Writing a LAVA test shell definition


A Lava Test Shell Definition is distinct from a test job definition, although both use YAML. Typically, the test job definition includes URLs for one or more test shell definitions. The LAVA Test Shell action then executes the test shell definitions and reports results as part of the test job. See also job definition and Metadata.

A LAVA Test Definition comprises

  1. Metadata describing the test definition, used by the test writers but not read by LAVA.
  2. The actions and parameters to set up the test(s)
  3. The instructions or steps to run as part of the test(s)

For certain tests, the instructions can be included inline with the actions. For more complex tests or to share test definitions across multiple devices, environments and purposes, the test can use a repository of YAML files.

Writing a test definition YAML file

The YAML is downloaded from the repository (or handled inline) and installed into the test image, either as a single file or as part of a git or bzr repository. (See Test definitions in version control)

Each test definition YAML file contains metadata and instructions. Metadata includes:

  1. A format string recognised by LAVA
  2. A short name of the purpose of the file
  3. A description of the instructions contained in the file.
    format: Lava-Test Test Definition 1.0
    name: singlenode-advanced
    description: "Advanced (level 3): single node test commands for Linux Linaro ubuntu Images"


the short name of the purpose of the test definition, i.e., value of field name, must not contain any non-ascii characters or special characters from the following list, including white space(s): $& "'`()<>/\|;

If the file is not under version control (i.e. not in a git or bzr repository), the version of the file must also be specified in the metadata:

    format: Lava-Test Test Definition 1.0
    name: singlenode-advanced
    description: "Advanced (level 3): single node test commands for Linux Linaro ubuntu Images"
    version: "1.0"

There are also optional metadata fields:

  1. The email address of the maintainer of this file.
  2. A list of the operating systems which this file can support.
  3. A list of devices which are expected to be able to run these instructions.
    - user.user@linaro.org
    - ubuntu
    - functional
    - kvm
    - arndale
    - panda
    - beaglebone-black
    - beagle-xm

The instructions within the YAML file can include installation requirements for images based on supported distributions (currently, Ubuntu or Debian):

        - curl
        - realpath
        - ntpdate
        - lsb-release
        - usbutils


for an install step to work, the test must first raise a usable network interface without running any instructions from the rest of the YAML file. If this is not possible, raise a network interface manually as a run step and install or build the components directly then.

When an external PPA or package repository (specific to debian based distros) is required for installation of packages, it can be added in the install section as follows:

        - 7C751B3F
        - 6CCD4038
        - https://security.debian.org
        - ppa:linaro-maintainers/tools
        - curl
        - ntpdate
        - lava-tool

Debian and Ubuntu repositories must be signed for the apt package management tool to trust them as package sources. To tell the system to trust extra repositories listed here, add references to the PGP keys used in the keys list. These may be either the names of Debian keyring packages (already available in the standard Debian archive), or PGP key IDs. If using key IDs, LAVA will import them from a key server (pgp.mit.edu). PPA keys will be automatically imported using data from launchpad.net. For more information, see the documentation of apt-add-repository, man 1 apt-add-repository

See Debian apt source addition and Ubuntu PPA addition


When a new source is added and there are no ‘deps’ in the ‘install’ section, then it is the test writer’s responsibility to run apt update before attempting any other apt operation elsewhere in the test definition.


When keys are not added for an apt source repository listed in the sources section, packages may fail to install if the repository is not trusted. LAVA does not add the –force-yes option during apt operations which would over-ride the trust check.

The principal purpose of the test definitions in the YAML file is to run commands on the device. These are specified in the run steps:


Writing commands to run on the device

  1. All commands need to be executables available on the device. This is why the metadata section includes an “os” flag, so that commands specific to that operating system can be accessed.

  2. All tests will be run in a dedicated working directory. If a test repository is used, the local checkout of that repository will also be located within that same directory.

  3. Avoid assumptions about the base system - if a test needs a particular interpreter, executable or environment, ensure that this is available. That can be done either by using the install step in the test definition, or by building or installing the components as a series of commands in the run steps. Many images will not contain any servers or compilers and many will only have a limited range of interpreters pre-installed. Some of those may also have reduced functionality compared to versions on other systems.

  4. Keep the YAML files relatively small and clean to promote easier reuse in other tests or devices. It is often better to have many YAML files to be run in sequence than to have a large overly complex YAML file within which some tests will fail due to changed assumptions. e.g. a smoke test YAML file which checks for USB devices is not useful on devices where lsusb is not functional. It is much easier to scan through the test results if the baseline for the test is that all tests should be expected to pass on all supported platforms.

