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29th December 2021

Automated tests: What Is Automated Software Testing?

As the name suggests, automated testing helps run software tests and validate if the software functions as needed before it's released. With automated tests, the process involves automating an otherwise manual effort of testing software via dedicated software tools. Test automation tools examine the software using test scripting, generate reports and outcomes, and compare results with earlier test results. Test scripts are usually designed by QA (quality assurance) automation tester in the beginning stages of testing software. 

The entire concept may be pretty new, but automated testing is fast becoming the new norm. However, to fully appreciate automated testing tools, we need to revisit the bygone era of manual testing. 

Automated Testing vs. Manual Testing

Before automated testing came about, it was customary for software companies to dedicate massive resources and maintain a large QA team. The main objective of the QA testing team was to check whether a software behaves as needed.

The checking would usually be carried out by meticulously-made tests and thorough checklists. Every time a new feature would launch, the engineering team would pull up these lists and results to compare the latest findings.  

Regardless of how talented the QA team maybe, a manual test is always prone to errors. The entire process would take time and be slow, not to mention expensive.

Needless to say, manual tests were dependent entirely on humans testing the software's functionality. Automating manual testing leads to more efficiency and more ROI for projects because of the shortened development process, automating mundane tasks, and eliminating manual errors. 

Automated testing also helps free up more time for the personnel to take up more high-value tasks, such as exploratory tests after automating routine checks, such as regression tests. It also helps in increasing coverage and is the best option for scalability without incurring high costs. 

When the team starts to work with unit testing frameworks, they need to know its runners, attributes, assertions, test suites, screenshots, and continuous integration (CI). It's important to follow testing protocols in the technological sector. It's especially essential for continuous delivery (CD) and continuous integration. Many of the DevOps and modern agile software projects have started, including automated testing from the start.

Some would argue that manual testing relied on the brilliance and adaptability of a human mind to catch issues in the software that may otherwise be missing by test automation. This is the reason why adopting an intelligent, automated testing strategy is crucial, and knowing where and what to automate is vital. 

Devising The Perfect Test Automation Strategy

Knowing the trick to implementing automated software testing strategy can make or break the testing process. Finding the balance between manual and automated testing is essential. While there is not a straightjacket solution for every type of testing, the test automation pyramid strategy is considered one of the best. Allow us to explain. 

Automated testing should only be done at three levels - Unit testing, API testing or service stage, and graphical user interface (GUI). Unit testing is where automated tests can be used the most.

Which Tests Should Be Automated?

You cannot automate everything at once; neither is it advised to. While software testing, you will often be posed with a frequent question - which tests should be automated? Here are a few pointers on setting up test parameters: 

  • Tests that are highly prone to human errors. 
  • Mundane, monotonous, time-consuming, and repetitive tests. 
  • Test data that requires to be run on multiple software and hardware platforms. 
  • Extensive tests that need numerous test data. 
  • High-risk tests.
  • Tests that are nearly impossible to perform manually. 

Apart from the above, here are more tests that can benefit from automation:

End-to-End Testing 

For software, end-to-end tests mimic an experience similar to what a user will have. Usually, the test coverage is of whether a user can change email settings, or a user can log in, or if a user can make a payment.

All these functions may be basic, but flawless test execution ensures that the consumer has a bug-free experience, even after new versions/ updates are released. 

In E2E testing, automation testing tools catch and replay users' actions. The testing tool essentially records the key part of the user experience.

Automating E2E testing could help expand test coverage and monitor the most basic but important software functions.    

Unit Tests 

A unit test tests individual units of a test code (measured as "function.") Unit tests cover every individual function to ascertain whether the actual output matches the expected one.

These are best automated as they are quick to conduct, inexpensive, and provide a high return on investment. 

Integration Testing 

Sometimes, a unit of code may require making a call to a third-party application. The issue that arises during testing is that the primary codebase does not have access to the third-party service. Integration testing helps pose as a third-party and check whether the code interacts as required. 

