Who should be writing Gherkin documents, and who should write step definitions?

Product owners, business analysts, programmers and testers are often confused about who should take on what responsibilities.

The answer depends on several factors, such as team structure, skills, culture, process and more.

The Three Amigos

The Three Amigos is a meeting that takes user stories and turns them into clean, thorough Gherkin scenarios. It involves three voices (at least):

  • The product owner - This person is most concerned with the scope of the application. This involves translating user stories into a series of features. As the tester comes up with edge cases, the product owner is responsible for deciding what is within scope.
  • The tester - This person will be generating lots of Scenarios, and lots of edge cases. How will the application break? What user stories have we not accounted for within these Features?
  • The developer - This person will add many of the Steps to the Scenarios, and think of the details that go into each requirement. How will this application execute? What are some of the roadblocks or requirements behind the scenes?

These conversations can produce great tests, because each amigo sees the product from a different perspective. For this reason it is essential that all of these roles have conversations to discover examples together. Example Mapping and Event Storming are great collaborative analysis techniques for discovering examples.

Finally, there is no reason to limit these meetings to three people—or to hold only one such meeting at the beginning of the project. Continually refine your features and collaborate with everyone to best understand how to talk about, develop, and test your application.

Writing Gherkin

To start with, when the language and style used in the scenarios is still being established, it is recommended that the entire team collaborate on writing the Gherkin. Later, it can be efficiently done by a pair: a developer (or someone who is responsible for the automation) and a tester (or someone who is responsible for quality) as long as their output is actively reviewed by the product owner (or business representative).

Writing Features

Cucumber tests are written in terms of “Features”. Each feature consists of one or more “Scenarios”.

Let’s start with an example Feature file:

Feature: Explaining Cucumber
  In order to gain an understanding of the Cucumber testing system
  As a non-programmer
  I want to have an overview of Cucumber that is understandable by non-geeks

  Scenario: A worker seeks an overview of Cucumber
    Given I have a coworker who knows a lot about Cucumber
    When I ask my coworker to give an overview of how Cucumber works
    And I listen to their explanation
    Then I should have a basic understanding of Cucumber

Note that the scenarios do not go into the details of what the software (or, in this case, the coworker) will do. It stays focused on the perspective of the person the Feature is intended to serve (in this case, “a non-programmer”).

Every feature file has a single feature description at the top, but can have any number of scenarios.

The Feature line names the feature. This should be a short label.

In order to presents the reason/justification for having the feature. In general, this should match to one of the project’s core purposes or “business values” such as:

  • Protect revenue
  • Increase revenue
  • Manage cost
  • Increase brand value
  • Make the product remarkable
  • Provide more value to your customers

As a describes the role of the people/users being served by the feature.

I want is a one sentence explanation of what the Feature is expected to do.

So, those three lines cover Why, Who, and What. Then, the document gets into the “How” with scenarios.


You can have any number of scenarios for a feature.

If you have lots and lots of scenarios in one feature, you might actually be describing more than one feature. When that happens, we recommend splitting up the document into separate Feature definitions (The definition of “lots and lots” here is subjective, and it’s up to you to determine when it’s time to split up a feature).

The first line provides a short description of what the scenario is intended to cover. If you can’t describe your scenario in a single sentence (and not a run-on sentence), then it’s probably trying to cover too much, and should be split into multiple scenarios.

That is followed by some combination of “Steps”—lines that begin with the keywords Given, When, and Then (typically in that order).

You can have many lines that use the same keyword (e.g., Given there is something followed by Given I have another thing). To increase the readability, you can substitute the keywords And or But (e.g., Given there is something followed by And I have another thing).

In general, any Given step line should describe only one thing. If you have words like “and” in the middle of a step, you are probably describing more than one step, and should split it into multiple steps.

For example:

	When I fill in the "Name" field and the "Address" field


	When I fill in the "Name" field
	And I fill in the "Address" field

Cucumber features are best served by consistency. Don’t say the same thing in different ways — say it the same way every time.

For example:

	Given I am logged in


	Given I have logged in to the site

have identical meaning, so it’s better to pick one and use the same line in every Scenario where you need to be logged in.

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