Protocol Scripts

Protocol scripts are a sequence of HTTP/HTTPS requests. They are executed by protocol bots.

In a protocol script, you have precise control of each request: the method, URL, and body. You can also supply dynamic request data for each iteration of the script, such as unique usernames and passwords, so that every request is different.

Since protocol scripts work at the request level, they are ideally suited to testing APIs and simple static websites. They can also work for dynamic web applications. While it’s possible to test nearly anything at the protocol level, you may find browser scripts to be easier for testing complex web apps.

Steps in a Protocol Script

Steps form the building blocks for your protocol scripts. A protocol script might have just a single step, or many. Loadster always executes the steps sequentially.

HTTP Steps

An HTTP step makes a single HTTP request. You specify the method, URL, and headers to be sent. If it’s a method that supports a body (like a POST or PUT) you can supply a body too.

You can think of each HTTP step rather like a visual representation of a curl command.

HTTP steps can also have nested resources, validators, capturers, and other attributes. These will be covered in more detail a little later.

Wait Steps

A wait step makes the bot pause, much like a real user might do when viewing a page and before navigating to the next page.

Code Blocks

In a code block, you can write your own JavaScript to make requests and parse responses, together with loops, if statements, etc.

It’s important to note that the JavaScript in your code blocks doesn’t run in a web browser, but rather in a sandboxed environment on Loadster’s engines.

In code blocks, you have access to modern ECMAScript syntax like the () => {} arrow functions and const and let, as well as common parsing functionality like JSON.parse(str) and XML.parse(str). You also have Loadster’s own http object that is basically a user agent for making HTTP requests.

When you’re ready to dive into code blocks, read more about them in the Code Blocks section.

Recording a Protocol Script

Recording a protocol script from your web browser is often the easiest way to get started.

Recording is especially helpful for static sites with lots of page resources (images, CSS, JS, etc) or dynamic web applications. It can also be useful for testing APIs that serve as the backend for a single page web application (SPA) because the requests to these also originate in your browser.

Installing the Loadster Recorder browser extension

To record your browser traffic and make a Loadster script, you’ll need the free Loadster Recorder for Chrome or Loadster Recorder for Firefox.

This extension handles recording for both Loadster and Speedway.

After you’ve installed the extension in your browser, expand it by clicking the extension icon in your browser’s toolbar. You can toggle the switch to enable or disable recording.

The browser extension is open source and you can review the source code on GitHub.

Recording your browser activity

To start recording, open a new or existing script and hit Record. Loadster will start communicating with the Loadster Recorder browser extension.

Enter the URL of the first page you want to record.

When you hit Start Recording, Loadster will open a new browser tab to that location. Whatever you do in that browser tab will be recorded as an event and show up in the recording log. Traffic in your other browser tabs is not recorded.

Click Stop Recording when you’re finished.

Filtering which browser events should be included in your script

Many sites have third party trackers, ads, and other content that aren’t in scope for testing. You may want to filter these out from the recording. Filtering them out results in a cleaner script, and also avoids redundant traffic to third party domains out of your control. However, if you have concerns about the performance of these third parties you rely on to serve your customers, leave them in or coordinate with them for a comprehensive test.

After you finish recording, Loadster presents you with a list of recorded domains and event types. Uncheck any domains and/or event types that you don’t want included in your script.

Previewing and filtering recorded browser events
Previewing and filtering recorded browser events

When you click Add to Script, Loadster converts your raw traffic into steps and append them to your script.

A newly recorded protocol script
A newly recorded protocol script

You might notice that many of the events that were recorded have been folded up as resources of other events. When you record a protocol script, Loadster does its best to determine which requests are primary requests (pages) and secondary requests (page assets like CSS, JS, images, etc). For this reason, the number of steps added to your script may not match the number of raw events that were recorded.

Best practices for recording protocol scripts

Recording saves time, but it isn’t always perfect! Avoid the temptation to blindly record and play back scripts without reviewing and understanding them first.

When you record your browser traffic into a protocol script, Loadster attempts to guess the relationship between pages and their resources. Typically, images and stylesheets are recorded as static page resources under the pages that requested them, rather than independent steps. However, there are cases when you may need to clean up the script after recording to get it just right.