  5. Check for the existence of one of the LAVA test helper scripts, like lava-test-case, in the directories specified by the PATH environment variable to determine how the script should report results. For example, the script may want to use echo or print() when not running inside LAVA and lava-test-case only when that script exists.

  6. Avoid use of redirects and pipes inside the run steps. If the command needs to use redirection and/or pipes, use a custom script in your repository and execute that script instead. See Writing custom scripts to support tests

  7. Take care with YAML syntax. These lines will fail with wrong syntax:

 - echo "test1: pass"
 - echo test2: fail

While this syntax will pass:
- echo "test1:" "pass"
- echo "test2:" "fail"


Commands must not try to access files from other test definitions. If a script needs to be in multiple tests, either combine the repositories into one or copy the script into multiple repositories. The copy of the script executed will be the one below the working directory of the current test.

Using inline test definitions

Rather than refer to a separate file or VCS repository, it is also possible to create a test definition directly inside the test action of a job submission. This is called an inline test definition:

- test:
      minutes: 4
    - repository:
          format: Lava-Test Test Definition 1.0
          name: apache-server
          description: "server installation"
          - debian
          - functional
          - apt -q update
          - apt -q -y install apache2
          - lava-test-case dpkg --shell dpkg -s apache2
      # remember to use -y to allow apt to proceed without interaction
      # -q simplifies the apt output for logging.
      from: inline
      name: apache-server
      path: inline/apache-server.yaml

An inline test definition must:

  1. Use the from: inline method.
  2. Provide a path to which the definition will be written
  3. Specify the metadata, at least:
    1. format: Lava-Test Test Definition 1.0
    2. name
    3. description

Inline test definitions will be written out as single files, so if the test definition needs to call any scripts or programs, those need to be downloaded or installed before being called in the inline test definition.

Download or view inline example

Terminology reference

LAVA Test Job

The test job provides test shell definitions (and inline definitions), as well as describing the steps needed to deploy code and boot a device to a command prompt. These steps will not be portable between devices or operating system deployments.

This design is quite different from LAVA V1 because V1 used to perform magic implicit steps. In V2 test jobs need to be explicit about all steps required.

Inline definitions are often used for prototyping test definitions. They are also the recommended choice for MultiNode synchronisation primitives, inserted between the other LAVA Test Shell Definitions which do the bulk of the work.

The test job definition is what is submitted to LAVA to generate a test job.

LAVA Test Shell Definition

The LAVA Test Shell Definition is a YAML file, normally stored in a git repository alongside test writer scripts. Again, this will normally not be portable between operating system deployments.

It is possible to use different scripts, with the test job selecting which scripts to use for a particular deployment as it runs.

Each line in the definition must be a single line of shell, with no redirects, functions or pipes. Ideally, the Test Shell Definition will consist of a single run step which simply calls the appropriate test writer script.

LAVA Test Helpers

The LAVA Test Helpers are scripts maintained in the LAVA codebase, like lava-test-case. These are designed to work using only the barest minimum of operating system support, to make them portable to all deployments. Where necessary they will use deployment_data to customise content.

The helpers have two main uses:

  • to embed information from LAVA into the test shell and
  • to support communication with LAVA during test jobs.

Helpers which are too closely tied to any one operating system are likely to be deprecated and removed after LAVA V1 is dropped, along with helpers which duplicate standard operating system support.

Test Writer Scripts

Test writer scripts are scripts written by test writers, designed to be run both by LAVA and by developers. They do not need to be portable to different operating system deployments, as the choice of script to run is up to the developer or test writer. This means that the test writer has a free choice of languages, methods and tools in these scripts - whatever is available within the particular operating system deployment. This can even include building custom tools from source if so desired.

The key feature of these scripts is that they should not depend on any LAVA features or helpers for their basic functionality. That way, developers can run exactly the same scripts both inside and outside of LAVA, to help reproduce problems.

When running inside LAVA, scripts should check for the presence of lava-test-case in the PATH environment variable and behave accordingly, using lava-test-case to report results to LAVA if it is available. Otherwise, report results to the user in whatever way makes most sense.

Test writers are strongly encouraged to make their scripts verbose: add progress messages, debug statements, error handling, logging and other support to allow developers to see what is actually happening when a test is running. This will aid debugging greatly.

