the ‘edit’ button is disabled if the device is offline. To achieve this, we use snapshot tests as follows.

Snapshot Testing the ViewController
Snapshot Testing the ViewController

Testing Workflows

A Workflow uses multiple ViewControllers to achieve a use case. It’s the highest level of functionality from the user’s perspective. Flow tests aim to answer specific user questions like: can I login with valid credentials?, can I reset my password?, and can I checkout items in my cart?

We use UI Automation Tests powered by the XCUITest framework to simulate a user performing actions like entering text and clicking buttons. These tests are used to ensure all user-facing features behave as expected. The process for developing them is as follows.

  1. Identify the core user-facing features of the app—features without which users cannot productively use the app. For example, a user should be able to view their inventory by logging in with valid credentials, and a user should be able to add products to their shopping cart and checkout.
  2. Decompose the feature into steps and note how each step can be automated: button clicks, view controller transitions, error and confirmation alerts. This process helps to identify bottlenecks in the workflow so they can be streamlined.
  3. Write code to automate the steps, then compose these steps to automate the feature test.

The example below shows a UI Test checking that only a user with valid credentials can login to the app. The testLogin() function is the main entry point of the test. It sets up a fresh instance of the app by calling setUpForFreshInstall(), then it calls the login() function which simulates the user actions like entering the email and password then clicking the login button.

Considering Accessibility

One useful side effect of writing UI Automation Tests is that they improve the accessibility of the app, and this is very important for visually impaired users. Unlike Unit Tests, UI Tests don’t assume knowledge of the internal structure of the app, so you select an element to manipulate by specifying its accessibility label or string. These labels are read aloud when users turn on iOS accessibility features on their devices. For more information about the use of accessibility labels in UI Tests, watch this Xcode UI Testing - Live Tutorial Session video.

Manual Testing

Although we aim to automate as much flow tests as possible, the tools available aren’t mature enough to completely exclude manual testing. Issues like animation glitches and rendering bugs are only discovered through manual testing…some would even argue that so long as applications are built for users, manual user testing is indispensable. However, we are becoming increasingly dependant on UI Automation tests to replace Manual tests.


Testing at all levels of the app gives us the confidence to release applications frequently. But each test also adds a maintenance liability. So, testing each part of an app with the right amount and type of test is important. Here are some tips to guide your decision.

  • The speed of executing a test decreases as you go from Unit to Manual tests.
  • The human effort required to execute and maintain a test increases from Unit tests to Manual tests.
  • An app has more subcomponents than major components.
  • Expect to write a lot more Unit tests for subcomponents and fewer, more targeted tests as you move up to UI Automation and Manual tests...a concept known as the Test Pyramid.

Finally, remember that tests are there to ensure your app complies with business requirements, but these requirements will change over time. So, developers must consistently remove tests for features that no longer exist, modify existing tests to comply with new business rules, and add new tests to maintain code coverage.

If you'd like to continue talking about application testing strategies, please find me on Medium at @u.zziah

If are passionate about iOS development and excellent user experience, the Shopify POS team is hiring a Lead iOS Developer! Have a look at the job posting


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