In software development, testing is the process of determining if the actual software product meets the expected requirements and is free of defects. This process is completed using manual or automated tools either at the end of development (waterfall testing approach) or, ideally, continuously through the development process (Agile testing).
The importance of proactive and continuous software testing cannot be underestimated, helping find and fix bugs early in the development process saves both time and money, allowing bugs to be fixed before they become “baked in.” Further, the process helps speed time-to-market, an important process with changing market pressures and customer demands, and helps ensure the product avoids the high risk of security issues.
In order to get the most out of continuous software testing and to speed time-to-market, developers leverage automation wherever it is most appropriate. In this guide, learn more about what is automation testing and why it is used, when automation testing is most appropriate (what kinds of tests to automate), the top test automation tools, and how to choose among them, and the best practices for automation testing.
What is Automation Testing?
Automation testing (automated software testing or test automation) is the use of an independent software tool to execute tests, comparing actual outcomes against predicted outcomes. The goal of automation is to increase efficiency, reduce cost, and improve the quality and security of the software being tested.
Automation testing has been critical for software development for many years, but in the past few years, the proliferation of open-source and low-cost tools has made it more accessible for more organizations and projects.
When to automate?
If a test will be repeated, and if it will save time to automate it and/or improve the quality of the app to do so, it is a good candidate for automation testing.
The Difference Between Automation Testing & Manual Testing
In manual software testing, the developers or test engineers check on the features, uses, and functionalities of the software against the test cases without any assistance from available tools and software. Manual testing can be time-consuming, prone to human error, and difficult to scale as the software becomes more complex.
In automated testing, developers use specialized tools to automate and control test cases, with test cases executing automatically without any need for human involvement after the test case is prepared. Automated testing is ideal for large or complex software that requires continuous or repeated testing of pre-written scripts. Automated tests can be run simultaneously across different components or platforms, making it well suited for Agile development and its focus on iterative, continuous testing to find and repair bugs early, speeding up development.
While it may seem like automation testing is only the replacement of manual testing with automation tools, there are key differences that make automation testing more than manual testing, including:
- Automation testing helps increase the number of tests that can be run concurrently
- Automation testing can increase the depth / scope of the tests being run
- Automation testing can be scaled without extra work
- Manual, human testing is prone to human error – automation testing is not
- Automation testing can leverage simulated user groups of any size
- Automation testing can initiate automatically whenever source code changes, reducing the ask of developers
- Burnout associated with repetitive tasks is eliminated by automation testing
- The growing use of artificial intelligence(AI) in test automation is set to
For a more detailed comparison of manual vs automation testing, refer to the table below:
Most software is developed using a combination of manual and automation testing, depending on the use case. For example, if a test is only run once or twice, it is not well suited to automation. It is up to the assurance and testing team to determine which testing they prefer for each stage of the development process.
Types of Automation Testing
Not all types of software testing are best suited for automation testing. The best kinds of tests to automate are:
1. Smoke Testing
Smoke testing is the initial software testing to identify the basic problems that could restrict the software from running.
2. Unit Testing
A unit test helps identify bugs in a single module of the code. In Agile development, unit testing will identify the bugs in a single user story developed during a time-boxed sprint cycle.
3. Integration Testing
Integration testing helps test the integrated version of the software for its wholeness, i.e. when two or more modules are clubbed together.
4. Black Box Testing
Black box testing assesses specific functions or features of the software without going into the inner workings of it.
5. Functional Testing
Functional testing is a quality assurance process and type of black-box testing that looks at the most critical aspects of the software.
6. Keyword Testing
Keyword testing (keyword-driven testing, action word based testing) is a type of functional testing that uses familiar action words to represent user behaviors (design of the test), documented separately from the actions (the development of the test) and its execution.
7. Regression Testing
If a major change is made to a part of the software, regression testing runs the test cases to ensure the software still performs as expected.
8. Data Driven Testing
Data-driven testing (table-driven or parameterized testing) stores test data in a table/spreadsheet, with a single test script able to execute all test data and return the results in the same table.
9. Load Testing
A load test helps determine the efficiency of software under stress conditions, i.e., if there is an increase in the number of users or when it is handling a large spike in traffic.
10. Performance Testing
Performance tests are conducted to test the speed, responsiveness, intuitiveness, and stability of the software product. In Agile Testing, performance testing can be checked at the end of each sprint that delivers a user story. This ensures a good speed of testing and timely delivery of high-performing products or fragments of the product.
Top 10 Automation Testing Tools
There are more automation tools than there are test cases, making it difficult to know what to choose or when. While the next section will help in selecting the right automation tool, the top 10 automation testing tools are:
Open-source testing tool for web application testing across multiple programming languages, OS, and browsers. Currently ranks #1 for web app testing.
Open-source testing for hybrid or native iOS / Android mobile apps.
3. Katalon Studio
Testing for web, API, and mobile app development with simplified keyword tool for creating test cases. Works on top of Selenium and Appium and integrates with a wide variety of other tools.
Open-source behavior driven development (BDD) tool for web development / user experience. Test code is written in Gherkin (simple English).
