25 July 2018

Getting up close & personal with Postman

 
Postman


Whether you need to integrate existing APIs into the apps you are developing or if you want to build your own API from scratch, Postman is an impressive and dynamic tool for testing and troubleshooting APIs. From a tester’s perspective, using Postman is like driving a well-designed sports car whose elaborate dashboard offers the driver every important piece of information they need to know to continue driving safely plus lots of comfort controls like air conditioning and the stereo, or in this case, running test scripts, all within reach and all from the same console.

Standalone app or browser plugin

Though the company totes its Postman as being able to bring “order to chaos” in any API, Postman works like a simplified browser streamlined perfectly for API development and testing environments. 

Available for download as a native app for macOS, Windows or Linux or as an extension for Chrome, the native app sports more features such as the ability to work with cookies directly as well as giving testers the ability to set up a built-in proxy
to capture network traffic.

 

With almost 5 million users, Postman seems to be on top of the testing game. With Postman deployed, users can design and debug APIs, test them rigorously, document their findings, monitor their behaviors and publish them … all from the same versatile app.

API development: The backbone of the Internet of Things

One of the foundations of modern software development, APIs are born by the thousands everyday, adding to and creating millions and millions of connections with apps and services across the web. And without them, e-commerce and other online transaction would be impossible. 

API testing is crucial in building apps and a tool like Postman really can isolate the development of APIs, ensuring the entire software development process can run more smoothly and makes troubleshooting and debugging easier for all.

Under Postman’s hood

Upon opening the app, one of the first features you will notice centered and at the top is Postman’s Request Builder which allows you to specify the exact request you would like to make, including the most often used GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE as well as clearly displaying the four essential parts of any HTTP request: the URL, method, headers, and the body.

Not only is every parameter of the request available for modification, the changes can be made in different editor views, which depending on the circumstance, can remarkably speed up the development and testing process. Equally useful is Postman’s implementation of variables, some of which can be instituted globally, giving greater flexibility when authoring and editing requests.

As for the request body, Postman can toggle between the four parts of the body: form-data, urlencoded, raw and binary views with results shown in either XML or JSON, which allows for easy reading with its syntax highlighting.

Testing Powerhouse

When it comes to testing, Postman is a powerhouse, allowing users to not only track and monitor their test results but also allows for easy automation. With each response, Postman can flag any undesired results which will result in the various server errors like the dreaded 400 Bad Error request.

Highly scriptable, Postman features a powerful Node.js runtime library to add dynamic behaviors to requests and collections and pass data between requests, really taking the effectiveness of testing to higher and higher levels. Using Javascript, users can write and run tests for instance that the body contains a cookie or the status code is 200, tests which a comforting little green PASS label will indicate. Test scripts can be run on every request or applied to a whole Collection or folder of requests. 

The power behind Postman’s testing scripts lie in its Sandbox, the execution environment built on various commonly used libraries and utilities.

History tracking and collaborations

And of course, Postman tracks a history of all of your requests and gives you the ability to organize and collect them in Collections, which is especially useful to run batches of requests. And the app with its own account system offers its users cross-device syncing and the ability for multi-user team collaborations. These two features ensure testing can literally happen anywhere from any device running on any platform with the limit being 3 apps per account.

However, it is only with the Pro and Enterprise versions of the app that Team Libraries can be established to help you organize your API infrastructure and allow for the sharing of Collections among a group of collaborators. This is truly cloud-powered testing the development industry is only now beginning to roll out.

Elegant and slightly minimal in aesthetic with a default black and white color scheme with orange highlights, Postman’s GUI is intuitive and designed for ease of use and optimal user-friendliness and also comes with a dark theme. 

As with any browser, Postman offers testers a familiar multi-tab access so testers can set up different multiple requests from the same window, so you can work on multiple requests as well as multiple Collections at the same time. Clean and well-organized, Postman features a powerful header bar, a sidebar which groups History and Collections and leaves most of its interface with the Console and Status where most of the building and testing work takes place.

For every developer and tester who prides themselves on speed and accuracy, Postman comes with a full set of keyboard shortcuts to both navigate and manipulate from anywhere within the interface, significantly reducing scrolling and minimizing mouse movements and making repetitive tasks such as duplicating as easy as hitting a few keystrokes.

Documentation creation and monitoring

Built-in to Postman are a host of tools that help report the monitoring of test scripts the results of which can all be easily add to the API’s documentation, making it simple to share successful and failed requests both in-house to your development and testing teams as well as to the rest of the API development community.

Postman and his growing list of integrations

Growing everyday, Postman allows for numerous extensions to its basic set of tools and with its integration tools, Postman easily can plug in to various other platforms and tools. A good example is Newman, Postman’s open source command line companion app. However it is only with the Pro and Enterprise versions that integration with popular services such as APImatic, Big Panda and Datadog can be made. 

In addition, Postman offers a Collection Platform where developers can search and implement ready-made API collections which are one click away from importing.

Top in the testing field

While not alone in the field, Postman has several advantages over its competitors. The macOS-only Paw is touted as “the most advanced API tool for Mac” but only comes with a 30-day trial. More of a threat to Postman’s dominance are API Fortress and API Tester which are both cloud-based testing frameworks for developers and engineers, allowing you to build and save scripts for testing the speed, reliability, and functionality of APIs. 

The difference with Postman is Postman runs locally and these others use data centers. API Fortress, while not as powerful as Postman, had a more graphically appealing look to it and was able to generate attractive test reports, complete with charts and graphs, for the easy absorption of testing data. 

These more visually sophisticated reports would be a great addition to Postman’s already long list of brilliant features.

Summary

As with any tool, there are advantages and disadvantages, assets and limitations, but with Postman on your side as your go-to, fully featured visual editor for building and sending advanced API requests, API development has never been more efficient, fast and easy. 

With tons of documentation, tutorials, Youtube videos, learning to drive Postman and harness all of its effective tools is a breeze. While perhaps not the most attractive vehicle on the API testing highway, driving Postman will make you feel proud and satisfied, safe and secure and empowered to navigate any obstacles you might encounter on the route to developing or integrating your next API.

Carlos M. Granda

Postman
Software testing tools

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