The History of Appium

The story of the Appium project

Appium has been around in one form or another since 2012. It’s been under the direction of various individuals and organizations, and it’s even been implemented in 3 different programming languages! Welcome to more than you ever wanted to know about how Appium got to be what is it today…

Early Inspiration

Dan Cuellar was the Test Manager at Zoosk in 2011, when he encountered a problem. The length of the test passes on the iOS product was getting out of hand. Less testing was an option, but would come with additional risk, especially with it taking several days to get patches through the iOS App Store Review process. He thought back to his days working on websites and realized automation was the answer.

Dan surveyed the existing landscape of tools, only to find that all of them hand major drawbacks. The tool supplied by Apple, UIAutomation, required tests to be written in JavaScript, and did not allow for real time debugging or interpretation. It also had to be executed inside the Xcode profiling tool, Instruments. Other 3rd-party tools used private APIs and required SDKs and HTTP Servers to be embedded into the application. This seemed highly undesirable.

Unsatisfied with the existing options, Dan asked his manager for some additional time to see if he could find a better way. He spent 2 weeks poking and prodding around to see if there was a way to use approved Apple technologies to automate an iOS application. The first implementation he tried used AppleScript to send messages to Mac UI elements using the OS X accessibility APIs. This worked to some degree, but would never work on real devices, not to mention other drawbacks.

So he thought, what if I could get the UIAutomation framework to run in real time like an interpreter? He looked into it and he determined that all he would need to do is find a way to receive, execute, and reply to commands from within a UIAutomation javascript program. Using the utility Apple provided for executing shell commands he was able to cat sequentially ordered text files to receive commands, eval() the output to execute them, and write them back to disk with python. He then prepared code in C# that implemented the Selenium-style syntax to write the sequentially ordered javascript commands. iOSAuto is born.

Selenium Conference 2012

Dan was selected to speak at Selenium Conference 2012 in London about an entirely different topic. As part of his presentation he showed off iOS Automation using Selenium syntax to demontrate writing platform-agnostic tests that use separate platform-specific page objects with a common interface. To his surprise, the cool test architecture would take a backseat to the spectacle of iOS tests running like WebDriver tests. Several people suggested that he give a lightning talk later in the conference to explain exactly how it worked.

On the second day of the conference, Dan stepped up on stage to give the lightning talk. Jason Huggins, co-creator of Selenium, moderated the lightning talks. Dan experienced technical difficulties getting his presentation to load, and Jason nearly had to move on to the next lightning talk. At the last moment, the screen turned on and Dan jumped into his presentation. He explained the details of his implementation and how it worked, begged for contributors, and in five minutes it was over. The crowd applauded politely, and he left the stage.

The Phone Rings

Four months after the Selenium Conference, Jason called Dan. Jason had been working on iOS testing support for a client at Sauce Labs. Jason remembered Dan’s lightning talk and thought the project might be useful to Jason’s work, but Dan’s source code was not public. Jason asked Dan to meet up. Later that week, Dan met Jason in a bar in San Francisco and showed him the source code for iOS Auto.

A long-time open source advocate, Jason encouraged Dan to release his code under an open source license. In August, Dan released the source code on GitHub in C#. Jason encouraged Dan to change the language to make the project more appealing to potential contributors. Dan uploaded a new version in Python. In September, Jason added a web server and began to implement the WebDriver wire protocol over HTTP, making iOS Auto scriptable from any Selenium WebDriver client library in any language.

The Mobile Testing Summit

Jason decided that the project should be presented at the Mobile Testing Summit in November, but suggested that the project get a new name first. Many ideas were thrown out and they settled on AppleCart. A day later, while he was perusing some of Apple’s guideance on copyright and trademarks, Jason noticed that under the section of examples for names Apple would defend its trademarks against, the first example was “AppleCart”. He called Dan and informed him of the situation, and they brainstormed for a bit before Jason hit the jackpot. Appium… Selenium for Apps.

Sauce Labs and Node.js

In January 2013, not long after the Mobile Testing Summit, Sauce Labs decided to fully back Appium and provide more developer power. A task force was created to evaluate the current state and how best to move forward with the project. The team, which included Jonathan Lipps (the current project lead), decided that Appium needed a rebirth, and ultimately settled on Node.js as the framework to use. Node is well-known as a fast and efficient web server backend, and at the end of the day, Appium is just a highly-specialized web server. It was also decided that JavaScript as a language was accessible enough that Appium would be able to grow into a larger community of open-source developers with JavaScript than the other options on the table.

In just a few days, the team leveraged the existing work on Appium and had a new version of Appium with as much functionality as the previous Python version. The foundation had been laid for Appium’s basic architecture, and we have been successfully building on it since. A few weeks into this sprint, Jonathan Lipps was formally designated project lead and he began to strategize how to get more people from the community involved with Appium’s development.

Appium Around the World

Ultimately, Jonathan decided that getting Appium in front of as many developers at conferences and meetups was the best way to attract users and contributions. Appium in its new incarnation was debuted at the Google Test Automation Conference 2013. Later in 2013, Appium was presented at conferences and meetups all around the US, as well as in England, Poland, Portugal, and Australia. Notably, Jonathan had Appium perform as instruments in a band and Dan Cuellar put together a fun Appium video montage for Selenium Conference.

But during all these presentations and conferences, the project continued to develop. Early in 2013 we released Android and Selendroid support, making Appium the first truly cross-platform automation framework. The project also continued to attract users and contributors, and by the end of 2013 we’d already had well over 1,000 commits.

The Road to Appium 1.0

Appium began to grow and mature significantly. In May 2014, we released Appium 1.0, which stood as a milestone in Appium’s development. Appium was given various awards and became the most popular open-source cross-platform mobile automation framework. Stability improved, bugs were prioritized and fixed, and features added. Sauce Labs increased the number of developers it donated to working on Appium, but the entire community stayed involved in guiding the project and contributing to it, and project governance continued to happen in the open, on public mailing lists and GitHub’s issue tracker.

The Appium Umbrella Broadens

Eventually, it became clear that the Appium codebase was not optimized for a large team of distributed, sometime contributors. We took the opportunity as a committer team to rewrite Appium from the ground up, using a more modern version of the JavaScript language, and redoing Appium’s architecture so that it was easy for users or third-party developers to build their own Appium “drivers”. We wanted for it to be easier for new contributors to get ramped up on the Appium codebase, and to see support for new platforms added to Appium by groups other than the core team. That vision has begun to be fulfilled, with groups like Microsoft and adding drivers to Appium for Windows desktop app automation and app automation, respectively. Who knows what platforms will be added next?

Appium To The People

In late 2016, Sauce Labs donated Appium as a project to the JS Foundation, in order to cement for the world Sauce’s commitment that Appium remain open source. The JS Foundation is a non-profit open source stewardship organization which takes responsibility for holding the copyright for open source projects, as well as ensuring they have a long and successful tenure in the community. As a result of our move to a non-profit foundation, we hope that the door will open even more widely for new contributors, either as individuals or representing one of the many companies which now have an interest in seeing Appium move forward.

We look forward to many more years of seeing Appium provide incredible value as a mobile automation tool and an essential part of every company’s mobile CI process.