Test Automation

What is Test Automation?

There are two kinds of testing in the world of software—manual and automated. Some types of manual testing, such as discovery testing and usability testing, are invaluable. You can do other kinds of testing—like regression testing and functional testing—manually, but it’s a fairly wasteful practice for engineers to keep doing the same thing over and over again. It’s these kinds of repetitive tests that lend themselves to test automation.

At the same time, test automation can save a lot of time and, ultimately, a lot of money. Manually going through the same scenarios each time a new software change occurs just to ensure that the other features have not been damaged can be a tedious process that will only take longer and longer.

Test automation is the practice of running tests automatically, managing test data, and utilizing results to improve software quality. It leverages automation tools to control the execution of tests and then compares actual test results with predicted or expected results.

Why Is Test Automation Important?

Agile and DevOps are the new models for modern software engineering. This has changed the way code is being developed, tested, and used by businesses and consumers. New software releases are being delivered faster and more regularly than ever. It’s become crucial for companies with any level of digital footprint to improve the efficiency and accuracy of their testing to keep up with their competitors.

Testing at every stage of the delivery pipeline — known as continuous testing — is now an integral part of the way companies operate today. And test automation is key for their success.

Types of Automated Tests

Here are so many types of tests, many of which can be automated,

    • Unit Tests

You can also automate a unit test suite. Unit tests are designed to test a single function, or unit, of operation in isolation. They typically run on a build server. These tests don’t depend on databases, external APIs, or file storage. They need to be fast and are designed to test the code only, not the external dependencies.

    • Integration Tests

Integration tests are a different kind of animal when it comes to automation. Since an integration test—sometimes called end-to-end tests—needs to interact with external dependencies, they’re more complicated to set up. Often, it’s best to create fake external resources, especially when dealing with resources beyond your control.

If you, for example, have a logistics app that depends on a web service from a vendor, your test may fail unexpectedly if the vendor’s service is down. Does this mean your app is broken? It might, but you should have enough control over the entire test environment to create each scenario explicitly. Never depend on an external factor to determine the outcome of your test scenario.

    • Automated Acceptance Tests

There are several practices today that use automated acceptance tests (AAT), but they’re basically doing the same thing. Behavior-driven development (BDD) and automated acceptance test-driven development (AATDD) are similar. They both follow the same practice of creating the acceptance test before the feature is developed.

In the end, the automated acceptance test runs to determine if the feature delivers what’s been agreed upon. Therefore, it’s critical for developers, the business, and QA to write these tests together. They serve as regression tests in the future, and they ensure that the feature holds up to what’s expected.

    • Regression Tests

Without AATs in place, you have to write regression tests after the fact. While both are forms of functional tests, how they’re written, when they’re written, and whom they’re written by are vastly different. Like AATs, they can be driven through an API by code or a UI. Tools exist to write these tests using a GUI.

    • Performance Tests

Many kinds of performance tests exist, but they all test some aspect of an application’s performance. Will it hold up to extreme pressure? Are we testing the system for high heat? Is it simple response time under load we’re after? How about scalability?

Sometimes these tests require emulating a massive number of users. In this case, it’s important to have an environment that’s capable of performing such a feat. Cloud resources are available to help with this kind of testing, but it’s possible to use on-premises resources as well.

    • Smoke Tests

What’s a smoke test? It’s a basic test that’s usually performed after a deployment or maintenance window. The purpose of a smoke test is to ensure that all services and dependencies are up and running. A smoke test isn’t meant to be an all-out functional test. It can be run as part of an automated deployment or triggered through a manual step.

Note: Above tests are the common tests that we should consider, but there are many types of test cases that we can automate as per the testing pipeline design.

How to Choose Which Tests to Automate

The truth is that many tests can be safely automated. Think of all those common, highly repeatable tests that make even the savviest testers out there want to gouge their eyes out by the end of the day.

Most unit, integration, and performance testing can be easily automated — developers and testers only need to intervene when the results don’t match up to expectations.