5. HPE Unified Functional Testing (UFT)
Formerly known as QuickTest Professional (QTP), a cross-platform automation tool for functional and regression testing for software applications and environments and offering keyword and scripting interfaces.
Testing for SAP, the only code-free continuous test automation platform.
7. IBM Rational Functional Tester (RFT)
Commercial testing tool for automated functional and regression testing, GUI testing, and data-driven testing.
8. Telerik Test Studio
Windows-based testing tool for web and desktop functional, performance, and load testing as well as mobile app testing.
An open-source functional testing tool with a comprehensive API test automation framework for Representational State Transfers (REST) and Service-Oriented Architectures (SOAP).
Functional test automation tool for desktop, mobile, and web apps that also includes keyword-driven testing, data-driven testing, regression testing, and distributed testing. Known for record & replay of functional UI tests.
Related Article: Insight into the Top 10 Automation Testing Tools for 2022
Benefits of Automation Testing
Some of the benefits of automation testing include:
- Saves time
- Cost effective
- Greater accuracy
- Concurrent testing
- Clear reporting
- Reduces disruption
- Clear tracking of bugs
- Speeds up development process
- Improved chances of finding bugs
5-Step Automated Testing Process
The following outlines the process of how to set up automated testing:
1. Define the Scope of Automation
Define the requirements of the test to determine if it is a candidate for automation. Next, define what the test case is supposed to do.
2. Evaluate and Select Tools
Choose the right tool for the test at hand (read on to the next section).
3. Planning, Design, and Development
Design and develop the test cases. Start small to determine if the automation is effective. Clearly label and document test cases being automated.
4. Test Execution
Run the first test to ensure it works correctly. Set up the test frequency (regular or triggered by other events).
As the software evolves, test cases must be reviewed and maintained to incorporate any changes that could cause tests to fail or become misleading. If this happens frequently, it may not have been the right test to automate.
Steps to Choose an Automation Tool
In determining a test automation strategy, a QA team will create a plan for testing that will outline the approach and goals of the project, including which tests will be automated and which not. Next, the team will weigh the pros and cons of various tools for automation testing.
Choosing an automation tool is about choosing the right tool at the right time. The factors to be considered in making that choice include:
- Support for the environment / technologies in use
- Supports multiple testing frameworks (if relevant)
- Supports the kind of testing that needs to be run
- Easy to use / training time
- Script development is easy
- Availability of tool experts (internal or outsourced)
- Strong reporting capabilities
- Availability of support (technical or community)
- Availability of recording
- CI/CD capabilities
- Integration with bug tracking or task management systems
Automation Testing Best Practices
When turning to automation, it is important to automate the righttest cases, but also to set up automation to have the maximum return by following these best practices:
- Test only what is necessary and repeatable
- Use data driven tests
- Test early and often
- Create tests resistant to frequent maintenance (particularly for UI)
- Ensure the test does not introduce new technical challenges
- Test on real devices (if relevant)
- Keep good records (well structured)
- Ensure testing leads to action (tasks)
- Share the responsibility for testing
Limitations of Automated Testing
While there are many benefits to automation, there are limitations as well. As has been noted, automation testing is not appropriate for all scenarios, and much time can be wasted trying to write a test for a situation that is prone to change or that won’t be used frequently enough to warrant the investment. Further, automated testing needs to be data-driven, but not all feedback is quantitative. For example, automated testing is not appropriate for qualitative data such as would be needed to test the user experience.
Will Automation Testing Replace Manual Testers?
This is a common concern, but test automation – even test automation backed by artificial intelligence – does not have the capacity to replace manual testing. Not all test cases or projects are suitable for test automation. And, in some cases, automation lacks the nuance of the human brain to spot complex issues or opportunities for improvement that a true QA professional can spot.
4 Common Misconceptions About Automated Testing
The following are common myths and misconceptions about automated testing:
1. Every test can be automated
Fact: Not all tests can or should be automated. If the test is not done frequently enough, or if it won’t save time to automate it, it should not be automated. Most automated tests are done early in development for low, stable, fixed tests or for tests that are complex and prone to human error
2. Automated testing is expensive
Fact: While the initial cost to set up test cases for automated testing may be high, the long-term cost of reusing those test cases over and over reduces the overall time (and cost) spent testing. Further, many tools for automated testing are free and open-source.
3. Automation testing is better than manual testing
Fact: There is no better or worse in manual vs automated testing, there is only the kind of testing that is right for the job. Each approach is right for different situations and stages of the development process.
4. Test automation setup is a one time only event
Fact: Once you have set up a test, it ideally will be used over and over in its current state. However, if the environment changes, the test script will need to be updated to remain relevant.
At Net Solutions, Agile testing is baked right into every project as part of our Agile, DevOps development process. Agile Testing is a holistic approach to “bake in quality” to the digital product, taking on the agile manifesto’s principles and values to speed up the testing process while ensuring collaboration among the testers and developers towards the common goal — quality software development. Software that’s developed quickly – but also software that is both quality and secure.
At Net Solutions, we also provide QA testing services to apply our knowledge to help improve the performance, security, and compatibility of existing digital products or platforms.
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