Watir: opening/reopening specific page in IE

I’m trying to use Watir to load a page in all three browsers (Chrome, FireFox, and IE). In my case, the page runs my JavaScript automated tests. My first step is to get this working with IE. IE runs the slowest, so it’s most in need of automation.

When I try the simple thing, I get some behavior that I wouldn’t expect. (For the record, I’m running IE7 on 64-bit Vista, with Watir 1.6.2.)

If I do the simple thing:

require 'watir'
ie = Watir::IE.new
ie.goto 'quest/stupid/specs/lib.html'

then IE opens two windows. Let us call them “the useless empty window” and “the real window”. The useless empty window opens first; its address bar says “about:blank”. Then the real window opens, pointing to the URL I actually told it to load.

If I run the code again, I get a second useless empty window, and then the URL loads in a new tab in the existing real window.

What’s more, if I manually click the address bar in one of the useless empty windows, and type a URL — say, www.google.com — IE pops up its “Internet Explorer needs to open a new window to display this webpage” warning. When I OK that, it opens Google in a new tab in the real window. So when I say “useless empty window”, I mean it — it’s useless, it’s empty, and it’s damn well gonna stay that way.

Okay, so the simple code needs some refinement. I don’t want useless empty windows piling up. I also don’t want tabs piling up in the real window. If there’s already a tab open to the URL I want, I want to reuse that existing tab (but still make it reload, since the point is to make sure I’ve run the latest and greatest version of my JavaScript unit tests).

Watir supports finding existing tabs through the Watir::IE.attach and Watir::IE.find methods; attach throws an exception if the page isn’t already open, while find just returns nil. Since I don’t know whether the page is already open, I want find. And if it succeeds, no useless empty window.

If IE isn’t even running yet, then there’s nothing for it: I have to open a useless empty window, and use that to open the real window. Fortunately, Watir has a close method, so I can close the useless empty window as soon as I have the real window open.

There’s another case, where IE is already running but there’s no tab that has my page open. I don’t want to stomp on an existing tab (unless it’s one that’s already pointing to my test page — in that case, I don’t mind assuming that it’s safe to refresh). In the “IE running but page not open” case, I currently just do the same thing as when IE wasn’t running: I open a useless empty window, use that to open a new tab in the real window, and then close the useless empty window so it doesn’t clutter up my life. There might be a nicer way to deal with this, but my code’s simpler when I only have to deal with two cases instead of three.

Here’s the code I settled on for opening a page in IE, or reloading it if it’s already open:

require 'watir'

def open_or_reopen_in_ie(url, url_regex)
  ie = Watir::IE.find(:url, url_regex)
  if ie
    ie.goto url
    starter = Watir::IE.new
    starter.goto url
    ie = Watir::IE.find(:url, url_regex)


open_or_reopen_in_ie needs two parameters: the URL to open, and a regex (or string, but regex lets you match just part of the URL and, for example, ignore the querystring). The regex is used to find an existing tab (or to find the tab we just opened in the real window).

So far, this has worked without a hitch. If the page I want isn’t already open, then I get an extra window for a few seconds, but it goes away automatically. If the page is already open, it reloads in its pristine state (no querystring), which is exactly what I want.

Unfortunately, Watir’s browser libraries aren’t all identical, so I’ll have to figure this out all over again for FireFox and Chrome. Stay tuned and I’ll relay the details.

Rant: IE and local JavaScript

So I’m writing a JavaScript-heavy application and testing it on my local machine. No problem, I think: just save the .html file on my disk and open it in a browser. Nothing could be simpler… if you’re using FireFox or Chrome.

IE, on the other hand, throws a hissy fit. “Danger!” it screams. “There’s a file on your local hard drive with JavaScript in it! Cower! Panic! The end is near!”

Okay, I took a bit of poetic license. What it actually says is, “To help protect your security, Internet Explorer has restricted this webpage from running scripts or ActiveX controls that could access your computer. Click here for options…”

Same thing.

It’s so bad that, if I type a path to a local file into the address bar, IE won’t even open it in the same window. It has to open a new window. Opening a local file involves opening IE, typing the path, clicking OK to its “sky is falling” dialog, letting it open its new window, Alt+Tabbing back to the original window, and closing it. All to open a file that’s under my complete control, completely trusted, doesn’t even require a network access.

