In this article you will be introduced to the free SolarWinds Web Transaction Watcher utility, which enables you to record and monitor a Web transaction for quality assurance, performance tuning, and troubleshooting purposes.

Now more than ever before in your career as a Windows systems administrator, you may find yourself partially or fully responsible for the availability of your company’s Web applications. "But I’m not a Web admin!" you might exclaim. Like it or not, the migration of applications from the desktop to the Web browser means that we systems admins must take ownership of application uptime, regardless of form factor.

Here are some thought questions for you to consider: Does your organization do business over the Web? If so, how can you verify that your e-commerce engine is functional at any particular point in time? How can you diagnose bottlenecks and latencies in your Web application from the user's’ perspective?

Many organizations rely upon internal line-of-business (LOB) Web applications. Again, we administrators are often faced with service-level agreements (SLAs) or organizational mandates that guarantee application availability for our users.

Web Transaction Watcher that enables you to run live transaction tests against your Web applications in a completely no-code, graphical environment.

The typical workflow for running Web application transaction tests is to author and run often complicated shell scripts or programming language scripts. By contrast, Web Transaction Watcher includes an intuitive recorder with which we step through a typical Web transaction and store those steps for analysis and future reuse.

Recording a Web transaction ^

To download Web Transaction Watcher, simply provide SolarWinds with a contact e-mail address. Once you have the software installed (the disk footprint is tiny; the installation .MSI weighs in at under 5 MB), fire up Web Transaction Watcher; the application view defaults to the Recording tab. Next, use the tool’s integrated Web browser to navigate to your desired Web application. The Web Transaction Watcher main interface is shown in the following screen capture.

Web Transaction Watcher main interface

Web Transaction Watcher main interface

Let’s use the previous screen capture as our reference as we walk you through the process of recording a Web transaction. After you have the integrated browser pointed at the proper page within your Web application, press the Record button (A) and begin your desired transaction. For our purposes, a Web transaction is simply a series of steps that an end-user might take in your app; these could include:

  • Adding an item to an online shopping cart
  • Completing an online purchase
  • Posting a message to an online forum
  • Downloading a file

You’ll notice that the Time Line (C) records each step in the transaction process in much the same way the macro recorder traces your steps in Microsoft Office applications. However, what sets Web Transaction Watcher apart from its competition is that you can actually edit and delete any step in your Web transaction during recording.

The process of editing a task sequence is easy; simply right-click the appropriate transaction step and select Edit or Delete from the shortcut menu. This is shown in the following screen capture.

Editing a Web transaction step

Editing a Web transaction step

When your Web transaction is complete, press the Stop button (B). Make sure to save your recorded transaction for future playback. Web Transaction Watcher recording files use the intuitive .recording file extension.

Analyzing and replaying Web transactions ^

To analyze your recorded Web transaction, navigate to the Monitoring Console tab in the main interface. Web Transaction Watcher stores the last five runs of your recorded transaction and displays the status of each with a color-coded bubble icon (shown at A in the following screen capture).

Monitoring a Web transaction

Monitoring a Web transaction

In the Steps area of this interface (B in the above screen capture) you can check the status of individual steps in the captured transaction. Again, the feedback is color-coded: errors are shown with a gray callout bubble. Clicking the status indicator bubble calls up a dialog with timing information to help you diagnose and troubleshoot latency.

Examining latency

Examining latency

Do you see the hyperlink that says Try the SEUM evaluation for configurable thresholds? This is a reminder that the SolarWinds Web Transaction Watcher is the free "little sibling" to their enterprise product Synthetic End User Monitor (SEUM).

SEUM is cool because it greatly broadens and deepens the Web transaction monitoring functionality contained in the Web Transaction Monitor. For instance, SEUM has robust scheduling capability (Web Transaction Watcher includes limited functionality for automatically replaying your stored Web transaction sequences).

Moreover, SEUM makes it easy to run your Web application tests from multiple hosts. For example, you may want to simulate your Web app user experience from multiple locations around the world using various Internet connection speeds.

Conclusion ^

You should know that Web Transaction Monitor is only one of over 20 completely free utilities that are offered by SolarWinds. I’ve been a fan of these tools for many years; their Advanced Subnet Calculator has historically been one of my favorite free utilities from any vendor.

Web Transaction Watcher ^

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