Performance Testing

During performance tests, the responsiveness and speed of the software are tested. For example, the time for buffering, loading, searching time is tested.

Automating tests would perform these checks in the background and alert the QA team whenever performance dips.

 

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Tests Not Fit for Automation

Honestly, every test can be automated, and it would bring considerable savings in productivity and cost. However, developing a sound test execution means finding the right balance between automated testing and manual testing.

Here are some of the tests that may not respond well to test automation:

Exploratory Testing 

 Test automation runs on test scripts and only follows step-by-step instructions. As the name suggests, exploratory tests are random and use unscripted sequences to weed out bugs.

While scriptless test automation capabilities have been released for this purpose, they are still being perfected.

For this kind of testing, it is best to designate a manual QA tester and rely on human intelligence and dynamic methods for software testing. 

Visual Regression Testing 

A visual regression occurs when there is a design flaw in the software's UI. It could be a wrong font, wrongly positioned graphics, or wrong colors.

These software tools capture various screenshots and then use optical character recognition to compare the results to the expected outcome.

Testing tools help write scripts to catch these regressions, but the best test automation tools are expensive and are not widely used. It is better to have a human pair of eyes trained to see visual defects. 

Criterion For Automation Testing 

Automation testing software needs to meet basic criteria for it to justify its price tag, especially given that the primary goal is to save time, money, and effort.

Here are some starting points, but when it comes to criteria, everyone has different needs, depending on their requirements:

Able to be repeated

Software tests should be repeatable. It's not worth doing automated testing if the test cannot be repeated. Here are the three steps:

  • Setting the test up, including test environment and data.
  • Executing the function and analyzing the results. 
  • Cleaning up the test environment and data.

In the first step, we need to ensure the prerequisites to conduct the test successfully are present. For example, we are testing out whether the consumer is able to add another user.

For us to check that, an additional user needs to be present. Once the test is wrapped up, the base state should be returned to normal. 

Determinant

When a function acts as a determinant, it signifies that the expected outcome will be the same after running the same input.

However, many variable inputs make it challenging for software test automation to get the same results. Software development can bypass this by allowing test cases to pass through the test harness. 

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Exerting the Most Out of Test Automation

Ideally, businesses should be incorporating test automation tools to streamline their operations and business processes.

Enterprises operating in the technology sector can significantly benefit from automation testing tools to shorten delivery timelines and meet safety protocols.   

One thing to keep in mind during software testing is to establish goals early in the process. Without set benchmarks, it is nearly impossible to assess the performance of the software.

Focusing on one objective, running separate tests when needed, and devising tests to achieve specific goals is best for test management.

Performance tests should also be broken down into smaller tests as they are easier to run.

While running tests, also focus on reallocating the team members that are not devising test scripts. The main benefit of automated tests is freeing up QA's team and improving overall business practices. 

Process of Automated Testing

An establishment implements automation testing with a set of test automation frameworks that includes standard rules, practices, and testing tools.

Test automation framework such as modular testing, linear scripting is quite common along with keyword-driven and data-driven test automation framework. 

The linear scripting testing framework works best for small software because you can use a test script without much planning, but resuing the scripts is not possible.

In a modular automation framework, scripts are created as independent, small tests to decrease redundancy, but this process is slower and takes time to set up. 

On the other hand, a data-driven automation framework allows developers to make scripts that can work for multiple data sets and provide broader test coverage.

Keyword-driven frameworks use a table to define specific keywords for each execution and function method.

It is perfect for programmers who do not have extensive knowledge but still want to create test scripts. 

Why Automated Tests?

Providing a seamless and consistent user experience is important and is only possible through continuous testing.

Every interaction directly reflects your organization's reputation, which is why automation testing should be an integral part of your testing strategy. 

With the help of automation testing, you can bring more and faster updates while maintaining the same consistency, accuracy, and efficiency.

There are many different tests to run, and with automation, you can increase your load testing.  

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Benefits of Automated Tests

Cost Savings 

With automated testing, organizations can run tests faster, identify defects early, fix it before production starts.