Tests that are a perfect fit for automation share a few basic characteristics:

    • High Volume and Repeatability

It’s a waste to create an automated test script that only needs to be run once. Test automation is designed for running time-consuming test scripts that need to be repeated over and over again. Testing different OS/browser combinations or high-volume batch testing overnight are solid automation choices.

    • Determinant Outcomes

Test automation works best when tests are both repeatable and have determinant outcomes. That is, the results should have fairly predictable outcomes that a test script is 100% capable of catching. Stress and load tests fit nicely into this category.

    • Business-Critical Tests

For tests that can cause an interruption in service and potentially damage one’s business, test automation can help ensure new features don’t break existing ones. Smoke tests, sanity tests, and regression tests are good candidates for automation — especially when they need to be tested across every version and release of an application.

    • Test Data and Environments

Remember, test automation is more than just automating tests. It can also be used for automating tasks like setting up test data and environments. Some test automation tools out there can even build test scripts before code is written — simply by defining the desired functionality first.

Test Cases Not To Be Automated

    • Subjective Validation

Subject validation protects the validity of words, statements, or initials. This also covers inspection and perception testing. This is the stage where humans can quickly detect and provide feedback rather than the automated system that requires plenty of steps to write. So this type of testing is appreciated manually.

    • New Functionalities

Performing automated testing for applications that are under-development is not a good technique. It will cost a lot of time and resources to keep the automation tests updated and maintained. Automation testing will frequently fail and need to update regularly due to the changes in applications according to new requirements.

    • Strategic Development

Certain applications require specific attention and subject matter expertise. Manual testing is suitable for these types of testing rather than automated testing.

For example, if there are business functions that need special attention, the tester should focus on those areas with more focus and attention. Detailed test cases should follow covering every aspect. This usually covers the most critical part of the application.

    • User Experience

Primarily, the success or negligence of an application depends on its usefulness. When there is a matter of user experience then nothing can compete with the human eye. It can detect any problem in seconds by looking at a picture like a language, resolution, endurance, and formatting, etc. While automated testing will require a huge amount of time. So, it is suggested to leave the user experience property of any system to the human eye rather than an automated system.

    • Complex Functionality

Some modules have complex functionality that an automated system cannot perform effectively. So, it’s better to automate those manually like the case of Mobile device testing. Mobile device testing requires testing by leaving and reconnecting Wi-Fi, Run apps simultaneously, device authorization, receiving and making phone calls.

    • Quality Control

If the overall quality of the finalized application needs to be tested, then it is preferred manually rather than automatically. Automation testing can only test specific output that is generated in the test case while the human can navigate the whole system and several types of workflow, happy and sad paths, success, and failure of certain criteria quickly.

Automated systems are unable to generate original thought. They will perform only some specific tasks that are programmed. They also cannot generate effective feedback that a human user can provide. So, it’s suggested to perform Quality Control manually.

    • Low return on investment

The main purpose of system tests is to save time and money. If test cases cannot provide these two then it’s useless. Some applications are simple and contain fewer modules. Testing these apps manually can be done by spending fewer resources on testing procedures.

For example, you are testing a simple form with little bit content and business doesn't care if it’s there or not. Another example could be a piece of application that is there but nobody uses it.

    • Installation and setup testing

In installation and setup testing the system needs to test with different hardware and software such as loading CD-ROM, memory disks, and Tapes. Such types of systems also required manual testing.

General Test Automation Strategy

Your Test Automation Strategy is important. Testing no longer belongs at the end of the process. It’s central to the entire software delivery lifecycle. Or at least it should be.

As teams strive toward continuous testing in DevOps, the role of automation becomes all the more essential. Your automation test strategy is critical for orchestrating the what, when, and why of end-to-end test processes.

Here’s how to create your automation test strategy.

    • Create a Pipeline Blueprint

It’s best to begin your automation test strategy with what you have control over. From there, you can start planning. This makes your DevOps pipeline a great place to start.

