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An open-source framework that
simplifies parallelizing Cypress tests
on AWS infrastructure.

Easy to Manage & Deploy

Easy to Manage & Deploy

Conifer abstracts away the complexity
of working with cloud infrastructure
by automating the deployment process

Case Study

1. Introduction

1.1 What is Conifer?

Conifer is an open-source test parallelization solution for Cypress. Conifer automates the provisioning of a parallelized testing infrastructure and the deployment of the user's application onto this infrastructure. The user can then execute their test suite across the multiple nodes of the parallelized infrastructure to dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to test their application.

In this case study, we discuss the background of testing, the problems faced by developers testing their applications, and existing approaches to solving those problems. We then introduce Conifer and compare it to existing solutions. Finally, we explore how we built Conifer and discuss the key design decisions that we made and challenges we faced.

1.2 What is Testing?

what is testing

In software development, testing is the process of evaluating whether an application is functioning as intended and ensuring that it fulfills its design requirements. Testing allows developers to catch bugs in an application that can then be fixed.

Testing has always been an essential element of the software development process, but it is one that has taken many forms over the years. Below, we briefly review the history and modern landscape of testing to explain how Conifer fits in.

A Brief History of Testing in Software Development

In the past, QA testers performed testing manually-employees tasked explicitly with detecting bugs in a program. A QA tester would manually look for bugs and defects in an application, requiring the tester to use the application, analyze its behavior, and verify any discrepancies or inconsistent behavior. The QA tester would then relay these defects to the development team, who would then implement the necessary fixes to address them.

Manual testing was a complex, time-consuming, and error-prone process. Automated testing was developed to address these shortcomings. With automated testing, routine tests are formalized into files/code that describe the testing procedure. Once formalized, the testing procedure can be carried out by simply executing these test files, usually with the help of a testing framework. Compared to manual testing, automatic testing dramatically reduces the effort required to test; once defined, a test can be run repeatedly with little effort from the tester, in shorter amounts of time.

Reducing the time and effort required to test an application yielded many benefits. It increased the frequency that an application could be tested and made extensive testing coverage less burdensome. Furthermore, automated tests made it such that the same test could be run in the exact same manner every time, increasing the consistency of the testing process. Finally, automating the testing process into an executable test suite enabled testing to be carried out by anyone- including the development team.

These benefits have made automated testing a central component in modern-day testing workflows.

Testing in the Modern Day

Modern software engineering relies on automated testing to catch bugs throughout development. Applications are tested early on, and testing is integrated into every stage of the software development lifecycle. Developers play a central role in the testing process: developers run tests themselves rather than entirely outsourcing the responsibility to the QA team. This new paradigm of pushing testing towards the early stages of development, known as “shift left”, is being adopted throughout the software development industry.

The most thorough form of automated testing is called End-to-End (E2E) testing: the process of testing an application by interacting with it from an end-user's perspective.

End-to-End Testing

End-to-End tests attempt to ensure that an application behaves as intended in a real-world scenario. Testing is carried out via the application's User Interface (UI) by mimicking an end-user's behavior- clicks, gestures, keyboard inputs, etc. The actual results of each interaction are compared to the expected results in real-time to ensure that the application is functioning as designed.

E2E tests subject an application to real-world scenarios, enabling the detection of bugs that may otherwise only be detected by the application's end-users. Because E2E tests simulate actual user behavior, passing E2E tests gives a higher level of confidence that all of the subcomponents of an application function together correctly.

However, this thoroughness and high confidence come at a cost. E2E tests aim to simulate complex real-world scenarios. This requires a production-like environment, which means that E2E tests will generally take more time to set up and write and more effort to maintain relative to other types of tests. Furthermore, running E2E tests is often slower and more resource-intensive than other types of tests due to the complexity associated with simulating real-world scenarios.

Modern E2E testing frameworks, such as Cypress, were designed to address some of the limitations of E2E testing. These frameworks simplify writing and maintaining E2E tests by providing a structured syntax for performing common tasks such as navigating to URLs, simulating end-user input, and inspecting the page content. By simplifying the writing and maintenance of E2E tests, these testing frameworks have enabled more widespread adoption of E2E testing.

Cypress, in particular, is a popular and fast-growing E2E testing framework. It is open-source and JavaScript-based, and its design makes writing E2E tests easy and improves the developer's testing experience. However, even with Cypress, E2E tests can have excruciatingly long test run times. This is due to their resource-intensive nature, meaning that developers encounter increasing test run times as test suites grow in size. This can limit the utility or feasibility of E2E testing with Cypress- a problem that Conifer is designed to solve.

2. What Problem Does Conifer Solve?

As an application grows in size and complexity, the time it takes to test all of its components and features increases proportionally. Each new feature may require new tests to be added to the test suite, and the features themselves rely on an increasing number of components whose functionality must also be tested. The underlying components that support the application may also become more complex and interconnected, opening up new avenues of potential failure. This issue is even more pronounced with comprehensive testing approaches like End-to-End (E2E) testing.