Finally, scripts are commonly shared amongst test writers. It is a good idea to keep them self-contained as much as possible, as this will aid reuse. Also, try to stick to the common Unix model: one script doing one task.

See also

The next section on Writing custom scripts to support tests.

Writing custom scripts to support tests


Custom scripts are not available in an inline definition, unless the definition itself downloads the script and makes it executable.

When multiple actions are necessary to get usable output, write a custom script to go alongside the YAML and execute that script as a run step:

        - $(./my-script.sh arguments)

You can choose whatever scripting language you prefer, as long as you ensure that it is available in the test image.

Take care when using cd inside custom scripts - always store the initial return value or the value of pwd before the call and change back to that directory at the end of the script.

Example of a custom script wrapping the output:


The script is simply called directly from the test shell definition:


Example V2 job using this support:



Make sure that your custom scripts output some useful information, including some indication of progress, in all test jobs but control the total amount of output to make the logs easier to read.

Script interpreters

  1. shell - consider running the script with set -x to see the operation of the script in the LAVA log files. Ensure that if your script expects bash, use the bash shebang line #!/bin/bash and ensure that bash is installed in the test image. The default shell may be busybox or dash, so take care with non-POSIX constructs in your shell scripts if you use #!/bin/sh.
  2. python - ensure that python is installed in the test image. Add all the python dependencies necessary for your script.
  3. perl - ensure that any modules required by your script are available, bearing in mind that some images may only have a basic perl installation with a limited selection of modules.

If your YAML file does not reside in a repository, the YAML run steps will need to ensure that a network interface is raised, install a tool like wget and then use that to obtain the script, setting permissions if appropriate.

Using commands as test cases

If all your test does is feed the textual output of commands to the log file, you will spend a lot of time reading log files. To make test results easier to parse, aggregate and compare, individual commands can be converted into test cases with a pass or fail result. The simplest way to do this is to use the exit value of the command. A non-zero exit value is a test case failure. This produces a simple list of passes and failures in the result bundle which can be easily tracked over time.

To use the exit value, simply precede the command with a call to lava-test-case with a test-case name (no spaces):

        - lava-test-case test-ls-command --shell ls /usr/bin/sort
        - lava-test-case test-ls-fail --shell ls /user/somewhere/else/

Use subshells instead of backticks to execute a command as an argument to another command:

- lava-test-case pointless-example --shell ls $(pwd)

For more details on the contents of the YAML file and how to construct YAML for your own tests, see the Writing Tests.

Parsing command outputs


Parse patterns and fixup dictionaries are confusing and hard to debug. The syntax is Python and the support remains for compatibility with existing Lava Test Shell Definitions. With LAVA V2, it is recommended to move parsing into a custom script contained within the test definition repository. The script can simply call lava-test-case directly with the relevant options once the data is parsed. This has the advantage that the log output from LAVA can be tested directly as input for the script.

If the test involves parsing the output of a command rather than simply relying on the exit value, LAVA can use a pass/fail/skip/unknown output:

      - echo "test1:" "pass"
      - echo "test2:" "fail"
      - echo "test3:" "skip"
      - echo "test4:" "unknown"

The quotes are required to ensure correct YAML parsing.

The parse section can supply a parser to convert the output into test case results:

    pattern: "(?P<test_case_id>.*-*):\\s+(?P<result>(pass|fail))"

The result of the above test would be a set of results:

test1 -> pass
test2 -> fail
test3 -> pass
test4 -> pass

Recording test case results

lava-test-case can also be used with a parser with the extra support for checking the exit value of the call:

      - echo "test1:" "pass"
      - echo "test2:" "fail"
      - lava-test-case echo1 --shell echo "test3:" "pass"
      - lava-test-case echo2 --shell echo "test4:" "fail"

This syntax will result in extra test results:

test1 -> pass
test2 -> fail
test3 -> pass
test4 -> fail
echo1 -> pass
echo2 -> pass

Note that echo2 passed because the echo "test4:" "fail" returned an exit code of zero.

Alternatively, the --result command can be used to output the value to be picked up by the parser:

      - echo "test1:" "pass"
      - echo "test2:" "fail"
      - lava-test-case test5 --result pass
      - lava-test-case test6 --result fail

This syntax will result in the test results:

test1 -> pass
test2 -> fail
test5 -> pass
test6 -> fail

Recording test case measurements and units

Various tests require measurements and lava-test-case supports measurements and units per test at a precision of 10 digits.