Pipelines are the fundamental pathways that delivery orchestration follows. They consist of all tasks and deliverables that software delivery teams execute on to bring ideas into production via software. The “continuous” aspect of the DevOps pipeline considers the iterative and repeatable nature of software delivery.

Here’s an example of a continuous delivery pipeline.

    • Leverage the Cloud

Cloud is another important aspect of your test automation strategy. In fact, cloud testing should be your first choice.

Here are a few basic use cases for cloud test automation to help you get started.

    • Compatibility Testing

    • Quickly spin up multiple operating system types or versions, simultaneously, with a command. Containers make this even easier as you can deploy to different clouds. Functional tests, for instance, could be run against many operating systems. Similarly, you can perform multiple simultaneous browser tests, database types, etc.

    • Load Testing

    • Using load generators to drive simulated traffic from multiple regions and up to large scale was one of the first use cases for cloud computing. Load tests can be triggered by a build job and results can be passed in an automated fashion as part of a performance regression suite.

    • User Acceptance Testing

    • AUT environments can be spun up as part of an automated process. Real users in any location and environments close to users (or far away) can be utilized to test the network impact of systems close to or far away from users.

    • Embrace Automation

Embracing automation is also key to a successful test automation strategy. A never-ending saga in the testing industry revolves around automation in DevOps.

It doesn’t matter:

    • How you feel about what is possible to automate.

    • When you should start.

    • How to manage test fragility.

    • Who should create or execute tests.

What does matter is that you plan to utilize a test automation strategy with your CI/CD orchestration. If you aren’t automating regression tests, you are wasting time.

Functional test automation has always been a great place to start. For the web, recording technology is mature and stable. So, even junior-level test engineers can reliably capture basic tests to replay.

Here’s how it works:

    • Automated functional tests are proven, repeatable, and combined into regression suites.

    • Then it’s a simple matter of ensuring the test environment is available — perhaps in a cloud-based solution — and running the suites as part of the build process.

    • Start Small, Scale Up

With your test automation strategy, it’s best to start small and go from there

The key to successful continuous testing in DevOps lies in building trust between the dev and test practitioners. To build trust, there needs to be a small and proven smoke or sanity test suite that runs automatically within CI (Jenkins) upon each code commit.

The next step is to scale the number of platforms that undergo these tests. “Certify” said tests and made them an integral part of the DevOps pipeline.

Finally, scale the test suite to cover more essential test scenarios and platforms. You’ll need to maintain the coding practices and test certification processes to maintain trust between team members.

Top 15 Benefits of Test Automation

    • Faster feedback

Automated testing comes as a relief for validation during various phases of a software project. This improves communication between coders, designers, and product owners, and allows immediate rectification of potential glitches. Automated testing assures higher efficiency of the development team by facilitating quick feedback cycles.

    • Accelerated results

Owing to the quick implementation of automated testing, plenty of time is saved even for intricate and enormous systems. This allows for the testing to be carried out repeatedly, delivering faster results each time with lesser effort and time.

    • Easy Regression Testing

Manual testing is time-consuming as for every fix deployed in production, testers have to repeat a set of similar test cases over the same period to ensure that the bug has been removed. Regression testing has been a pain point for every developer. Performing the same test over and over, not only takes more time but also brings down the overall efficiency of a tester.

Performing regression testing manually consumes a lot of time and leads to the following issues:

    • Running the entire regression creates congestion in the release cycle making it inflexible.

    • Manual regression testing cannot be thoroughly performed every time the software gets updated because of the time constraints.

    • Unsurity about whether tests are performed the same way every time.

This is why automation testing is an ideal way to perform regression testing. As discussed in the previous point, automation tests are like robots who never sleep. Therefore, the time window can be extended always to run the regression testing suite. Also, time invested in building an automated test case is a one-time effort, which brings us to our next major benefit of automation testing.

    • Shift-Left Testing Done Better!

