Web Application Monitoring (sometimes referred to as “Transaction Monitoring”) is a form of Synthetic Monitoring that routinely tests and verifies the proper function of a website when responding to user input such as logging in or making a purchase. A software application loads the web application into a web browser, and using an automation script, the software application performs the user interactions and reports on the web application's performance and sends alerts in the event of an error.

When end-user success is critical to a business, the site’s functionality needs diligent testing. Some companies have employees periodically test the functionality, but employees typically only perform the tests a few times a day. Inconsistent testing allows a problem to persist for hours before discovery. Also, testing behind the firewall can’t capture errors specific to user locations such as slow server responses and a failing CDNs (Content Delivery Network). Third-party synthetic web-application testing removes the points of failure introduced with in-house testing by having a worldwide network of computers conduct the testing as frequently as every five minutes.

How does Web Application Monitoring work?

Web Application Monitoring appears simple on the surface, but it can quickly become quite complicated. To help keep web application monitoring simple, services first identify their “happy paths.” A happy path is the steps an end user takes to complete a single transaction on the website or web service. The monitoring service builds a script based on the happy path. The monitoring service uses the script to conduct regularly scheduled tests to ensure that the functionality and performance meet expectations. For example, to verify that the login process works properly the remote computer checkpoint will:

  1. Navigate to the login page using a browser
  2. Input a user ID
  3. Input a password
  4. Click submit
  5. Wait for the response
  6. Report findings to the web application monitoring company

If the checkpoint computer reports any unexpected transaction behavior, such as missing page content or failed or slow responses, the monitoring service sends an alert to the website’s or web service’s support team.

Web-Application transaction scripts

Script generation is complicated and time-consuming, and when you consider the complexities of testing a shopping cart or a checkout process, the script becomes even more demanding and cumbersome. Some monitoring companies have tools to help with script generation, but in the end, the script writing is often the responsibility of the website or web service. Uptrends doesn’t leave this complicated task for customers to figure out alone and instead offers the Transaction Recorder. The Transaction Recorder collects the information needed for script generation as the monitoring customer steps through their website’s or web service’s happy paths. Dedicated transaction scriptwriters use the recordings and work in partnership with the customer to write the finalized script.

Who uses Web Application Monitoring?

Distributed browser-based applications have become the normal mode of operation for individuals and business alike. These applications allow people to order taxies, purchase goods and services, manage finances, and get entertainment just to name a few of the things people do over the Internet and on company Ethernet every day. If a business depends on end-user success for its revenue and reputation, they should use Web Application Monitoring.

DevOps personnel work around the clock maintaining equipment, software, and services, and Web Application Monitoring provides the DevOps team a constant data stream about the health of their site’s functionality and performance. Most websites experience almost constant change, and in the case of third-party providers, the changes are often out of the control of the team managing the web application. Internal and third-party changes can affect the functionality and performance of the web application. Web Application Monitoring catches problems brought on by continuous change and failing infrastructure.

What types of user interactions do web-application monitors test?

The interactions that a user may have with a site or service varies from application to application. These interactions tend to be routine tasks that most users conduct while using the service. Web Application Monitoring can replicate most routine interactions including:

  • Navigate a site
  • Log in
  • Log off
  • Password and user ID retrieval
  • Search
  • Place items in a shopping cart
  • Fill out forms
  • Complete a financial transaction

What are the limitations of Web Application Monitoring?

Although many user interactions appear routine, many require complex decision-making skills, especially when dealing with dynamic content. Although regular expressions can help in some of these situations, some things need to be taken into consideration when creating a script.

Dynamic content

Web Application Monitoring is not artificial intelligence. If the interaction requires advanced interactions like picking a size or color based on current inventory, the script may eventually fail as inventory changes and sizes and colors become unavailable. Keeping the interaction as direct and simple as possible will help avoid errors. For example, if the script tests a shopping cart, rather than have one script that adds an item to the cart, selects gift wrapping, two-day shipping, and enters a promotion code, create separate scripts to test each interaction. 

Inventory shortages

A web application monitor that purchases an item will fail if the system runs out of inventory. When picking an item for testing a shopping cart or checkout, remember the monitor will purchase the item up to 288 times a day. Picking an item for testing that has sufficient inventory so that testing won’t deplete stock too quickly is key to avoiding unnecessary alerts and angry customers that can’t purchase the item either.

Conclusion

Web application monitoring can test happy paths, detect failing and slow components, capture localized issues at regular intervals. Synthetic Web Application Monitoring frees up staff to work on other things by while capturing issues and alerting support immediately. Web Application Monitoring notifies the support team allowing them to rectify problems. Frequently support can fix web application problems before they affect the end user.