automated testing

Automated testing is a process that validates if software is functioning appropriately and meeting requirements before it is released into production. This software testing method uses scripted sequences that are executed by testing tools. Automated testing tools execute examinations of the software, report outcomes and compare results with earlier test runs.

An organization can apply automated tests to a broad range of cases, such as unit, API and regression testing. Automated software testing's main benefit is that it simplifies as much of the manual effort as possible into a set of scripts. For example, if unit testing consumes a large percentage of a quality assurance (QA) team's resources, then this process should be evaluated as a candidate for automation.

Automated tests can run repeatedly at any time of day. This approach fits in with continuous testing as well as continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) software development practices, which aim to shuttle code changes to production without gates that require manual intervention.

Benefits of automated testing

Automated testing can boost a QA team's efficiency. Some benefits include:

  • Higher accuracy
  • Better reporting capabilities
  • Increased coverage
  • Enhanced resource efficiency
  • Improved bug detection
  • Increased reusability

When a software tester manually checks a system, he can make a mistake, especially when an application contains hundreds to thousands of lines of code. Automation helps the QA team avoid these human errors in application testing and executes checks in a faster time frame than if it were done in person.

Some test automation tools have reporting capabilities that log each test script in order to show users the status of every test. A tester can then compare the results with other reports to assess how the software operates compared to expectations and requirements.

Overall, automated testing enables staff to avoid manual tests and focus on other project priorities. A QA team can reuse automated test scripts to ensure each check executes the same way every time. Additionally, automated testing helps a team quickly find bugs in the early stages of development, which can reduce overall working hours and project costs.

Misconceptions about automated testing

Misconceptions about automated testing include:

  • Automated testing provides developers with more free time. In reality, automated testing gives developers more time to focus on larger issues in the development process.
  • Automated testing is superior to manual testing. Automated and manual testing both have their advantages and the most comprehensive understanding of an application will come from utilizing both techniques.
  • Automated testing discourages human interaction. In reality, automated testing can enhance conversation by providing new channels to communicate through.
  • Automated testing is too expensive. It is the true the initial investment may be costly, but, over time, the benefits of the method help it pay for itself by reducing the cost of code revisions and manually repeating tests.

How does automated testing work?

An organization implements test automation with a framework that includes common practices, testing tools and standards. Data-driven and keyword-driven test automation frameworks are common, as are frameworks for linear scripting and modular testing.

The linear scripting framework suits small applications because it enables the use of a test script with little planning, but does not support reusable scripts. In modular testing frameworks, a software tester creates scripts as small, independent tests to reduce redundancy, but this process typically takes more time to set up.

Data-driven frameworks enable software testers to create scripts that work for multiple data sets and provide wide quality coverage with fewer tests than modular options. Keyword-driven testing frameworks use table formats to define keywords for each function and execution method; software testers without extensive programming knowledge can work with the keywords to create test scripts. Hybrid-driven frameworks combine two or more practices to have the benefits of both.

Open source test automation tools and frameworks include Selenium, Robotium and Cypress. Selenium can automate and run test parameters across multiple web browsers and in various programming languages -- such as C#, Java and Python. Robotium helps testers write automatic user acceptance, function and system tests for Android devices. Cypress covers end-to-end, integration and unit tests, all within a browser. Cypress allows access to distributed object models in the browser and provides a debugger for further tests.

Automated testing best practices

Automated testing is most beneficial when applied to:

  • tests that are performed on different hardware or software configurations or platforms;
  • repetitive tests that are used for various builds;
  • tests with multiple data sets;
  • tests that are impossible to perform manually;
  • tests that are too laborious and time consuming when performed manually;
  • tests on frequently utilized functionality that introduce conditions which elevate risk; and
  • tests that frequently generate human error.

Other best practices include:

  • Testing the software early and frequently.
  • Choosing the correct automated testing tool.
  • Creating automated tests that can resists changes in the user interface (UI).
  • Separating the automated testing efforts.

Continuous testing

The basics of a CI/CD pipeline

Organizations typically include automated tests in a continuous testing strategy, which conducts code checks at every step in the software development and delivery pipeline. Continuous and automated tests help organizations reduce performance bottlenecks because the pace of work is ongoing rather than start-and-stop. For example, an organization might release software changes every few hours with automated and continuous testing, rather than every few days with a more manual and gated system.

Continuous delivery and continuous integration pipelines utilize automated tests and deployment processes that enable developers to decide to deploy code when it is ready, as opposed to when the system is available to deploy it. CI involves frequent and isolated code changes, as well as immediate testing at each stage of completion before the CI pipeline adds an update to a larger codebase. CD enables executable code updates to go live in staging or production environments; typically any commit that passes automated integration or other forms of big-picture tests is a valid candidate for release.

Automated testing and unit testing

A unit test is a different software testing method that can be combined with automated testing. Unit testing examines the smallest part of an application in order to ensure functionality. Sometimes, this includes scanning every line of code as a separate piece instead of a part of the whole application. While this can help prevent bugs, it limits the assessment of the overall solution.

When unit testing is performed manually, it can be extremely time consuming and can increase the risk of human errors. Furthermore, manual unit testing removes the collaborative and extensive approach to software development that has be popularized by DevOps culture.

By automating unit tests, multiple test cases can be run as each line of code is written. This ability provides developers with an enhanced understanding of the software's overall integrity and the potential value to end users as it is being developed. Furthermore, the previously discussed benefits of automated testing can be applied to the automation of unit tests: the risk of human error reduces drastically and the time it takes to repeatedly run the tests significantly decreases.

Automated testing vs. manual testing

Manual testing is the exact opposite of automated testing; it involves humans writing and performing all tests on the software. While this extra labor may seem like a disadvantage, it enables developers to benefit from the ability to draw insights from the examination of each step of the process since they are required to go through the software via SQL and log analysis, testing usage and input combinations, comparing collected results to the projected behavior and recording all results.

In contrast, once the test is written, automated testing removes the focus on all the middles steps and instead focuses on delivering the end result. However, this allows tests to be repeatedly performed without the help of developers, thus facilitating continuous testing. In contrast, manual testing requires developers to constantly replicate each step of the process for any test that needs to be repeated on a specified area.

Furthermore, automated testing is frequently used after the software has been developed to run longer tests that were avoided during the initial manual testing. When automated, these lengthy tests can run unattended on multiple computers with various configurations.

This was last updated in September 2019

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