The resource-intensive nature of E2E testing makes E2E tests particularly prone to being slow. Simulating real-world interactions with the application requires all of the application's components to be started, the application state to be loaded, and a browser to interact with the test. Additional time requirements can result from testing being carried out through the UI rather than programmatically. As a result, as an application grows in size and complexity, E2E testing can take an increasingly long time.

testing too long

Long test-suite execution times can pose a serious problem for developer productivity and morale. A developer's productivity is disturbed while they wait for a lengthy test suite to finish execution. If the test suite is long enough, developers may resort to context-switching to another task to fill up their time. This type of environment, where developers' focus is disrupted by excessive idle time and/or context-switching, poses a hidden cost to the organization in the form of developer time, stress, and overall development team productivity.

The long time it takes to run a large E2E test suite may lead developers not to run a test suite as often as they otherwise would. While skipping additional test suite runs may alleviate some of the aforementioned issues related to morale and productivity, it can increase the likelihood of a more severe problem: bugs going undetected.

bug cost graph

The cost of software bug removal tends to vary depending on when the bug is found. A bug that is discovered early on in the development process may be trivial to fix. However, this cost increases dramatically for bugs that make it past the coding phase. Bugs that make it to the production environment may have catastrophic costs. In addition to being highly complex and costly to remove, they may damage the business by disrupting the availability of the service and affecting end-users.

The importance of detecting bugs early has led many engineering organizations to adopt what has become known as the “fail-fast, fail-often” approach to software development. This approach prioritizes detecting and addressing bugs as early as possible in the development process. Any detected problems are quickly patched before they have the chance to become embedded in later stages of development or production where they have the potential to cause financial, operational, and reputational damage to the organization.

Implementation of the “fail-fast, fail-often” strategy relies on the early detection of bugs and thus relies on the frequent testing of the application. Problems with the testing process, such as tests taking a long time to execute, can disrupt the successful execution of this strategy. This is the situation faced by Drone-On, a hypothetical company that will be used as an example to better illustrate Conifer's use case.

2.1 Hypothetical Use Case

drone on

Drone-On is an autonomous delivery platform on the long and winding path to success in Silicon Valley. Drone-On's innovative product and viral marketing strategy have captivated investors and secured funding for expansion. However, things didn't always look so good for the young company-it had faced significant quality control challenges early on in its development process. A lack of robust test coverage had resulted in bugs making it to production. These bugs caused an outage and almost scuttled an investment round that had been occurring at the time.

To address these issues, Drone-On's engineering team adopted the “fail-fast, fail-often” approach. They integrated testing into every stage of their development process. For E2E testing, they chose to use Cypress because it is written in JavaScript, which is familiar to all Drone-On's developers, and due to it being easy to learn how to use the framework. Adopting these strategies resulted in the early detection of bugs and greatly improved the reliability of Drone-On's products, preventing damage to their growing reputation.

As Drone-On continues to expand, so has its test suite. This has meant that E2E test suites that historically took minutes to run are now taking half an hour. Drone-On realizes its developers do not want to wait for all the tests to complete. While the developers are still running their tests, Drone-On is worried the current situation will impact morale and eventually lead to testing being performed less often. If all developers in a company like Drone-On test less and less during the coding phase, the chance of bugs or errors escaping into production will increase, risking financial and reputational damage to the company and harming its growth prospects.

Drone-On wants to mitigate these risks to continue enjoying the benefits of implementing the “fail-fast, fail often” approach. In order to do so, the company begins investigating how to speed up E2E testing.

3. How to Speed Up E2E Testing

A common approach for speeding up computational tasks is parallelization.

3.1 Executing Tests in Parallel

Like many other applications, testing can be sped up by running a test suite in parallel. At its core, this involves running multiple instances of the testing framework/runner simultaneously, each of which will execute a portion of the test suite. In theory, splitting up the work of executing the entire test suite across multiple processes will reduce the total time necessary to run the test suite.

Running tests in parallel has become the standard approach for speeding up test execution. There are two high-level approaches for parallelizing test suites: parallelization on a local machine and parallelization over a network of multiple machines.

Local Parallelization

One option is parallelization on the developer's local machine. This type of parallelization takes advantage of the multi-threaded processors found in modern computers, which allow them to run multiple programs in-parallel. The idea in Drone-On's case is to utilize this capability to run multiple instances of the test runner on the same machine in order to get through the test suite faster.

sequential tests

Local parallelization would be simple to achieve in certain testing frameworks that support local parallelization out of the box (e.g., Jest, Playwright), although Drone-On's preferred testing framework, Cypress, explicitly cautions developers against doing so. However, testing framework-compatibility is far from the only consideration. Another important consideration has to do with computational resources. When locally parallelizing a task, each instance of the parallelized task requires a multiple of the computational resources (CPU, RAM, etc.) in order to run. If the machine lacks these resources, bottlenecks will occur, leading to tests executing even slower than they would sequentially and/or potentially crashing the machine.

The issue of computational resources becomes especially significant in the context of scaling. Drone-On has a large E2E test suite that is growing by the day. Single-node locally parallelized systems must be scaled vertically-by adding more resources to the system. The company already supplies their development team with top-of-the-line Mac and Linux machines, but the resource-intensive nature of E2E testing makes it likely that even a modest amount of scaling can overwhelm the resources of even the best development computers. In most cases, vertical scaling is only possible to a certain extent, after which even marginal increases in performance become cost prohibitive. Drone-On cannot vertically scale further without purchasing expensive, specially made development machines. For Drone-On's purposes, E2E test suite execution time can only be modestly improved via local parallelization.