You can just delete any recorded steps that you don’t want in your script.

Also, if you’re testing a dynamic site with complicated interactions (such as an OAuth flow, a series of form submissions, or a single page application), the recorded script might need to be edited a bit to allow for repeated use. You might even want to introduce variables in your script so it submits different data each time it’s played.

Last of all, always play through your script in the editor after recording or making changes, to make sure it runs as intended and you know what it’s doing!

Common problems when recording protocol scripts

Recording all your browser’s HTTP requests and turning them into a useful script isn’t trivial. Requests typically fire in parallel and may hit many domains. There are a few common problems that might affect your recording.

Too much junk traffic is recorded, cluttering up the script

Many websites include a lot of analytics, trackers, 3rd party scripts, etc. You don’t always want these included in your load test. They might be served from domains you have no control over, are hopefully scalable, and whose owners might not appreciate an unexpected load test.

To avoid too much of this junk traffic, use the domain and content type filters described above. Typically only the domain(s) and content type(s) in scope for load testing should be part of your protocol script.

Calls from the Beacon API aren’t recorded reliably!

By design, requests from the browser’s Beacon API via navigator.sendBeacon() are sent in the background at the browser’s leisure.

These are POST requests, and the Loadster Recorder extension is able to capture them when it sees them, but there’s no guarantee they’ll happen when you want them to when recording a script. In particular, beacons that fire at the end of the browsing session (when a tab is closed) may not be captured at all because the Loadster Recorder might have already stopped listening for events before the browser sends the requests.

If you want beacon requests included in your script, you may need to add or rearrange them manually after recording the script.

Playing Protocol Scripts

Playing a script in the editor is your chance to discover and fix any errors in your script before running a load test. When you play a script in the editor, it runs with just a single bot. This is a quick way to avoid problems ahead of time.

There are two ways to play a script: Play and Fast Play.

Play and Fast Play
Play and Fast Play

Fast Play is for those of us who are too impatient to wait when playing scripts in the editor: it skips all wait times. Play respects the wait times.

As your script plays, you’ll see flashing lights to show which step is active, and a status displayed when the step finishes.

Steps with green lights indicate success
Steps with green lights indicate success
Steps with red lights indicate errors
Steps with red lights indicate errors

Successful steps will appear with three green dots showing underneath the type of HTTP command (GET, POST, etc.). If an error was encountered, these same three dots will appear in red.

You can stop script playback at any time by clicking Stop.

Viewing script logs and results

After you play a script in the editor, the Logs and Requests tabs appear, with extra information about the script that you just played.

In the Logs tab you’ll see output from each step, such as the URL, the size of the response (in bytes), info about additional page resources, and any errors that may have occurred.

Check out the log to see how the script ran
Check out the log to see how the script ran

In the Requests tab you have a tree view of every HTTP step that was played, so you can drill down to see the full requests and responses from each step, including the full request and response body.

Use the Requests tab to drill down into specific steps
Use the Requests tab to drill down into specific steps

It is quite common to receive some errors the first time you play your script. If this happens to you, don’t worry! You can figure out what happened and edit your script to fix the error.

Troubleshooting with the script logs

If your script has errors, you’ll see them in the log. These errors can be helpful in determining what went wrong. Errors show up in red.

Script errors show up in the log
Script errors show up in the log

The error displayed above is an HTTP 401, which means the server said this caller is unauthorized to make the request. An HTTP 401 usually means authentication is required, or the authentication credentials submitted with the request were invalid.

It’s helpful to know the HTTP Status Codes and how your application uses them. Here are a few of the common ones:

  • 200 - Successful
  • 201 - Created
  • 301 - Moved Permanently (a type of redirect)
  • 302 - Moved Temporarily (another type of redirect)
  • 401 - Unauthorized
  • 403 - Forbidden
  • 404 - Not Found (the URL is probably incorrect or the resource is missing on the server)
  • 500 - Internal Server Error
  • 502 - Bad Gateway
  • 503 - Service Unavailable

Your script might also have other errors that aren’t HTTP status codes, such as validation errors or some other type of error.

