What Is Automated Testing And Why Should You Do It?
We delve into the details of code tests and explore the advantages of automated testing.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in 2014. It’s been so popular that we decided to update it in 2020.
Today’s custom software projects are designed with competitive advantage in mind. They are increasingly complex and more interconnected. They need to be altogether “mobile ready,” good-looking and readily adoptable, while giving a rich, interactive and pleasing user experience. For anyone planning for a big project, underscoring all of these business requirements is crucial. In short, today’s custom software investments must work.
About Automated Software Testing
One way to avoid potentially costly mistakes is to run automated software testing throughout development. Tests are more than just afterthoughts; they hold relationships with the code they check. Testing is an integral part of the development process.
What is Automated Testing?
Tests are routines that check the operation, correctness, completeness, security, and quality of developed software code. Tests are deterministic, meaning for specific inputs and events an outcome is expected. If the actual outcome matches the predicted outcome, great! Move on to the next test. If not, an error is raised. So a “test” either passes or fails, and the passing or failing indicates if the software is working as expected.
Thus, “automated” software testing is simply tests run by the system, as opposed to manually. Automated tests ensure the code functions as expected. They replace manual testing for tests that are too repetitive or difficult to perform.
Software components invariably “bump” into one another because of the complex interrelationships between them. The more complex the system, the more possibility for an overlooked edge case. Automated testing helps mitigate this. Changes in code may also cause regressions (bugs that you will definitely want to catch), which can be identified through testing.
What Came Before Automated Testing?
Back in the day, testing took place manually. Imagine a team of quality assurance personnel sitting in a small room, hammering on a system and trying to break it. They would ask questions like “What happens if I put letters in a phone number field?” Then test the outcome. Unfortunately, testing all variations of test data was costly both in time and resources, and the solution did not scale with a growing application. The advantage of automated testing is that it eliminates much of this manual work, and can significantly reduce the amount of busy work required.
Another common practice prior to automated software testing was to write debugging code directly into the main code. When a problem arose it would offer some idea of where to find the issue, but the methodology was adequate at best. It often felt like “firefighting;” developers were alerted to problems only after an end user reported an error or malfunctioning software. There was then the added step of communicating the issue effectively and troubleshooting.
Benefits of Automated Testing
Automated tests vary greatly. They can be as simple as the “letters into a phone number field” mentioned above, or they can be more complex with multiple steps such as filling data into fields on form, simulating the click of the submit button, then ensuring that expected values have persisted in the database. In a more sophisticated application, there might be dozens of complex interactions between components.
The advantages of automated testing when building software include:
- Preventing problems, and identifying problems that do occur
- Early detection of software regressions (bugs elsewhere in the code)
- Tests not only detect bugs, but aid in finding where they live
- Software is created more stable at the onset
- Non-working software is not released to the end user
- Tests can be run quickly
- Many variations of test data can be run on complex systems
- These variations can be run without human effort or time
- Improved development process and experience for developer
- Upgrades to underlying frameworks (the “scaffolding”) become less painful, and are often more efficient
- Code refactoring can be done safely
- Junior developers can be given more freedom to implement features
- These may contribute to a project staying on schedule and budget
Weighing Automated Testing’s Benefits: Things To Know
Automated software tests mean fewer “gotchas” and offer peace of mind. They are a great indicator of software health and are a long-term, foundational investment. You will sleep better at night knowing that your investment has been put to the test and “returned green,” or passed.
It’s important to ensure the partner you choose uses today’s best practices, including automated testing. It’s also important to be aware that automated tests take time to write, so they do add some overhead to the project cost in developer time. Generally this upfront cost is mitigated by the fact you save a tremendous amount of time and money in the end.
At Praxent, we implement automatic acceptance tests for every user story, as well as a supplement for any trouble areas. Ready to get started on a new development project? Contact us today to see how we can help.