Skip to main content

How to Work with HTML Data Tables


Odds are at some point you've come across the use of tables in a web application to display data or information to a user, giving them the option to sort and manipulate it. Depending on your application it can be quite common and something you will want to write an automated test for.

When the table has no helpful, semantic markup (e.g. easy to use id or class attributes) it quickly becomes more difficult to work with and write tests against it. And if you're able to pull something together, it will likely not work against older browsers.

A Solution

You can easily traverse a table through the use of CSS Pseudo-classes.

But keep in mind that if you care about older browsers (e.g., Internet Explorer 8, et al), then this approach won't work on them. In those cases your best bet is to find a workable solution for the short term and get a front-end developer to update the table with helpful attributes.

A quick primer on Tables and CSS Pseudo-classes

Understanding the broad strokes of an HTML table's structure goes a long way in writing effective automation against it. So here's a quick primer. A table has:- a header (e.g. <thead>)- a body (e.g. <tbody>).- rows (e.g. <tr>) -- horizontal slats of data- columns -- vertical slats of data Columns are made up of cells, which are:- a header (e.g., <th>)- one or more standard cells (e.g., <td> -- which is short for table data)CSS Pseudo-classes work by walking through the structure of an object and targeting a specific part of it based ona relative number (e.g. the third <td> cell from a row in the table body). This works well with tables sincewe can grab all instances of a target (e.g. the third <td> cell from each <tr> in the table body) and use it in our test -- which would give us all of the data for the third column.

Let's step through some examples for a common set of table functionality like sorting columns in ascending and descending order.

About The Author

Dave Haeffner is the original writer of Elemental Selenium -- a free, once weekly Selenium tip newsletter that's read by thousands of testing professionals. He also created and maintains the-internet (an open-source web app that's perfect for writing automated tests against).

Dave has helped numerous companies successfully implement automated acceptance testing; including The Motley Fool, ManTech International, Sittercity, and Animoto. He is also an active member of the Selenium project and has spoken at numerous conferences and meetups around the world about automated acceptance testing.

Dave Haeffner profile picture