Troubleshooting with the script requests and responses

If you can’t figure out what went wrong from the Logs, Loadster also provides a more detailed view of the script results. The Requests tab shows a tree-like view of every HTTP step that was executed in your script.

Drill down into individual steps to see the requests and responses
Drill down into individual steps to see the requests and responses

You can expand each section in the tree for details about the request and response. You can even view the full request or response body by clicking on the magnifier.

View the full request or response body contents
View the full request or response body contents

Troubleshooting with your application logs

If you still can’t figure out the cause of the errors from within Loadster, look to your application and server logs. Testing web applications is always specific to the application, so your application itself is the best place to look.

Knowing your own application and checking the logs is especially important if your site hides the details of errors with generic or unhelpful error messages.

Editing Protocol Scripts

You can add, edit, and remove individual steps in your script. You can also drag steps to rearrange them.

Here are a few things that work for all kinds of steps:

  • Add a step by clicking the toolbar button with the relevant step type.
  • Select a step or steps by clicking (or shift-clicking) in a neutral area of a step, such as the left handle.
  • Copy and paste steps by selecting them and using your ordinary keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, Cmd-C, Cmd-V). You can even copy and paste them between scripts.
  • Duplicate a step by hovering and clicking on the duplicate icon on the right-hand side of the step.
  • Delete a step by hovering and clicking on the delete icon on the right-hand side of the step.
  • Disable or enable a step by hovering and clicking the toggle icon on the right-hand side of the step. Disabled steps remain in your script but are not played (like commenting them out).
  • Drag to reorder steps by clicking in a neutral area, such as the left handle, and dragging to a new position.

Aside from that, each type of step has its own attributes that you can edit individually.

Editing wait steps

Wait steps are simple. They simply make the bot pause execution of the script for a certain number of seconds.

A wait step
A wait step

To change the duration of the wait, click the number of seconds, and enter a new number.

Having realistic wait times is important. Normally you should try to make your scripts run at the same cadence a real user would. If your wait times are unrealistic, your test results might be too.

Editing HTTP Steps

HTTP steps are a bit more complicated. In its simplest form, an HTTP step represents a single request to the server, much like a real user’s browser or a programmatic HTTP client would make.

An HTTP GET step
An HTTP GET step

Every HTTP step specifies a method and a URL.

HTTP Method

The HTTP method is a standard part of every HTTP request. The most commonly used methods are GET and POST, but many applications (especially RESTful APIs) make use of others such as PUT and DELETE also.

To change the method of a step, click on it and select the new method.

Changing the HTTP Method for a step
Changing the HTTP Method for a step

If you recorded your script, you’ll rarely need to change the method of a step. However, if you’re creating steps manually, it is important that they have the correct method.

Request URL

If you made it this far, you know what a URL is. You can edit a step’s URL by clicking on it.

Editing a URL
Editing a URL

If you’re editing query string parameters, make sure they are URL encoded! For example, a space in the query parameter values should be encoded as %20. Loadster has some formatting functions like urlencode(str) to help with this.

Request Body

The request body is an optional part of certain types of HTTP requests. Usually, POST and PUT requests have request bodies and other methods like GET and DELETE do not. When a request body is present, HTTP requests should have a Content-Type header to tell what type of content is being sent.

Loadster supports any content type you want to use. Content types that are usually text-based (JSON, XML, form fields, text, etc) are directly editable in the script editor, while binary data is not directly editable but can be uploaded from a file.

Make sure the request content type matches what your server is expecting. The most common type for submitting a web form is application/x-www-form-urlencoded. However, some forms (such as file upload forms) send multipart/form-data. REST APIs might expect application/json, application/xml or even text/xml.

Editing a JSON, XML, or plain text request body

Many APIs expect a JSON body with POST or PUT requests. Setting the step’s Content-Type header to application/json or another text-based content type will open the text editor.

Editing a JSON request body as plain text
Editing a JSON request body as plain text
Editing a URL encoded form body

Web forms are often submitted with Content-Type: x-www-form-urlencoded, which means the fields on the form get strung together like URL params and sent in the body. If you set the request body to x-www-form-urlencoded Loadster gives you the choice of editing individual fields or editing the raw encoded string.