These requirements and limitations make the local parallelization approach a non-starter for Drone-On. What Drone-On needs is a parallelization solution that can be more easily scaled.

Multi-Node Parallelization

Next, Drone-On investigates multi-node parallelization, where a test suite is executed simultaneously across multiple machines. Each of these machines is responsible for running a subset of the complete test suite so that together, they run the entire test suite.

parallel tests

The primary advantage of multi-node parallelization is its capacity for scaling. In contrast to locally parallelized systems which must be scaled vertically, a system that is parallelized over multiple nodes can be scaled horizontally-by simply adding more nodes to the system. Horizontally scaling a system in this manner is much more cost-effective when an abundance of computing resources is required; it is much cheaper to purchase another unit of a modest system than to continue adding more resources to a single system.

Multi-node parallelization requires physical infrastructure on which subsets of a complete test suite can be run on. In the past, this would have required Drone-On to purchase a dedicated network of computers that would function as the parallelization infrastructure. In the modern day, we can take advantage of cloud computing to gain access to the necessary computing infrastructure on an as-needed basis.

By using infrastructure provided by the cloud, we alleviate some of the issues traditionally associated with horizontal scaling. Cloud infrastructure removes the barrier to entry to horizontal scaling by eliminating the upfront cost of purchasing expensive physical infrastructure Drone-On would not have to pay fixed costs for systems and would not need to hire in-house maintenance. Furthermore, systems that rely on cloud-based infrastructure are typically more flexible because they can easily be scaled up and down as needed.

Drone-On decides to pursue a multi-node parallelization approach using infrastructure provided by the cloud. It begins investigating options for implementing such a solution.

4. Existing Solutions

Solutions for multi-node parallelization of E2E testing can be divided into two main categories: Software as a Service (SaaS) and in-house DIY implementations. Each of these solutions represents a unique set of trade-offs. Drone-On must analyze the pros and cons of each of these solutions and decide what combination of trade-offs best suits their particular use case.

comparison table

4.1 Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS testing solutions, such as LambdaTest, BrowserStack, and Sauce Labs, are enterprise solutions that offer cloud-based automated testing services for a price. They are fully-managed solutions that provide plug-and-play test parallelization on servers provisioned by the service. These feature-rich solutions support various testing frameworks and provide comprehensive test-overview and monitoring solutions. The flexibility, ease of use, and feature-richness of these services make them a convenient solution for companies that want a no-hassle solution for speeding up E2E testing.

For all of their benefits, SaaS solutions have two significant drawbacks: high cost and lack of data ownership. The functionality and ease of use of SaaS solutions come with a direct financial cost, usually in the form of a high subscription fee plus overage charges. Second, the fully-managed nature of these services means giving up some control of data ownership. Having application/test code and analytics in the hands of a third-party service means trusting that service to keep your intellectual property safe. And, depending on the industry, this can also pose compliance issues over how and where data is shared and hosted.

For Drone-On, the benefits of a SaaS solution outweigh the drawbacks. Drone-On is a small company with only modest funding; committing to an enterprise solution with a monthly subscription fee is beyond what it can afford. Additionally, Drone-On has valuable IP, which, if leaked, would risk the company's entire business model.

4.2 DIY Solution

Drone-On's team could opt to build their own in-house DIY solution. At a minimum, this would involve two components: the multi-node test parallelization infrastructure and a test-orchestrator. The test-orchestrator would be responsible for allocating the tests amongst the nodes of the parallel execution infrastructure, triggering their execution, and returning results.

Drone-On could simplify the DIY process by using existing open-source tools as their test-orchestrator. Cypress Dashboard, Currents Dashboard, and Sorry Cypress Dashboard are test-parallelization tools that are intended to speed up Cypress test suites. These tools are designed to be integrated with a Continuous Integration (CI) tool, where they are configured to run tests in response to specific events. When paired with a purpose-built in-house test parallelization infrastructure, they can function as the test orchestration service component of a DIY solution.

Building a DIY solution from scratch would give Drone-On complete control over the feature set and allow them to customize a solution that meets their specific needs. Depending on the test orchestration tool, they would also retain ownership of their data, easing concerns about loss of IP and regulatory compliance. However, designing such a solution from scratch would require Drone-On to invest significant time and resources. Additional resources would need to be allocated for the maintenance of the system. For a small company like Drone-On, this additional work would eat up a large portion of their development team, who would otherwise be working on building-up their core business logic.

What Drone-On needs is an open-source, easy-to-use solution that allows it to speed up the execution of its Cypress end-to-end tests without compromising control of its data. We designed Conifer to fill this niche.

5. Introducing Conifer

conifer solution table

Conifer is an open-source test-parallelization solution that was created for companies or developers who want a simple way to run Cypress tests in parallel using a multi-node infrastructure. Conifer positions itself midway between a paid SaaS service and a in-house DIY solution. It offers the following features:

  • Easy to use - Conifer provides a simple Command Line Interface (CLI) to build, deploy, and tear down AWS infrastructure while providing a simple live dashboard to view while their tests run in parallel.
  • Flexible infrastructure - The infrastructure provisioned by Conifer can be scaled up or down depending on the user's parallelization needs.
  • Data ownership - Conifer provisions a parallelized testing infrastructure on AWS using the user's own AWS credentials. This infrastructure belongs to the user's own AWS account, allowing them to retain ownership of their code and data.
  • Pay as you go - There is no fixed cost associated with using Conifer. A company like Drone-On will only have to pay for the resources they deploy to AWS. Billing for these resources is based on the actual amount used, and does not have a fixed up-front cost.

