In the fast-paced world of mobile app development, delivering a seamless user experience is paramount. With the ever-increasing number of devices, operating systems, and user expectations, ensuring your app functions flawlessly across the board is no small feat. Mobile testing automation has become an indispensable tool for teams striving to achieve quality at speed, and Appium, as a free open source solution, has emerged as a popular choice due to its cross-platform support.

However, while Appium offers powerful capabilities, it's not without its challenges. Setting up and maintaining a robust home-grown framework based on Appium can be time-consuming and complex, requiring specialized skills and dedicated resources. Furthermore, the learning curve for writing test scripts is steep, particularly for team members without extensive coding experience.

This is where mabl steps in: to extend Appium’s capabilities and simplify its technical hurdles. Mabl offers a modern approach to mobile app quality, with an AI-powered, cloud-native platform that simplifies mobile test automation, empowering your entire team to contribute to quality and accelerating your release cycles.

Understanding Appium: A Comprehensive Guide to Components, Benefits, and Challenges

Appium is an open-source framework that empowers teams to conduct automated app testing across platforms, including Android and iOS, for web, native, and hybrid applications on any device type. Whether it's mobile web applications accessed through browsers like Safari or Chrome, or hybrid applications with a native wrapper around a web view, Appium provides the flexibility to automate tests for all types of mobile applications.

The popularity of Appium stems from its versatility as a cross-platform testing framework. Developers can leverage their existing knowledge and skills to write test scripts using familiar tools and technologies. This significantly reduces the time and effort required to build and maintain tests, as teams can leverage a single framework alongside their preferred programming language, such as Java, JavaScript, PHP, Ruby, Python, or C#. This flexibility and ease of use have made Appium a go-to choice for many organizations seeking to streamline their mobile testing automation efforts.

Appium follows a client-server architecture, which separates the test execution from the application under test. The test script acts as the client that sends commands to the Appium server, and the server uses drivers as an intermediary that translates commands into platform-specific actions. The translated actions are executed on the target device. The following diagram depicts this process:

Appium architecture diagram: Client-server model for mobile test automation.

The Appium Journey: A Step-by-Step Guide (and How mabl Makes It Easier)

Let's take a closer look at the steps involved in getting started with Appium, and then explore how mabl simplifies this often complex process.

System setup

The first leg of your Appium journey involves preparing your system. Before you can dive into writing and executing your mobile testing plan, you'll need to ensure your development environment meets Appium's requirements.
  1. Operating System: Appium tests can be run on Windows, macOS, or Linux. However, testing iOS applications requires a macOS machine due to Xcode's exclusive availability on macOS.
  2. Java Development Kit (JDK): The JDK is essential for testing Android applications, as it provides the necessary tools and libraries for Java-based development.
  3. Node.js: Appium is built on top of Node.js, so you'll need to have it installed to run the Appium server and execute tests.
  4. Android SDK: To automate Android apps, you'll need the Android Software Development Kit (SDK), which includes essential tools like the Android Debug Bridge (ADB) for communicating with devices and emulators. You can conveniently download the SDK along with Android Studio.
  5. Xcode (for iOS): For iOS app testing, Xcode is a must-have. It provides the development environment, simulators, and tools needed to build and test iOS applications.

Mabl's Advantage: mabl's cloud-based platform eliminates the need for complex local installations of Appium dependencies like Node.js and Android SDK. You can conveniently  connect to cloud-based simulators from any operating system, removing the iOS mobile testing limitation and simplifying the initial setup process.

Environment Configuration

After tackling the system setup, the next step in the Appium journey involves configuring your environment to communicate effectively with your mobile devices or emulators. This is where things can get a bit more intricate, especially when dealing with iOS devices.

For Android, once the Android SDK is installed, you'll utilize the Android Virtual Device (AVD) Manager to configure virtual devices. This involves choosing the desired OS version, screen size, and other specifications. If you want to do mobile testing on real Android devices, you'll need to enable USB debugging to establish a connection between Appium and the device.

iOS environment configuration is more demanding. For example, to test on real iOS devices, you'll need a valid Apple Developer account. Additionally, code signing and provisioning profiles must be configured to deploy and do mobile testing on your app on real iOS devices. This process can be particularly challenging for those who are new to iOS development or lack experience with Apple's ecosystem.

Beyond device configuration, you'll also need to set up Appium environment variables. The JAVA_HOME variable must point to your JDK installation directory, and the PATH variable should include the bin directories of both the JDK and Android SDK. These variables ensure that Appium and its associated tools can be accessed and executed from the command line.