Editing a form body as individual fields
Editing a form body as individual fields
Editing a form body as raw text
Editing a form body as raw text

Editing a multipart form body

The Content-Type: multipart/form-data header is usually reserved for file uploads. Setting this content type allows you to edit each part separately, and even attach files to be sent as parts for file uploads.

Editing a multipart form body with a file upload
Editing a multipart form body with a file upload
Interpolating variables in the request body

Watch out for the Interpolate variables in request body option. This checkbox tells whether any string in the body that matches Loadster’s expression syntax should be interpolated into a value. Unless you are submitting variables with the step, it’s safest to uncheck this, so that strings that just happen to resemble ${variables} are left literal.

Request Headers

Request headers are sent with every HTTP request, as required by the HTTP protocol. Most of the time, Loadster automatically sends default headers for you, and you don’t have to worry about them much.

But sometimes you might need to specify headers yourself. You can add a header with Add request header from the step’s Add… menu.

Setting a custom Authorization header for a request
Setting a custom Authorization header for a request

The example above sets an Authorization header with a bearer token to identify the caller. If you need to, you can add multiple headers to the same step.

Authentication

Loadster’s protocol scripts have built-in support for Basic, Bearer, and NTLM authentication. If you want to use something else, chances are you can make it work with custom headers.

You can enable authentication for a step with Add authentication from the step’s Add… menu.

Setting HTTP authentication credentials for a request
Setting HTTP authentication credentials for a request
Basic Authentication

HTTP Basic Authentication has been around for decades, and provides a simple way to encode a username and password in an Authorization header. This approach has mostly fallen out of favor with web applications, but remains popular with APIs where a simple stateless authentication mechanism is desirable.

Bearer Authentication

HTTP Bearer Authentication is commonly used with OAuth, and other situations where authenticating with a single API key is desired. The Bearer token is passed in an Authorization header by itself without any kind of encoding.

NTLM Authentication

Some Microsoft servers, particularly for in-house applications, use the NTLM protocol to authenticate users. This is a challenge-response protocol that involves some kind of identity manager such as Active Directory. It requires a Windows “domain” and a username and password.

Page Resources

An HTTP step can optionally include additional page resources that piggyback on the primary request.

These are usually static assets like CSS, JavaScript, and images.

Requesting additional resources along with the primary request
Requesting additional resources along with the primary request

If your step includes additional resources, the bot will request them in parallel after the main request completes, much like a web browser would load an HTML page and then load the associated images, CSS, JS, etc.

Loadster’s reported response time for this step will include the time it takes to load these resources.

Including page resources in a step only makes sense if the request is for a web page and you want the full page with static assets grouped together in a single response time. There’s no need to use them for APIs.

Validation Rules

Validation rules (or validators) are a way to assert that the server responds to a step the way you want it to. By adding validation to a step, you can make the script throw an error if the response isn’t what you expected it to be.

You can add one or more of these to any HTTP step from the step’s Add… menu.

Adding a Validation Rule to a step
Adding a Validation Rule to a step

You can learn more about them in the Validation Rules section.

Capturing Rules

Capturing rules are a way to capture, or extract, a value from an HTTP response. The capturer stores it in a variable that you can reuse later in the script.

To add a capturing rule to an HTTP step, select any of the capturers from the Add… menu on that step.

Adding a Capturing Rule to a step
Adding a Capturing Rule to a step

Capturing and reusing values from server responses is often necessary when testing dynamic web apps or APIs.

Learn about the types of capturing rules and see some examples of when to use them in Capturing Rules.

Best practices for protocol scripting

It’s important that your scripts should represent a single user’s usage pattern as realistically as possible. If you test unrealistically, you’ll get irrelevant results. Your test results are only as true as the behavior the test simulates.

  • Include all relevant HTTP requests, so the bot hits your server like a real user would.
  • Make sure to use variables for any request data that should be unique for each user.
  • Play your script after every change to make sure it runs properly.

If you’re testing a dynamic site and having a hard time creating a protocol script because the flows are too complicated, it might be time to try browser scripts.