It is important to note that Conifer is not a catch-all solution. Conifer is not nearly as feature-rich as a SaaS solution or customized DIY platform. Conifer only supports the basic features that are required to execute Cypress tests during local development. It does not offer rich analytics nor does it support the range of languages and testing frameworks that a SaaS solution would.

However, for smaller companies like Drone-On, who are looking for a cheap, easy-to-use, low barrier-to-entry E2E test parallelization solution that allows them to retain ownership of their own data, Conifer represents an ideal solution. By using Conifer, such a company can quickly begin enjoying the full benefits of applying a “fail-fast, fail-often” strategy to their E2E testing without having to dedicate developer time and resources that would otherwise be focused on building out their core business logic.

Now that we have introduced Conifer, let's take a look at some of the speed increases that we can expect to see.

6. Benchmarking Conifer

benchmark table 1

The table above compares the total test-run execution time for test suites of differing lengths with our local machine running Cypress versus with Conifer. These results illustrate three key takeaways:

  1. Conifer successfully sped up test runs across the board.
  2. The degree to which a test run is sped up with Conifer depends on the length of the test suite.
  3. Subsequent test suite runs tend to be faster than the initial runs.

[1]Keep in mind there could be variations in local test run durations depending on local machine specs; for reference, the device used here was a 2021 MacBook Pro (M1 Max, 32 GB RAM).

benchmark table 2

The gains in testing speed increase as the length of the test suite increases. As you can see in Table 2, as the test suite length progresses from small to large, the initial run speed multiplier progresses from 1.39x to 3.09x, and the subsequent run speed multiplier progresses from 1.55x to 3.88x. Fortunately for our users, this means that the longest test suites are the ones that benefit most by using Conifer.

As shown in Table 1, subsequent test suite runs tend to be faster than the initial runs. This is because Conifer's test-splitting algorithm utilizes meta-data from previous test runs to optimize future runs. The next section takes a closer look at this algorithm.

7. Algorithm

Conifer allocates test files in parallel nodes using a two-stage algorithm. In the first stage, Conifer allocates test files so that there is an even distribution of test files amongst the parallel nodes. In the second stage, Conifer utilizes the timing data from the previous test run to reallocate the tests among the nodes to optimize total test time. Together, this two-stage algorithm enables a remarkable acceleration of the testing process.

7.1 Stage 1: Allocate by File Count

animation of split by file count

The first stage is utilized in the initial test run. During the initial test run, Conifer naively distributes the test files to the various nodes based on the total file count, such that each container contains roughly the same number of tests. In the animation above, we have a test suite that consists of eight separate test files. This test suite is parallelized across four nodes. The algorithm will go through each test one by one and add it to the node that contains the smallest number of test files. This process will continue until all of the test files have been allocated.

Though the Stage 1 algorithm splits the files evenly amongst the parallel nodes, it does not necessarily represent the most efficient splitting of the test suite. This is because it can result in different nodes having longer total runtimes than other nodes, due to the possibility of certain test files taking longer to run than others.

The image on the below shows that even though each node has the same number of test files, Node 1 takes much longer than Node 2, which is a problem because the test run is only as fast as the slowest node.

split by file count

7.2 Stage 2: Allocate by Timing Data

The second stage of Conifer's test-allocation algorithm is where the test files are allocated based on test run timing data. After the initial run, Conifer persists metadata about each test file, including the time each test takes to run. On subsequent test runs, Conifer can use this test data to allocate the test files to minimize the difference in total test time between each parallel node.

animation of split by timing data

Beginning with the longest-running test file, the algorithm will go through each test file and add it to the node that contains the shortest estimated total test-run time. This process will continue until all of the test files have been allocated. We can see this process play out in the animation above.

split by timing data

As we can see from the image above, this will result in nodes that take a similar amount of time to finish execution relative to the naive allocation.

However, it is noteworthy that the naive algorithm of Stage 1 is responsible for the majority of the speed increase. This illustrates the power of parallelization, allowing the user to enjoy substantially reduced test suite runtime from the first run.

At this point, we've witnessed the extent to which Conifer is able to speed up E2E testing and explored the algorithm that facilitates this speed increase. Now, we're going to go behind the scenes and take a deeper look at how Conifer is implemented.

8. Behind the Scenes: How Conifer Works

Before we discuss implementation details, it is helpful to define the various responsibilities that must be fulfilled to successfully parallelize an E2E test suite.

8.1 Overview of Responsibilities

At a high level, these responsibilities must be fulfilled to successfully parallelize an E2E test suite:

overall responsibilities
  1. Preparing all of the tools and provisioning the necessary infrastructure to support parallel testing.
  2. Orchestrating/overseeing the testing process.
  3. Executing the testing code on each node.
  4. Storing results of each test in persistent storage.
  5. Communicating the results of the test suite to the end-user in a useful manner.

Let's go through each of these responsibilities in detail, beginning with preparing the components of our parallelized testing infrastructure.

8.2 Preparing Infrastructure Components

setup highlighted

Before we can actually perform a parallelized test run, we need to prepare all of the components that will be used to build the parallelized testing infrastructure.