Mabl's Advantage: Mabl's cloud-based platform once again simplifies this process. By providing readily available devices in the cloud, mabl eliminates the need for local device configuration. This is particularly beneficial for iOS testing, as you can avoid the complexities of code signing and provisioning profiles. Mabl also handles environment variable setup automatically for cloud testing. While mabl primarily focuses on cloud-based testing, it does offer the flexibility to set up and train for mobile testing on local devices (iOS simulators and Android devices and emulators), catering to users who may require this capability.

Dependency Installation

With your system and environment prepped, it's time to gather the tools you'll need to interact with Appium and write your test scripts.

  1. Appium Command-Line Tool: This tool is the heart of Appium, allowing you to start and stop the server, manage sessions, and interact with devices from the command line.
  2. Appium Doctor: This handy diagnostic tool acts as your Appium health check, verifying that all necessary components are installed and configured correctly. It can save you hours of troubleshooting down the road.
  3. Language-Specific Dependencies: Depending on your chosen programming language (e.g., Java, Python, JavaScript), you'll need to install additional libraries to bridge the gap between your code and the Appium server. For instance, if you're using Java, you'll install the "java-client" library to interact with Appium's Java API.

Mabl's Advantage: Mabl eliminates this entire step by automatically handling the installation and setup of all required Appium dependencies.

launching the appium server

After configuration, you're finally ready to launch the Appium server, which can be done through the command line interface. A common error that surfaces is SessionNotCreatedException, which happens when you try to run a test script but the Appium server fails to create a new session with the device. Potential causes include incorrect desired capabilities, missing dependencies, or connectivity issues and debugging can be a pain.

Mabl's Advantage: Mabl takes the reins when it comes to server management. It automatically handles the setup, launch, and maintenance of the Appium server, sparing you from the headaches of troubleshooting session errors and configuration issues. You can simply focus on writing your tests, confident that the server is running smoothly in the background.

device setup (real & virtual)

A critical step in your Appium journey is setting up the devices you'll use for testing. Whether you choose real devices or virtual ones, this stage requires careful attention to ensure a smooth testing experience.

Virtual Devices:
Appium supports mobile testing on both Android emulators (configured through Android Virtual Device Manager) and iOS simulators (available through Xcode). These virtual devices offer a convenient and cost-effective way to test your app on various configurations without needing physical devices. While ideal for local testing, larger teams or projects with diverse device needs might find setting up virtual devices in the cloud to be a complex undertaking, especially given that iOS simulators need to run on Mac OS hardware, requiring either leveraging local Mac machines or using a cloud provider that offers Macs.

Real Devices:
Testing on real devices provides the most accurate representation of how users interact with your app. For Android, you'll connect devices via USB and enable USB debugging. iOS testing requires a valid Apple Developer account and configured provisioning profiles. While real devices offer unparalleled accuracy for mobile testing, accessing a wide range of them can be cumbersome. An alternative is to access them through a real device farm such as BrowserStack, AWS Device Farm, or Sauce Labs, but it requires separate licensing and it can get expensive.

Mabl's Advantage: Mabl simplifies device management by providing readily available cloud-based virtual devices, eliminating the need for complex cloud infrastructure setup and local device maintenance. Mabl's device cloud includes the latest models and OS versions, ensuring your tests stay up-to-date.  Additionally, mabl handles troubleshooting device failures, saving you valuable time and effort.

mobile testing script creation

With your Appium environment and devices ready, the next phase involves crafting the test scripts that will automate your mobile app interactions.

Choosing a Language:
Appium offers the flexibility to write test scripts in various programming languages, including Java, Python, Ruby, and C#. The choice often depends on your team's existing skills and preferences.

Setting up the Automation Framework:
Once you've chosen a language, you'll need to set up a test automation framework compatible with Appium. This framework provides a structure for organizing your tests, managing test data, and generating reports. The specific setup process varies depending on the chosen language and framework. A popular choice is WebdriverIO, which works seamlessly with Appium for mobile app testing.

Writing Scripts:
Writing Appium scripts involves more than just coding. It requires an understanding of how to interact with mobile app elements effectively.

  • Finding the Right Element: Appium offers various locator strategies (ID, XPath, accessibility ID) to identify elements within your app. However, pinpointing the right element can be tricky, and tests can become brittle if locators are not resilient to changes in the app's UI, not to mention that the selectors available differ between iOS and Android, so finding an element on one platform is not the same as finding it on another.  Common errors like NoSuchElementException (element not found) and StaleElementReferenceException can arise due to incorrect locators, timing issues, or application updates.
  • Reducing Test Flakiness: Timing plays a crucial role in test stability. App load times can vary, leading to synchronization issues between your test scripts and the app's state. To mitigate flakiness, you might need to introduce explicit wait mechanisms, which can make your code more verbose and harder to maintain.
  • Reducing Test Dependencies: When running tests in parallel, dependencies between test cases can lead to race conditions and failures. Designing independent test cases is crucial for achieving efficient parallel execution and reliable results.

