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We’ve known from the beginning that AutoBloks needed to support more advanced error reporting than just letting you know if you forgot to populate a required field.  We are excited to announce that AutoBloks 18.12.1 is now available and brings support for a comprehensive rules-based engine that allows for the reporting of errors, warnings, or other informational messages based on how you use the tool.

Errors tend to be the types of problems that, when left unresolved, will cause issues if you try to run your Process.  In fact, if you try to run a Process that has errors, you will get a dialog prompting you if you really want to run it.

Warnings, on the other hand, tend to be less severe.  They should not be ignored, but also should not cause a Process to fail playback.

Messages are purely informational in nature.

Meet the Error List Window

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NOTE: Users upgrading from a prior version of AutoBloks may not see the Error List tool window by default since your previous layout (without that window) is being restored. You can use the View tab of the Command Ribbon to select the Error List command from the Tool Windows group, or, from the same View tab, select Restore to Default from the Layout group to apply the new default layout.

This new tool window provides a central location to view and manage any potential problems.  The tool bar at the top allows you to filter the view to only show the items that interest you.  Specifically, you can control if the list only shows problems from the Current Document (i.e. the document you are actively working on) or Open Documents to see every possible problem from all open documents.

Additionally, each message type can be toggled on or off. If you only want to see Error messages, for instance, you can toggle off Warnings and Messages.

Each problem in the Error List also has a context menu with the available actions:

  1. Go To Location – When available, this command will adjust the selections within AutoBloks to highlight the source of the problem and move focus to the relevant control (Tip: This is the default action and will be executed if you double-click the item in the Error List)
  2. Show Help – Most commands should have a help page associated with them, and this command will open the corresponding page in your browser (Tip: The Code value in the Error List is also hyperlinked to open the same page quickly)

Error and Warning Indicators

As you use the application and introduce Errors or Warnings, you will see indicators appear throughout the user interface to help draw your attention.

Activity Call List

In the Activity Call list, small overlay icons will appear in the bottom-right corner of the standard Activity icon.  When you see one of these icons, it means one or more of the corresponding problems is present in the configuration of your Activity Call.  You can either look at the Error List window to review the problems or select the Activity Call to populate the Instructions pane and drill down into the issue.  The following shows a Warning on the “Start timer” activity and an Error on the “Verify expression value” activity.

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Instructions

When defining the Instructions of an Activity Call, there are multiple tabs where details may be provided.  Tabs will have a Red or Yellow indicator on the relevant tab if Errors or Warnings on present on the controls within that tab.  The following shows there is an Error on the Arguments tab:

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Individual controls will also have a Red or Yellow indicator next to each control with one or more problems.

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If you hover the mouse over the indicators, a tool tip will display the details of the first problem and indicate if other problems are present as well.  The following shows a tool tip for a control that has two errors:

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The body of the tool tip displays the message for the first problem.  In the footer, the text “(+1 more)” indicates that 1 additional error has also been detected and will be available in the Error List tool window.

Rules

The initial release includes rules to cover the most common problems that might arise while using AutoBloks.  The full list of rules is available here.  A summary of key functionality provided by these rules includes:

  1. Required fields for arguments and element identification must be populated
  2. Expression syntax must be used correctly
  3. Variables used within expression syntax must exist
  4. When arguments expect certain values or data formats, the input must match the expectation

This is just the beginning!  We spent a lot of time developing a rules engine that is very flexible and, as a result, we can easily add new rules to expose additional information to the user.  Have an idea for a rule you’d like to see implemented?  Please contact support and share your idea.

More Hints

Resolving errors is so important to successful automation that we have included some other hints in the user interface as well.

If the Error List tool window has any errors that match the current filter settings but the tool window is not selected, the tab will “glow red” (fades in an out).  In the following screen shot, the “Output” tool window is selected and the “Error List” tool window is tinted red to indicate errors are present:

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The following shows a button that will appear on the right edge of the status bar if any errors are detected.  This is a total count of known errors and is not impacted by the filter settings of the Error List tool window.  Clicking the status bar button will activate the Error List tool window.

