What is Gherkin in Software Development?


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Toluwani Folayan

December 08, 2023

What is Gherkin in Software Development?

Gherkin is a domain-specific language (DSL) used for writing executable specifications, also known as behavior-driven development (BDD) scenarios. It is a plain-text language with a vocabulary of keywords like "Given," "When," and "Then" that allows developers to describe how a system should behave in a way that is easy for both technical and non-technical stakeholders to understand. Gherkin is often used in conjunction with tools like Cucumber to automate the execution of these scenarios and verify that the system meets the specified requirements.

This article discusses the basics you need to know about Gherkin and Cucumber in software development to help you achieve the benefits of automating your software tests.


What is BDD?

Gherkin and Cucumber in Software Development

What is Gherkin?

What is Cucumber

The difference between Gherkin and Cucumber Software

How to Write Gherkin Tests

What is Gherkin used for?

What is BDD?  

BDD, also known as Behavior-driven Development, is a software development approach that focuses on defining and verifying software behavior through a collaborative effort between developers, testers, and business stakeholders. It emphasizes clear and concise communication of software requirements using plain language, fostering a shared understanding of what the software should do.

BDD promotes a user-centric approach, putting the needs and expectations of the end users at the forefront of the development process. By focusing on how the software should behave in various scenarios, BDD ensures that the final product meets the actual needs of its users.

In essence, BDD is a collaborative approach that emphasizes clear communication, user-centricity, and executable specifications to ensure that software meets the expectations of its users. Gherkin provides the language for defining these specifications, while Cucumber automates the execution of these tests to verify the system's behavior.

Together, BDD, Gherkin, and Cucumber form a powerful toolkit for developing software that delivers the desired user experience.

Gherkin and Cucumber in Software Development  

Gherkin and Cucumber are powerful in software development, bridging the gap between technical and non-technical teams to deliver high-quality software. Gherkin's human-readable language provides a shared understanding, while Cucumber's automated tests ensure continuous verification, leading to faster development cycles, fewer bugs, and satisfied users.

What is Gherkin?  

Gherkin is a domain-specific language (DSL) used for writing executable specifications, also known as behavior-driven development (BDD) scenarios. It is a plain-text language with a vocabulary of keywords like "Given," "When," and "Then" that allows developers to describe how a system should behave in a way that is easy for both technical and non-technical stakeholders to understand.

How Does Gherkin Work?  

Gherkin is a language used to write behavior-driven development (BDD) tests. It allows you to describe the functionality of your software in a way that is easy to understand, even for non-technical people.

Gherkin is made up of features, scenarios, and steps.

  • Features are high-level descriptions of a specific piece of functionality. They typically have a title and a brief description.
  • Scenarios are individual use cases that describe how a feature works. They are made up of steps.
  • Steps are the individual actions that make up a scenario. They are written using keywords like Given, When, Then, And, and But.


Here's an example of a simple Gherkin scenario:


Feature: Login

Scenario: A user logs in with a valid username and password

Given the user is on the login page

When the user enters their username and password

And the user clicks the login button

Then the user should be logged in

And the user should see a welcome message

This scenario describes a simple test case where a user logs in to a system. The steps are written in plain English, using keywords to clarify what is happening at each stage.

Essentially, Gherkin is a powerful tool that can be used to write comprehensive and easy-to-understand tests. It can help you improve the quality of your software and make it easier for everyone to understand how it works.

What is Cucumber?  

Cucumber is an open-source framework that revolutionizes software testing by embracing Behavior-Driven Development (BDD). Think of it as a bridge between technical and non-technical minds. It leverages Gherkin, a plain English language, to describe desired software behaviors in a way everyone understands. No more cryptic code!

Cucumber reads these Gherkin scripts and translates them into automated tests, meticulously verifying if the software actually behaves as intended. It dissects the scenarios and steps, one by one, ensuring everything functions flawlessly. And the best part? It generates clear reports, highlighting successes and failures, keeping everyone informed and on the same page. So, Cucumber isn't just a testing tool; it's a collaboration catalyst, fostering better communication and shared understanding throughout the software development journey.

