Debugging web tests on remote servers

I run “web tests” on a remote server. I use Selenium to act like a person interacting with a website, viewing and entering data. Selenium is pretty awesome, it can drive a real web browser like Firefox.

Even better is to have these web tests run automatically every time I commit code. I use Jenkins for this. Jenkins even fires up a headless desktop so Selenium can run Firefox.

When a web test breaks (especially in some way I can’t reproduce on my local desktop), sometimes it helps to actually see what Jenkins sees as it runs the test. Here’s a quick guide for doing so on an Ubuntu GNU/Linux server.

  1. Connect to the remote server using SSH. Install VNC server:
    sudo apt-get install vnc4-server
  2. On the remote server, become the user tests run as. For example:
    sudo su - ci
  3. Set a password for the VNC server using the vncpasswd command.
  4. Start headless X server by running vncserver. Note the given display. If is included in the output of vncserver, the display is :1.
  5. Figure out which port the VNC server is using. I usually do something like

    sudo netstat -nape | grep '^tcp.*LISTEN.*vnc.*'

    Here’s some example output:

    tcp        0      0  *               LISTEN      107        3099855     13233/Xvnc4     
    tcp6       0      0 :::5901                 :::*                    LISTEN      107        3099858     13233/Xvnc4

    By trial and error, I figured out that 5901 was the port I should use.

  6. Port-forward VNC to your local machine.

    1. Disconnect from the server.
    2. Reconnect, including -L10000:localhost:5901 on your SSH command line.
    3. Leave this connection open.
  7. On your local machine, connect a VNC client to localhost:10000. An X terminal should be displayed.

  8. In the X terminal, run your web tests.

  9. When finished debugging, kill the X server using the display noted earlier.
    vncserver -kill :1

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