We can divide these components into three main categories:

  1. A blueprint that specifies all of the files and dependencies that are required to run the user's application and its associated E2E tests. In other words, a blueprint for a single node.
  2. The actual physical infrastructure that will be used to run the parallel tests.
  3. Any support infrastructure that will be used to facilitate Conifer's functionalities, such as object storage and databases.

In the following section, we will focus on the first and second categories, beginning with the blueprint for a single node- the Docker image.

8.3 Blueprint for a Single Node: Docker Image

zoom infra

Docker images are files that function as a set of instructions that are used to run a Docker container. Conifer uses a Docker image to specify a blueprint for a single node. The user can then use this image to spin up identical instances of the application as Docker containers, each representing a single node running a different subset of the user's test suite.

build image

A Docker container is an instantiation of a Docker image, which bundles the application code with all the dependencies required to run the application. Running our nodes as Docker containers allows us to run our application and its associated tests on any computer without worrying about configuring the correct environment. By using the blueprint specified by a Docker image to spin up our parallel nodes, we dramatically simplify the deployment of the user's application on general-purpose cloud-computing infrastructure.

So far, we have a blueprint for initializing a single node of our parallel testing infrastructure. However, this blueprint is not useful without access to physical computer infrastructure on which to run it.

8.4 Provisioning the Infrastructure

zoom infra

Conifer relies on the power of cloud infrastructure to supply the physical computing infrastructure needed to run the parallel nodes on which the user's application is tested. Like any tool that relies on cloud infrastructure, we must provision this infrastructure before it can be used.

build image

Provisioning the necessary infrastructure is accomplished through AWS Cloud Development Kit, or CDK. CDK acts as a wrapper for CloudFormation, providing a higher-level interface through which AWS cloud infrastructure can be specified. AWS's CDK was not the only option for accomplishing this task; other tools exist for provisioning infrastructure on the cloud. However, CDK possesses a few characteristics that gave it an edge over the competition (making it ideal for our use case):

  1. It is dramatically simpler than CloudFormation.
  2. It can be written in an assortment of programming languages.

Using CDK to provision our infrastructure allowed us to avoid the complexity of creating a CloudFormation template. Creating a CloudFormation template (a JSON or YAML file) on its own is a challenge since we would need to configure all the necessary networking resources like a VPC, subnets, and security groups. Furthermore, it does not provide any glue logic for service-to-service interactions. CDK abstracts away this complexity into what is essentially a library of functions that can be accessed in your choice of programming language, with support for languages including TypeScript, JavaScript, Python, and Golang. Executing the CDK code synthesizes a CloudFormation template, which is used by AWS to provision the infrastructure.

At this point, the necessary preparation, configuration, and infrastructure-provisioning is complete. The next implementation step is to orchestrate and oversee the testing process.

8.5 Managing the Test Orchestration Process

orchestrate highlighted

The test orchestration process encompasses all of the actions that must be taken to execute a single test run. However, not all of these actions can be executed at the same time or stage; they cannot simply be triggered as soon as the conifer run command is entered. Certain tasks depend on other tasks and therefore must be triggered at certain points in the test run. Tasks also differ in the manner they are executed (synchronous vs asynchronous) and the interval at which they are run. To handle this complexity, we need to have a tool that will be responsible for overseeing this process.

Within Conifer's architecture, the Command Line Interface, or CLI, is responsible for handling the test orchestration process.

The CLI fulfills this responsibility by supporting the following functionalities:

  1. The CLI initiates the testing process in response to the conifer run command.
  2. While the test run is being executed, the CLI tracks the test suite's execution.
  3. After the test suite has finished execution, the CLI triggers the recalculation of the test groupings.

Let's break down each of these responsibilities, beginning with the process of initiating a test run.

Initiating a Test Run

We will first consider the requirements of initiating a test run, and then detail our implementation choices.


What processes need to occur to initiate the execution of a single run of the user's test suite? We can easily identify a few crucial steps:

  1. We must spin up the nodes that the test suite is going to be run on.
  2. We must specify the specific test files that are going to be executed on a specific node.
  3. We must be able to specify the specific test run for which a test file is executed.
  4. We must save some sort of reference to each node for tracking purposes.

As mentioned in the previous section, the Conifer CLI is responsible for managing the test orchestration process. Let's examine how the CLI fulfills the above requirements.


The CLI uses the AWS Software Development Kit (SDK) to initiate a single test run. The SDK triggers the creation of Elastic Container Service (ECS) Tasks, which are instantiations of ECS Task Definitions. ECS Task Definitions specify container configurations such as CPU/memory allocation, which image to use, and which ports to expose. We can use the skeleton specified by an ECS Task Definition to instantiate the nodes of our parallelized test execution infrastructure.

When initiating a task, we have the option of specifying container overrides. We take advantage of this capability to supply values that each node requires to run by specifying them as environment variables. The following environment variables are specified for each node:

  1. A file globbing pattern that dictates which test files will be executed on the node.
  2. A unique identifier for the specific test run that the node is associated with. This identifier will be used to organize test artifacts and metadata.

Each task spins up a container using the image we pushed to ECR. Within each container, environment variables specify the test run and the test files that will be executed.

Each node remains associated with the task instance that it was spun up with. AWS assigns each of these tasks Amazon Resource Names, or ARNs. ARNs are unique IDs that can be used to identify specific AWS resources. Upon the conclusion of the test run initiation process, the Task ARNs will be persisted in the Conifer-Config file. They will be used to track the status of the tasks.