Since there are fewer bugs, it helps gain reputation, and you do not have to chalk out more money to dedicate resources.

The initial investment may seem steep, but once the framework gets developed, it helps ease testing and pays off where expenses are concerned. 

Time Savings 

As automated tests are able to run 24*7 in the background, it saves much time for the QA team to devote to more complicated parts of testing that cannot be wrapped up with human efforts.

Since many test cases are automated, regression time is dramatically reduced, as well. 

Increased ROI 

Since the product is able to be rolled out faster due to better testing, ROI is increased. Additionally, with cost savings and better performance from the QA team, it is a win-win situation. 

Helps Check Complex Scenarios 

Automated testing is quite effective in testing complicated scenarios, including those involving third-party applications. 

Decreases Regression Time

Performing regression testing manually takes up much time, not to mention that it is quite mundane. Human efforts tend to ebb and flow, giving rise to errors that give rise to bugs.

In the case of automation, there is no problem in conducting repetitive testing on test cases. The accuracy and efficiency are also maintained. 

Helps in Increasing Test Cases

Human effort has a limit, while automation does not. By introducing automated tests, you can easily increase the scope of test cases and find out bugs on a broader scale. By checking more test cases, software's accuracy is ensured and the user's experience is also enhanced.

Importance of Automated Tests to Continuous Delivery

CI, CD is all about pushing out new releases as fast as possible to consumers. Automated testing directly contributes to that goal.

You cannot release fast updates if the testing process is completely manual, slow, and possibility of being error-prone.

Continuous delivery is the next step after continuous integration, but still dependent on the latter. CI is wholly responsible for running tests automatically against new updates and ensuring that the recent changes do not disturb the pre-established features and there are no new bugs.

After the automated test is done, the role of continuous delivery starts. 

The relationship between CI, CD, and robotic process automation benefits automation engineers the most.

It ensures quality and consistent results, no errors or bugs, and arguably, the best part is that the software stays ready for release, even in a short period.

Myths About Automated Tests

  1. An automated test will give the QA team more free time on their hands. In reality, an automation tool allows developers more time and resources to focus on tasks that require their specialization and focus. 
  2. An automated test is better than a manual one. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages. The truth remains that neither one provides a complete testing framework. It's about how you leverage both of their pros to achieve the best software testing. 
  3. Test automation discourages any human effort, whereas it can open up new channels to perform testing and communicate between teams. 
  4. Test automation is expensive. The initial investment may seem a bit much, but as the testing process goes on, the savings and benefits will quickly outweigh the costs. 

Challenges of Automated Tests

The success of automated testing depends on the following challenges that an organization should put efforts into master:

  • Effective communication required - In an organization, if there is no effective communication between related teams, not many projects will succeed. Therefore, in order for the automation to be successful, there needs to be open, effective, and proper communication between developers, the QA team, and the operations team.
  • Importance of selecting the right tool - It is important to choose the right that offers a complete test automation solution and caters to your requirements.
  • Adopting the right approach - Depending on the type of testing required, the QA team should plan and adopt that caters to DevOps and agile methodology, where the operating systems tend to change during testing. 
  • Automation of analysis of test cases - The QA team needs to analyze the test cases that can benefit from being automated. Furthermore, it is crucial that the test cases are picked to represent a significant portion of the user's activities. 

Types of Automated Software Testing

There are several types of automation tests; here are the most popular ones:

Code Analysis

Different types of code analysis tools exist, including dynamic and static analysis. Some of these are developed to check security issues, while others check the UI. These are run whenever the programmer checks in code. Besides keeping the tools updated and configuring rules, not much scripting is involved during test execution. 

Unit Tests

As already mentioned, a unit test suite is one of the most lucrative and easiest to automate. Unit tests are designed with the purpose of singularly testing a unit, function, or operation. Since the test suite runs on a build server, they do not need external APIs, storage, or database. Since there are no external dependencies, unit tests are fast and are developed only to test the code. 