Shift-left testing is a methodology which conveys that the testing phase should be incorporated into the SDLC(Software Development Life Cycle), right from the requirement gathering phase to find bugs at an early stage. Shift left testing can improve your product quality

Benefit of automation testing is that it can be performed as soon as the development starts, thereby detecting the bugs or defects earlier, helping you to shift-left in a better and faster manner. Run automation tests on user stories to ensure that the story is clear and identifies validations and constraints every tester needs to understand. This approach may help you to detect and eliminate early bugs from your website.

    • Reduced business expenses

It is of no surprise that, while the initial investment may be on the higher side, automated testing saves companies many a penny. This is predominantly due to the sharp drop in the amount of time required to run tests. It contributes to a higher quality of work, thereby decreasing the necessity for fixing glitches after release, thereby reducing project costs.

    • Testing efficiency improvement

Testing takes up a significant portion of the overall application development lifecycle. This goes to show that even the slightest improvement of the overall efficiency can make an enormous difference to the entire timeframe of the project. Although the setup time takes longer initially, automated tests eventually take up a significantly lesser amount of time. They can be run virtually unattended, leaving the results to be monitored toward the end of the process.

    • Higher overall test coverage

Through the implementation of test automation, a higher number of tests can be executed pertaining to an application. This leads to a higher coverage, which in a manual testing approach would imply a massive team, limited heavily with their amount of time. An increased test coverage leads to testing more features and a higher quality of application.

    • Reusability of automated tests

Due to the repetitive nature of test cases in test automation, software developers have the opportunity to assess program reaction, in addition to the relatively easy configuration of their setup. Automated test cases are reusable and therefore, can be utilized through different approaches.

    • Earlier detection of defects

The documentation of software defects becomes considerably easier for the testing teams. This helps increase the overall development speed while ensuring correct functionality across areas. The earlier a defect is identified, the more cost-effective it is to fix the glitch.

    • Thoroughness in testing

Testers tend to have different testing approaches, and their focus areas could vary due to their exposure and expertise. With the inclusion of automation, there is a guaranteed focus on all areas of testing, thereby assuring best possible quality.

    • Faster time-to-market

Test Automation greatly helps reduce the time-to-market of an application by allowing constant execution of test cases. Once automated, the test library execution is faster and runs longer than manual testing.

    • Information security

The effectiveness of testing will be largely dependent on the quality of the test data you use. Manually creating quality test data takes time and as a result, testing is often performed on copies of live databases. Automation solutions can help with creating, manipulating, and protecting your test database, allowing you to re-use your data time and again. The time and cost savings in this area are potentially huge.

    • Maximizing ROI

Manual testing takes a considerable amount of time to launch a software product to market due to repetitive testing. However, automation testing can help reduce time-to-market and launch a bug-free product, by taking care of repetitive tasks with less number of resources on-board, thereby, maximizing Return on Investment for businesses.

    • Distributed Test Execution

Distributing test cases over the multiple machines, OSs or browsers is not feasible in the case of manual testing. Testers can perform testing on any one platform or device at a time to detect the behavior of an application.

Automated testing tools allow distributed test execution by allowing various tests to run on different computers or devices at the same time.

    • Accelerate Cross Browser Testing

Manual cross browser testing may lead to multiple challenges and problems. In the case of manual testing, testers first identify the browser their web-application must support. After preparing a checklist of all the browsers, they execute a single test on different browser + OS configuration to measure how well their web development efforts are weighing out. Achieving sufficient test coverage may look like a nightmare if you have a wide audience to attend. To prepare for every customer coming at your website from legacy to the latest browser, manual cross browser testing may seem impossible.

Automated cross browser testing tools can reduce the efforts by executing the same test cases many times on multiple browsers in parallel.

Challenges with Test Automation

According to The 2021 State of Test Automation Report, teams find the lack of resources for creating test automation to be the biggest challenge they face, followed closely by proper coverage for test automation scenarios.