Monitoring Test Suite Execution


At this point, we have successfully initiated E2E testing of the user's application, and the user's test suite is executing on the parallel nodes of Conifer's testing infrastructure.

Certain functionalities need to be triggered at certain points as the execution of the test suite progresses. For example:

  1. While the test suite is executing, we want to query the persistent store for updates on the status of individual test files, in order to keep the user up-to-date.
  2. After the test suite has finished executing, we want to trigger the recalculation of the test groupings.

In order to ensure that the necessary processes are run at the correct time, we need to be able to monitor the status of the nodes that make up our parallelized testing infrastructure. Specifically, we need to track each node while it is running and ensure that it executes its responsibilities and shuts down without incident.


The CLI monitors each node using functions supplied by the AWS SDK. Recall that each ECS Task is assigned a unique identifier in the form of an ARN, and that these ARNs were persisted during test run initiation. By supplying these identifiers, the SDK's describe functions can now be used to query the status of each node.

The CLI will poll AWS for the status of each node at a certain interval for the duration of the test run. This process will continue until each node returns a status of complete, upon which the test run will be marked as complete.

8.6 Executing the Test Suite: A Single Node

execute highlighted


As discussed earlier, parallelized execution of the user's entire test suite is accomplished by initializing N nodes, with each node running a subset of the entire test suite as specified during the initiation procedure.

Now, let's zoom in on a single node within this parallelized testing infrastructure. Each node must perform certain actions in order to execute its portion of the test suite successfully. At a high level, these actions include:

  1. Initiating the necessary background processes.
  2. Launching the user's application and ensuring that it is running.
  3. Starting Cypress and instructing it to execute the necessary tests.


zoom single task

Conifer uses a simple shell script to control the flow of the test execution process within each node. This shell script is triggered at the creation of the node and executes the following processes sequentially:

  1. Launches a continuous file-watcher process in the background. This specific process will be discussed in detail in the coming section.
  2. Starts the user's application using the commands specified during the Conifer initialization process.
  3. Waits for the application to finish starting up by listening to the necessary port, as indicated by the user during the Conifer initialization process.
  4. Initiates testing by launching the Cypress framework with flags that indicate which tests to run, using environment variables that were specified for the node.

Running this script will execute a subset of the complete test suite on a single node. This script is executed in each node, which results in the entire test suite being executed amongst the constituent nodes of Conifer's parallelized testing infrastructure.

At this point, we have managed to speed up the execution of the user's test suite by splitting it into smaller parts and running them in parallel across the nodes of Conifer's parallelized testing infrastructure. The next step is to persist the results of these tests.

8.7 Persisting Test Results

persist highlighted


After a test is executed, we need to store its results in some form of persistent storage. This storage should be external to test execution infrastructure to enable us to access the results of tests run nodes that may no longer be active.

persist test results

The process of persisting the test results can be broken down into two main steps:

  1. Determining when results for a single test are available.
  2. Saving the results for each test to storage outside of the testing infrastructure.


persist results

Cypress can be configured to generate certain “test artifacts” upon the completion of a single test file. Cypress stores various artifacts in different file formats, including JSON, MP4, and PNG. Together, these artifacts function to communicate the results of the test, including test metadata, recordings, and screenshots of any points of failure. Because Cypress test artifacts take the form of physical files, storing the results of a Cypress test is as simple as exporting the files and persisting them in some form of external storage.

How do we leverage this capability to implement persistent storage? Recall that a file-watcher is run in the background of each node before the Cypress testing framework is started. The file-watcher detects when a test artifact has been generated by watching for changes in the standard directories where Cypress test artifacts are saved. When a new artifact is detected, the file-watcher uploads it to the appropriate directory in the Conifer S3 bucket.

Additionally, the file-watcher parses some of the artifacts for select metadata to save to DynamoDB. This includes high-level information about each individual test, such as its status and duration. This metadata will later be used to support real-time monitoring of a test run's progression.

The data persisted by the file-watcher, both in the S3 Bucket and DynamoDB, will be used to communicate the results of the tests to the end-user.

8.8 Communicating Test Results to the User

communicate highlighted

Let's discuss how we might communicate the test results back to the end-user.


A general process for returning results to the user can be broken down into three main steps:

  1. Retrieve the test results from where they are stored.
  2. Apply some form of processing to transform the data into a useful format for display.
  3. Display the results via some Graphical User Interface (GUI).


communicate results

Our goal was to give the user a high-level view of the results of the test-run in real-time, as well as a detailed report following the conclusion of testing. This functionality was implemented with two separate infrastructures:

  1. Live dashboard - High-level overview of the test run, communicated in real-time.
  2. HTML report - A detailed report after the test run is complete.
Live Dashboard

Real-time communication of test results is handled by the live dashboard. The live dashboard utilizes the data persisted by the file-watcher to keep the user up-to-date on the status of the test run. It consists of an Express back-end server and a React front-end web application. Recall that the CLI is responsible for managing the test orchestration process, including monitoring the progression of a test run. As part of this process, the CLI polls DynamoDB for test-status updates, and sends webhooks containing these updates to the dashboard application. Upon receipt, the updates are communicated to the user via the React application.

live dashboard

The live dashboard enables real-time monitoring of the progression of a test run, allowing the user to track the status of each individual test within the test suite and the amount of time it took to run. The user dashboard also provides links to download individual test artifacts from AWS S3 as they become available.