Integration Testing 

During software development, these are tough to test out given; programmers need to check whether there is correct and smooth interfacing with a third-party application. They are complicated to run. Often sample scenarios are created to deal with load tests and elements outside anyone's control. 

Regression Testing 

Regression tests check if a recent update has affected any of the previous features of the software. In the test documentation, automation testing clearly states whether the new changes have broken any previous functionality already in place. 

Automated Acceptance Tests

Nowadays, a testing tool often uses automated acceptance tests (AAT). However, if you analyze them closely, automated acceptance tests and behavior-driver development (BDD) are quite similar. The pattern of the acceptance test was the same. 

AAT is simply developed to ensure that the feature delivers what it was meant to do. Therefore, it becomes crucial that the programmers, QA team, and developers write the automation tool together. They can also double up as regression testing to ensure the software is performing as expected. 

Smoke Tests

Smoke tests are developed to ensure that the software is stable. If the tests deem the software to be of "unstable build," it goes back to the developers to identify the problem and enhance the performance by eliminating the issue. 

User Interface Testing

UI testing allows the developers to test the functionality of how the user will view it. Sometimes, all the internal functioning may be working correctly but is now showing up externally.

The test automation allows catching these bugs, while any other type of testing cannot. 

API Testing 

API Testing means testing the programming interfaces and ensuring that the software meets the criteria for being reliable, performance, security, and functionality.

API test automation is now being treated as a primary interface, as with frequent releases and updates, it is nearly impossible to carry out GUI testing. It helps if you have easy to run, fast API regression testing in place to verify the new updates did not disturb the software's base. 

Continuous Testing 

Continuous delivery (CI, CD) and testing help programmers to roll out updates faster and use test cases when needed, not when ready. However, the task is arduous and, after a while, gets pretty monotonous. With automated testing, programmers get comparative reports and consistent results without a human manning the testing 24*7.

Functional Testing

Functional testing is undertaken to check if software behaves according to pre-determined requirements. Primary functions are tested where input is fed, and output is examined without much regard to internal functioning. Functional testing is a basic test, meaning designating the workforce is wasteful. Test automation undertakes this repetitive task without the need for human intervention. 

Cross-browser testing

Automated cross-browser testing allows programmers to test whether the website is working as required when accessed via -

a) Different devices - How well the functionality responds when accessed via tablet, desktop, laptop, or phone.

b) Different browser-OS combinations - With many different browsers and OS combinations in use, it is essential to test whether the user can view and interact with the website as needed.

c) Assistive tools - Whether the software is compatible with assistive technologies, such as people who are unable to see or are differently-abled.

This testing process ensures that users have a consistent experience and their diverse needs are met with.

API Testing

The Future is Deploying Test Automation Tool

With the rapid gain of interest from massive players in the IT sector, a huge influx of investments, the global automation industry is touted to reach $68 billion by 2025. With the focus being on QA, enhancing user experience, and ease of use, enterprises are increasingly turning towards automation to get a leg up in testing and capture the market share. 

It is being predicted that with the increase in high-speed network technologies and the adoption of IoT across various industries, the demand for test automation is set to increase multifold. Since the market is relatively new, many key players are emerging to gain a competitive edge as quickly as they can before the industry becomes saturated. 

Conclusion 

Businesses, enterprises, and even consumers are increasingly becoming vocal about the need for faster releases and high-quality software. Testing is an integral part of ensuring that bug-free and quality products hit the market to meet these demands. Till now, the only option was manual testing, and it often led to errors and delays. However, automation is fast changing all that and helping to improve the test coverage, efficiency, speed, and cost-effectiveness. 

Just remember the following steps for the best automation strategy:

  • Selecting the right test tool 
  • Ascertaining automation's scope 
  • Planning and strategizing 
  • Execution of strategy 
  • Continuous testing and maintenance 

Enterprises are set to gain if they embrace automated testing smartly. They will be able to manage the QA's time better, ensure accuracy and faster releases while saving up costs. 

Article written by Duncan Brigginshaw

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