Mabl's Advantage: Mabl streamlines test creation with its low-code approach. You can create reusable flows, leverage Appium code snippets for complex scenarios, and easily implement data-driven testing. Mabl's AI-powered smart element selector uses ML (Expert Systems) to intelligently adapt to changes in your app's UI, reducing test flakiness. Additionally, it offers built-in solutions for handling tricky workflows like email testing, multi-factor authentication, and API calls, making your mobile testing scripts more robust and easier to maintain.

test execution

With your scripts ready, the final stage of your Appium journey is test execution. Running your scripts will start a session and launch the mobile app on the connected device or emulator, and Appium will perform the actions you've defined.

After execution, you'll have access to logs with test results, but deciphering them can be challenging. While you may install and use the Appium Inspector tool to verify element locators and the application's state, troubleshooting mobile testing issues solely based on logs can be a daunting task.

Implementing comprehensive reporting and logging mechanisms, such as incorporating screenshots and other artifacts, can aid in root cause analysis. However, this requires additional technical expertise to set up and maintain within your test framework.

To accelerate your development cycle and catch bugs early, it's crucial to run tests frequently, ideally with each code push. This can be challenging with Appium, as test execution can be time-consuming, especially when running tests sequentially.

Mabl's Advantage: Mabl simplifies mobile testing execution and orchestration. It allows you to effortlessly trigger tests on demand, on a schedule, or integrated into your CI/CD pipeline running automatically with every code change. Mabl's cloud infrastructure enables unlimited parallelization, dramatically reducing test execution time.

Furthermore, mabl provides comprehensive diagnostics, including logs and screenshots for every mobile testing step. This information simplifies troubleshooting and makes it easy to pinpoint the root cause of failures. Mabl also seamlessly integrates with issue-tracking tools like Jira, streamlining the bug reporting and resolution process.

Appium Made Easy: Mabl's Streamlined Approach to Mobile Testing

At mabl, we love Appium so much that we built our mobile testing automation solution on top of it. Appium's open-source foundation and powerful capabilities make it a natural choice for automating a wide range of mobile applications. However, we recognize that not every team has the resources or expertise to build and maintain their own Appium framework from scratch. That's why we created mabl to empower teams of all sizes and skill levels to leverage the benefits of Appium without the associated complexities.

We're not here to shame Appium; we're here to extend its capabilities. By abstracting away the technical hurdles and providing a user-friendly interface, mabl enables teams to focus on creating high-quality mobile apps and delivering exceptional user experiences.

Let's take a closer look at how Appium and mabl compare across various dimensions:




System Setup

Requires manual setup and configuration on specific operating systems

Cloud-based, no manual setup required on any OS

Environment Configuration

Requires setting environment variables and device-specific configurations

Automatic environment and device configuration

Dependency Installation

Requires manual installation of multiple dependencies based on language

Automatic installation and management of dependencies

Device Setup (Real & Virtual)

Manual setup of local devices or separate licensing/configuration for cloud-based devices

Cloud-based real and virtual devices readily available

Test Script Creation

Code-based, requires programming skills and Appium expertise

Low-code visual editor, accessible to all skill levels

Test Execution

Requires configuring CI/CD and test orchestration, limited parallelization

Automatic triggering, scheduling, unlimited parallelization

Server Management

Requires manual setup, launch, and troubleshooting of Appium server, or licensing of third-party device farm

Automatic setup, maintenance, and troubleshooting of Appium server

Debugging & Diagnostics

Relies on complex logs and Appium Inspector; requires technical expertise

Comprehensive diagnostics with screenshots, logs, and Jira integration


Screenshot of mabl Trainer, showing a user running a mobile test on a Pixel 6 Pro emulator.

Mabl: Your Fast Track to Reliable and Scalable Mobile Testing Automation

The choice between Appium and mabl boils down to your team's priorities and resources. If you have the technical expertise and resources to invest in building and maintaining a complex framework, Appium can be a powerful tool for mobile testing. However, for teams seeking a fast, user-friendly, and scalable mobile app testing solution, mabl emerges as the clear winner. By abstracting away Appium's complexities, mabl empowers teams of all sizes and skill levels to create, execute, and maintain reliable mobile tests, ensuring exceptional user experiences.

Ready to unleash your team's full mobile testing potential? Experience firsthand how mabl simplifies and accelerates your testing efforts. Start your free trial today and discover the future of mobile test automation.