HTML Report

After each test run, Conifer generates an HTML report and saves it to the user's project directory. This report is much more detailed than the data provided by the live dashboard, and represents a complete accounting of the test run-it contains all of the information the user would have had access to had they run the test-suite locally.

html report

The report generation process is initiated when the CLI detects that all test execution nodes have powered down. This indicates that the test run is complete. The process of generating the HTML report can be divided into two main steps:

  1. The relevant test artifacts that were produced in the test run are downloaded to the user's computer.
  2. Each artifact is parsed and aggregated into a single data structure.
  3. An HTML report is generated using the aggregated data, and is then saved to the user's project directory.

Together, the live dashboard and HTML report function as a versatile and user-friendly mechanism for monitoring test execution and making sense of test results.

8.9 Final Architecture

Conifer's full architecture

The above image illustrates Conifer's final architecture.

  1. Conifer generates the Docker image and provisions the necessary AWS infrastructure.
  2. The CLI initiates a test run and tracks each task for completion.
  3. While a subset of tests are run within each task, the test artifacts/metadata are sent to S3 and DynamoDB.
  4. Finally, the artifacts and metadata are retrieved from S3 and DynamoDB and presented to the user via the HTML report and live dashboard, respectively.

9. Implementation Challenges

In the course of developing Conifer, we encountered certain implementation challenges and experimented with multiple solutions. In this section, we discuss the attempted solutions and explain some of the decisions we made in the final implementation.

The first implementation challenge we faced was determining the appropriate cloud-infrastructure to run our E2E tests.

9.1 Running Cypress Tests on the Cloud

Initial Design: AWS Lambda

After the consolidated Docker image has been built and sent to ECR, how can we run the tests in a parallelized manner on the cloud?

The first approach we explored was using Lambda functions. Lambda is an event-driven compute service that lets you run code without needing to provision or manage any resources. We had envisioned utilizing Lambda functions to parallelize the test execution. Each Lambda function could execute each test file in the test suite asynchronously. The concept would be to invoke N number of Lambda functions, where each function runs one test file in the complete test suite.

lambda architecture

Lambda has many characteristics that made it uniquely suitable for our use case:

  1. It possesses the capacity for infinite parallelization, so it is highly scalable.
  2. It represents a fully-managed solution, so we do not need to manage the deployment of AWS resources.
  3. It is a proven solution. This approach has successfully parallelized end-to-end testing on Selenium, another popular testing framework.

We also considered a few possible drawbacks, but ultimately concluded that these drawbacks would not significantly affect Lambda's suitability for our use case. These potential drawbacks included:

  1. Container size limit - Lambdas have a container size limit of 10 GB. This used to be a bigger problem when the size limit was 512 MB. We deemed the new limit to be suitable for most applications.
  2. Function timeout - Lambdas have a timeout of 15 minutes. While this is an issue for certain applications. In theory, it is an issue, but because there is potential to parallelize infinitely, it is improbable that a single Cypress test file would take more than 15 minutes.
  3. Cold start times - Can vary based on what the Lambda function is running. It could pose an issue, but we must validate it with real-world data.

Issues with Lambda

During implementation with Lambda, we encountered an issue relating to a low-level display driver dependency for Cypress. Upon further research, this issue appeared unsolvable as there is still an open issue on Github directly related to using Lambda with Cypress, dating back to 2018.

lambda error

We also explored a handful of workarounds that attempted to bypass this problem. These were typically very complex and were always implemented to support the testing of a specific application. These workarounds were not intended to be used as a part of a general purpose testing infrastructure. Therefore, they were not suitable for use with Conifer.

An Alternative: Elastic Container Service (ECS)

Since we appeared to have reached the end of the road with Lambda, we considered ECS as an alternative. ECS had a few characteristics that made it desirable for our use case. Being a container orchestration service for Docker images, it is able to run our nodes. Additionally, it can scale easily in a manner that would allow us to parallelize the execution of our test suite sufficiently and fulfill the same responsibilities that we had originally envisioned using Lambdas.

Unlike Lambdas, which are entirely serverless, ECS offers two launch types that we can use to run our nodes.

  1. ECS with EC2 - A self-managed solution using an EC2 instance as a task runner.
  2. ECS with Fargate - A serverless, fully-managed solution.

We took the bottom-up approach by trying to get Cypress to work on an EC2 instance. Initial development began with EC2 as a task runner, with an immediate goal of ensuring that nodes can run the tests and with the intent to verify that the same problem with Lambda did not apply. Using EC2 as the task runner made it possible to take advantage of the relative ease of debugging and troubleshooting in a self-managed solution for the initial application development.

Ultimately, we decided to stay with EC2 as our task runner. In addition to simplifying the development process, using EC2 as the task runner achieved the substantial speed gains that Conifer aimed to provide for E2E testing. Implementation with a fully managed solution via Fargate was deferred as a future optimization.

At this point, we have solved the challenge of running our Cypress E2E tests on the cloud. This leads us to the next problem: how do we return the test results back to the user?