Oookay. I guess I get it: IE is a claustrophobe. It panics when it feels the four walls of the local hard drive closing in on it. The remedy, obviously, is to let it out, and make it feel like it’s actually accessing the network. So I installed IIS, set up a virtual directory, and browsed to the web server on my local machine.

FireFox works fine. Chrome works fine. IE runs screaming in horror. “Oh noes!” it cries. “You’re trying to access an intranet! Oh, will nobody save me from the unspeakable dangers lurking on the private, firewalled network?”

Yeah, yeah, poetic license again, but honestly, that boy could use some Prozac*. Or heavy drugs. Or group hugs.

* Actually, anti-depression meds aren’t a good fit for the symptoms. Anti-anxiety might be better. Or possibly a good anti-psychotic.

At least it does run JavaScript now. And you can tell it to shut up about the many perils of the Intranet zone. (For that matter, yes, I could configure it to allow JavaScript for local files. But that doesn’t answer the question of why it’s got ridiculous settings to begin with.)

I just don’t get it. When IE runs across JavaScript on the big bad Internet, it trusts it unquestioningly. Sure, there are zone settings; it won’t let it do anything dangerous. But how is that less worthy of abject terror than something on my own hard drive? If I opened an EXE from my hard drive, Windows would quite happily let it install all the spyware it wants. But heaven forbid I open a Web page with some JavaScript animation. That might be bad.

Can’t we treat a Web page like a Web page and just open the damn thing? Is that too much to ask?

(Apparently not, because everybody but IE can do it just fine…)

Fumbling toward automation: running JavaScript tests with Watir

A group at work is doing some web-app development, and they’re using a tool called WatiN for end-to-end tests. I’m aware of that but didn’t think much of it.

Last night I went to Brian Marick‘s talk at the odynug meeting, and in passing, he mentioned Watir, which it turns out is infinitely cooler than WatiN, because Watir (a) came first, (b) is in Ruby, and (c) can automate IE, FireFox, and (via a separate library) Chrome.

I’m working on a JavaScript-based video-game development kit, and I spend a lot of time Alt+Tabbing to a browser, Ctrl+Tabbing to the tab with the automated test runner, refreshing the page, waiting (especially in IE) for the tests to finish, and (in Chrome) deciding whether the failures are actual test failures or just Chrome failures. Then it’s Alt+Tab to the next browser in the round-robin to try it again.

It shouldn’t be this hard to run all the tests. And with Watir, it looks like it won’t be. I think I’ll be able to write a Ruby script that

  • finds the Chrome tab that’s already open to the test URL (or opens a new tab);
  • reloads the Screw.Unit test page;
  • waits for the tests to complete;
  • scrapes the HTML to decide whether the tests passed or failed; and
  • repeats with FireFox and then with IE.

It won’t be trivial, because the Watir documentation really has nothing to say about finding stuff in the DOM. They’re heavily oriented toward clicking links and filling in forms, so if you want to manipulate a button or a hyperlink or a text field, they’ve got you covered. A myriad of examples, cheat sheets, and FAQs will get you on your way using methods like text_field and button. But if you want to find an <h3> with a particular CSS class, I wish you a lot of luck. The documentation does not go there. You need a lot of Google searches, a lot of luck, and a lot of lucky guessing.

I did scrape together something useful, and I’m noting it here. My tests currently report their results in an <h3>, which happens to be the only h3 on the page. This snippet of Ruby code will display the contents of that h3 (assuming the variable ie already refers to a Watir::IE instance):


Huh. I get it that getElementsByTagName would return an array, so I would understand — and expect — having to do [0] on it. But [0] gives me an error: “TypeError: can’t convert Fixnum into String”. ["0"] works fine, though. I do not understand why, but as long as it works, I’ll accept that for now.

That’s just a start, though, because that snippet only works for classic Watir (for IE). FireWatir (the FireFox version, which is part of the same install but apparently not a compatible Ruby API) fails with “NoMethodError: undefined method `getElementsByTagName'”, and ChromeWatir (separate install) fails with “NoMethodError: undefined method `document'”.

Ah well. I came up with the above snippet by stealing shamelessly from the code for Watir’s show_spans method. Maybe I can do the same for the FireWatir and ChromeWatir versions of show_spans (if they have it). We shall see.