The difference between Gherkin and Cucumber Software  

Gherkin and Cucumber are closely related but serve distinct purposes in software development. Gherkin is a domain-specific language designed for writing human-readable descriptions of software behaviors, facilitating communication between non-technical stakeholders and development teams. It uses a simple syntax with keywords like Given, When, and Then to describe the steps of a test scenario. On the other hand, Cucumber is a testing tool that executes Gherkin scenarios as automated tests. It interprets the plain-text Gherkin scripts and translates them into executable code, allowing developers to implement the corresponding functionality in their preferred programming language. In essence, Gherkin is a language for expressing test scenarios in a structured manner, while Cucumber is the tool that translates these scenarios into automated tests for verification.

How to Write Gherkin Tests  

Writing clear and effective Gherkin tests requires understanding the key terms and how they work together. Let's break down the most frequent ones:

1. Feature: The headliner! This describes what the software is meant to do. Think of it as the big picture. Start with "Feature:", followed by a descriptive title. It's not directly used for testing, but acts as a container for your scenarios and rules.

2. Rule: A specific business regulation within the feature. It sets the stage for what you're testing. A good rule has multiple scenarios demonstrating it, often with a shared context in the "Background" section (more on that later). Start with "Rule:", followed by a clear explanation.

3. Gherkin Steps: These are the building blocks of your scenarios, detailing the user's journey and expected outcomes.

  • Given: Sets the initial context. Imagine it as the user's starting point before interacting with the system. No user actions here! Think preconditions. You can have multiple "Given" steps.
  • When: Describes the user's action or event that triggers something. Did they click a button? Did another system send data? Only one "When" step per scenario is typical.
  • Then: Shows the expected result. What should the system do or display after the "When" step? This is where you assert the desired outcome. You can have multiple "Then" steps.
  • And & But: These connect steps of the same type (Given, When, Then) for better readability and flow. Imagine them as "additions" or "contradictions" within a step type.
  • Background: This optional section provides additional context for all scenarios within a feature. Think of it as the shared setup before each test case. You can have multiple steps here, but remember only one background per feature. Consider splitting it into separate features if you need a more shared setup. 

Bonus Tip:

Mastering Gherkin keywords is your key to writing clear and concise tests! Focus on behavior like "user logs in" instead of technical details like "clicks username field." Also, keep it simple for both technical and non-technical readers. With these keywords in hand, you'll be writing Gherkin tests that flawlessly capture your software's behavior in no time! So, get writing and refine those skills!

What is Gherkin used for?  

Gherkin is a powerful tool used primarily for two key purposes in software development:

1. Behavior-Driven Development (BDD):

  • Writing user-centric specifications: Gherkin lets you describe software features and functionalities from the perspective of how users interact with it. This promotes collaboration between developers, testers, and non-technical stakeholders, as everyone can understand the desired behavior in plain language.
  • Creating executable test cases: Gherkin steps map directly to automated tests. This ensures the software consistently meets user expectations, catching regressions and bugs early in development.

2. Documentation:

  • Living documentation: Gherkin specifications serve as both test cases and documentation, evolving alongside the code. This reduces redundancy and keeps documentation up-to-date, saving time and resources.
  • Clear communication: Gherkin's focus on user behavior makes it easier for everyone to understand what the software does and why. This improves communication between technical and non-technical teams, leading to better product decisions. 

In essence, Gherkin bridges the gap between human intention and machine execution. It empowers teams to build software that's not just functional but also user-friendly and well-documented.


Gherkin may seem like a quirky language, but it's your secret weapon for user-focused software development. It ditches tech jargon for plain English, creating living documentation everyone understands. Gherkin tests aren't just scripts; they're collaborative conversations about how software should behave. So ditch the confusion and embrace Gherkin – it's the key to building software that users love.


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