9.2 Sending Test Results to the User

Normally, the user could view their test results in real-time through their terminal. However, since Conifer executes the tests on the cloud, users lose this feature. This posed an obvious issue: What's the point of testing if you cannot see the results? So, we considered other ways of communicating test results to the users.

lost functionality

One way is to create a test report where the user can see the results through an HTML file after the test run is complete. This could be achieved natively through Cypress with its built-in reporters. Unlike viewing the test results through the terminal's output, these reports can be retrieved from each node and sent to the user.

There is one minor problem: the reports are generated per each test file, meaning that the user has to go through hundreds of reports to see their test results.

aggregated result

We managed to solve this problem easily by using a custom reporter plugin called mochawesome-report-generator (marge) which can aggregate all the tests and generate a final HTML report. However, before we can aggregate the individual test results, we need them in a single location.

current situation

The above image illustrates the situation after our test suite has finished execution. The test results/artifacts were produced for each test, but they reside within the node where the specific test file was executed. Therefore, we don't have access to them and cannot use them to generate the report for the end-user. In order to send any results to the user, we need first to retrieve the test results from each node and place them in one centralized location.

centralize test results

The easiest approach would be to defer uploading the test artifacts until after all of the tests within a single node have finished running. The conclusion of test execution on a node implies that the Cypress test runner has finished running, and thus, that all of the artifacts have been generated. Running a script after this to upload the test artifacts would be a trivial process.

post execution aggregate

Real-Time Results

real-time upload

But this is not good enough. We want Conifer to be able to communicate the test results to the user in real-time, which is present when running a Cypress test suite locally. Accomplishing this requires us to retrieve the test results from each node in real-time as those test results are generated.

We arrived at two main approaches:

  • Synchronous - We can attempt to insert the desired functionality directly into the test execution process, so the test results are uploaded immediately after a test file runs but before the next test file run begins.
  • Asynchronous - We can create a separate process solely responsible for uploading the test results as they are created.
Synchronous Approach

The first approach would be to direct Cypress to synchronously upload the test artifacts for a single test file immediately after that file finishes running. Within the cypress-config file, Cypress allows us to extend the internal behavior of Cypress with code blocks that can be executed at certain events within the testing process, including subsequent to the completion of an individual test file's execution.

This approach is complex due to the potential for existing code in the user's cypress-config file, some of which may be critical for supporting the proper execution of their test suite (e.g., seeding a database, fetching database data, etc.). Thus, the necessary code would need to be stitched into a preexisting cypress-config file in one of two approaches:

  • Require the user to add the necessary code themselves.
  • Inject the necessary code into the user's cypress-config file.

Upon further investigation and given the config file's complexity and importance in successfully executing the user's test suite, we deemed this approach unviable and too risky.

Asynchronous Approach

The second approach would be to enable the asynchronous streaming of the test artifacts by implementing a file-watcher. This program would be separate from Cypress and run asynchronously in the background while the Cypress tests are executed.

file watcher

In order to function correctly, the file-watcher would need to detect when a test artifact has been created and fully written (as indicated by it no longer changing). Once these conditions are satisfied, the file-watcher would initiate uploading the specific test artifact to persistent storage.

This approach would require no additional work from the user, but it is more complex and constitutes an additional potential point of failure in the testing infrastructure.

Decision: File-Watcher

Both of these approaches achieved the necessary functionality. The first approach would be undesirable because it burdens the end-user with needing to stitch the configuration files together. This is particularly true when the user may not even be familiar with the configuration themselves, making the synchronous approach a non-starter.

We decided that the implementation of real-time streaming of testing artifacts would be best achieved through the use of the asynchronous file-watcher. Although the file-watcher approach was more of a technical challenge, it supports the necessary functionality without requiring additional work from the user.

Now that we are acquainted with Conifer and the decisions that went into building it, let's explore some features we would like to add in the future.

10. Future Work

There are several additional features that we would like to add in the future in order to extend its functionality.

10.1 Dynamic Allocation of Tests

dynamic allocation animation

We would like to investigate other test allocation algorithms that may be useful to users with certain use cases. One such algorithm is through the dynamic allocation of tests. The animation above illustrates the approach. Rather than calculate test groupings before initiating a test run, this approach would dynamically allocate tests by utilizing a queue of sorts to feed tests to the nodes as they become available. This approach may prove useful in situations where accurate or up-to-date timing data is unavailable such as during the first run and in frequently or rapidly changing test suites.

10.2 Go Serverless

We would like to implement a serverless option for test parallelization using AWS Fargate. A successful implementation may allow us to achieve “infinite parallelization” in a manner similar to what was discussed using lambdas. Additionally, a severless implementation would further streamline the deployment process by removing the need to specify certain parameters such as the EC2 instance type.

10.3 Improve Efficiency and User Experience

To improve Conifer's testing efficiency and the end-user experience, we would like to add the following features:

  • Fail fast option - The option to stop test execution as soon as the first failing test result is found.
  • Flaky test detection - The developer can detect, flag, and track flaky tests from the Cypress test runs.
  • Live dashboard analytics - Give developers a richer experience on their test results.


Meet Our Team

We are currently looking for opportunities. If you liked what you saw and want to talk more, please reach out!

  • Ahmad Jiha

    Bay Area, CA

  • Sam Harreschou

    Los Angeles, CA

  • Ainaa Sakinah

    Tokyo, Japan

  • Lawrence Tam

    Bay Area, CA