--result must always be specified and only numbers can be recorded as measurements (to support charts based on measurement trends).

      - echo "test1:" "pass"
      - echo "test2:" "fail"
      - lava-test-case test5 --result pass --measurement 99 --units bottles
      - lava-test-case test6 --result fail --measurement 0 --units mugs

This syntax will result in the test results:

test1 -> pass
test2 -> fail
test5 -> pass -> 99.0000000000 bottles
test6 -> fail -> 0E-10 mugs

The simplest way to use this with real data is to use a custom script which runs lava-test-case with the relevant arguments.

Recording sets of test cases

Test Set is a way to allow test writers to subdivide individual results within a single Lava Test Shell Definition using an arbitrary label.

Some test definitions run the same test with different parameters. To distinguish between these similar tests, it can be useful to use a test set.

Recording test case references

Some test cases may relate to specific bug reports or have specific URLs associated with the result. Simple strings can be recorded separately but if you need to relate a test case result to a URL, consider using lava-test-reference:

lava-test-reference TEST_CASE_ID --result pass|fail|skip|unknown --reference URL

The TEST_CASE_ID can be the same as an existing test case or a new test case.

      - lava-test-case checked --result pass
      - lava-test-reference checked --result pass --reference https://staging.validation.linaro.org/static/doc/v2/index.html


The URL should be a simple file reference, complex query strings could fail to be parsed.

Test shell parameters

The test action in the job definition supports parameters which are passed to the test shell. These parameters can be used to allow different job definitions to use a single test shell definition in multiple ways. A common example of this is a hacking session.

The parameters themselves are inserted into the lava-test-runner and will be available to all Lava Test Shell Definitions used in that test job. The parameters are not exported. The test shell definition needs to support using the parameter and can then use that information to change how external programs behave. This may include using export, it may include changing the command line options.

Recording test case data

Simple strings

A version string or similar can be recorded as a lava-test-case name:

lava-test-case ${VERSION} --result pass

Version strings need specific handling to compare for newer, older etc. so LAVA does not support comparing or ordering of such strings beyond simple alphanumeric sorting. A custom script would be the best way to handle such results.

For example, if your test definition uses a third party code repository, then it is always useful to use whatever support exists within that repository to output details like the current version or most recent commit hash or log message. This information may be useful when debugging a failure in the tests later. If or when particular tags, branches, commits or versions fail to work, the custom script can check for the supported or unsupported versions or names and report a fail test case result.


See also

In LAVA V1, data files could be published using lava-test-case-attach. In V2, there is a new way to publish directly from the DUT - the publishing API.


lava-test-case supports recording integer or floating point measurements for a particular test case. When a measurement is supplied, a text string can also be supplied to be used as the units of that measurement, e.g. seconds or bytes. Results are used to track changes across test jobs over time, so results which cannot be compared as integers or floating point numbers cannot be used as measurements.

The lava test results

Each test job creates a set of results in a reserved test suite called lava. LAVA will reject any submission which tries to set lava as the test definition name. These results are generated directly by the LAVA actions and include useful metadata including the actual time taken for specific actions and data generated during the test operation such as the VCS commit hash of each test definition included into the overlay.

The results are available in the same ways as any other test suite. In addition to strings and measurements, the lava suite also include an element called extra.


  • The lava test suite may contain a result for the git-repo-action test case, generated during the running of the test. The extra data in this test case could look like:

      path: ubuntu/smoke-tests-basic.yaml
      repository: git://git.linaro.org/qa/test-definitions.git
      success: c50a99ebb5835501181f4e34417e38fc819a6280
  • The duration result for the auto-login-action records the time taken to boot the kernel and get to a login prompt. The extra data for the same result includes details of kernel messages identified during the boot including stack traces, kernel panics and other alerts, if any.

Results from any test suite can be tracked using queries, charts and / or the REST API.


The results in the lava test suite are managed by the software team. The results in the other test suites are entirely down to the test writer to manage. The less often the names of the test definitions and the test cases change, the easier it will be to track those test cases over time.

Best practices for writing a LAVA test job

A test job may consist of several LAVA test definitions and multiple deployments, but this flexibility needs to be balanced against the complexity of the job and the ways to analyse the results.