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Say “hello” to AutoBloks!  Earlier this year, we set out to build a new automation tool, and the initial offering from that journey is officially launching today with support for web automation through Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.  With so many automation tools already on the market, you may be asking “why build yet another automation tool?”  We believe the answer to that question is easy… too many people who could be using automation simply are not doing so.  The tools have been around for decades, so why aren’t people using them?  Answering this question is a little harder than the first and there is surely no one answer, but we believe a big part of the problem is that the tools don’t fit the users.

While functional testers in a QA department are part of an IT organization, that does not automatically grant them the technical skills of some of their IT colleagues.  Automation tools are often complicated or unapproachable to these users, so they keep doing their work manually.  This is the user who is underserved by automation tools on the market today and are exactly who we believe can benefit the most from AutoBloks.

What About Keyword-Driven Frameworks?

For many years, the solution to the complexity of automation tools has been for a team of advanced users to create keyword-driven frameworks.  Users of any skill level could then use familiar tools, like spreadsheets, to build their automation from a series of keywords established by the automation team.  A special driver script, written in the automation tool itself, could then read these keywords one-by-one to perform an action corresponding to each.  This is a great concept because it allows a small team of expert users to handle the complexities of automation while enabling a much larger group of users to translate their business knowledge into automated scripts.

While the concept is great, the execution is often flawed.  The initial set of keywords is rarely enough, so users are frequently asking the automation team for more support.  As the number of keywords grows, it becomes more difficult for users to know which keywords are available or to fully understand what each keyword does.  Most keywords cannot properly execute without one or more arguments as input, so users now must understand which data is required, the types of data allowed, and how to populate it.  That’s even before you try to tackle having the output from one keyword be used as input on another.  Automation is also an iterative design process (try, fail, fix, repeat), so users are not removed from needing to use the original automation tool.  What starts as a solid effort to improve automation then turns back into the exact problem they were trying to solve in the first place… a complicated automation solution.

Keywords Evolved

AutoBloks builds on the great concept of a keyword-driven automation framework while addressing many of the shortcomings.  First and foremost, users are given a tool purpose-built for automation at any skill level and not asked to use spreadsheets, text editors, or other tools designed for anything BUT automation.

Relying on an automation team is a bottleneck, so we have given the user all the power.  Keywords are presented in AutoBloks as categorized Activities.  Each one has a description of what it does and the arguments, if any, are clearly defined with all the details the user needs to know.  Users simply drag-and-drop the needed activities, populate any arguments, and move on to the next activity.  When it comes time to test what you’ve built, you do so directly in AutoBloks.  Run your process from end-to-end, step over activities one-by-one, or set breakpoints to pause at a certain step.  If your playback fails, AutoBloks will let you retry the activity, skip over it to continue, or stop playback completely.  You can even correct a bad activity before retrying it, so you don’t have to start all over again!

Just the Beginning

This is, quite literally, just the beginning of AutoBloks.  There are many more capabilities we want to add to AutoBloks but believe what we have today can already address the automation needs of many.  In the near future, we will be adding support for important automation concepts like centralized element repository and reusable activity blocks (i.e. user-defined functions).  Of course, we will also be expanding the list of built-in activities to provide more and more functionality out-of-the-box.  It is going to be a long journey, and one we are excited to continue.

FREE Community Edition!

We are delighted to make this new product accessible to non-enterprise users who may not have otherwise had access to automation tools.  Individuals, non-profits, and small businesses (under $1 million of annual revenue in US dollars) can all download and use the Community Edition of AutoBloks completely free!  Absolutely no strings attached, although we hope the community will share their feedback with us and help us build a better product for everyone.

Go ahead and check it out today, and please let us know what you think.