Write portable test definitions

lava-test-shell is a useful helper but that can become a limitation. Avoid relying upon the helper for anything more than the automation by putting the logic and the parsing of your test into a more competent language. Remember: as test writer, you control which languages are available inside your test.

lava-test-shell has to try and get by with not much more than busybox ash as the lowest common denominator.

Please don’t expect lava-test-shell to do everything.

Let lava-test-shell provide you with a directory layout containing your scripts, some basic information about the job and a way of reporting test case results - that’s about all it should be doing outside of the MultiNode API.

Do not lock yourself out of your tests

  1. Do not make your test code depend on the LAVA infrastructure any more than is necessary for automation. Make sure you can always run your tests by downloading the test code to a target device using a clean environment, installing its dependencies (the test code itself could do this), and running a single script. Emulation can be used in most cases where access to the device is difficult. Even if the values in the output change, the format of the output from the underlying test operation should remain the same, allowing a single script to parse the output in LAVA and in local testing.
  2. Make the LAVA-specific part as small as possible, just enough to, for example, gather any inputs that you get via LAVA, call the main test program, and translate your regular output into ways to tell lava how the test went (if needed).
  3. Standard test jobs are intended to showcase the design of the test job, not the test definitions. These test definitions tend to be very simplistic and are not intended to be examples of how to write test definitions, just how to prepare test jobs.

Rely less on install: steps

To make your test portable, the goal of the install block of any test definition should be to get the raw LAVA environment up to the point where a developer would be ready to start test-specific operations. For example, installing package dependencies. Putting the operations into the run: steps also means that the test writer can report results from these operations.

Whilst compatibility with V1 has been retained in most areas of the test shell, there can be differences in how the install steps behave between V1 and V2. Once V1 is removed, other changes are planned for the test shell to make it easier for test writers to create portable tests. It is possible that the install: behaviour of the test shell could be restricted at this time.

Consider moving install: git-repos: into a run step or directly into a custom_script along with the other setup (for example, switching branches or compiling the source tree). Then, when debugging the test job, a test writer can setup a similar environment and simply call exactly the same script.

Use different test definitions for different test areas

Follow the standard UNIX model of Make each program do one thing well. Make a set of separate test definitions. Each definition should concentrate on one area of functionality and test that one area thoroughly.

Use different jobs for different test environments

While it is supported to reboot from one distribution and boot into a different one, the usefulness of this is limited. If the first environment fails, the subsequent tests might not run at all.

Use a limited number of test definitions per job

While LAVA tries to ensure that all tests are run, adding more and more test repositories to a single LAVA job increases the risk that one test will fail in a way that prevents the results from all tests being collected.

Overly long sets of test definitions also increase the complexity of the log files, which can make it hard to identify why a particular job failed.

Splitting a large job into smaller chunks also means that the device can run other jobs for other users in between the smaller jobs.

Retain at least some debug output in the final test definitions

Information about which commit or version of any third-party code is and will remain useful when debugging failures. When cloning such code, call a script in the code or use the version control tools to output information about the cloned copy. You may want to include the most recent commit message or the current commit hash or version control tag or branch name.

If an item of configuration is important to how the test operates, write a test case or a custom script which reports this information. Even if this only exists in the test job log output, it will still be useful when comparing the log files of other similar jobs.

Check for specific support as a test case

If a particular package, service, script or utility must exist and / or function for the rest of your test definition to operate, test for this functionality.

Any command executed by lava-test-case <name> --shell will report a test case as pass if that command exits zero and fail if that command exited non-zero. If the command is complex or needs pipes or redirects, create a simple script which returns the exit code of the command.


remember that the test shell runs under set -e, so if you need to prevent the rest of a test definition from exiting, you can report a non-zero exit code from your scripts and call the script directly instead of as a test case.

Control the amount of output from scripts and tools

Many tools available in distributions have ways to control the amount of output during operation. A balance is needed and test writers are recommended to check for available support. Wherever possible, use the available options to opt for output intended for log file output rather than your typical terminal.

When writing your own scripts, consider using set -x or wrapping certain blocks with set -x, set +x when using shell scripts. With other languages, use print() and similar functions often, especially where the script uses a conditional that can be affected by parameters from within the test job.

Specific tools

  • apt - When calling apt update or apt-get update, always use the -q option to avoid filling the log file with repeated progress output during downloads. This option still gives output but formats it in a way that is much more useful when reading log files compared to an interactive terminal.
  • wget - always use the -S --progress=dot:giga options for downloads as this reduces the total amount of progress information during the operation.