A Beginner’s Guide to Automated Testing

As you (hopefully) already know, we’ve recently launched Qucate, a test management platform for functional software. Qucate focuses on manual testing, which has major differences from automated testing. In this blog, we’re going to provide you with a beginner’s guide to automated testing, which requires less human interaction.  

What is automated testing?

Automated testing is the process of testing various components of software with little to no human intervention. Essentially, it makes sure that every aspect of a software’s design works without someone spending hours in front of a computer performing manual tests.

This type of testing is beneficial for large organisations who operate in highly competitive global markets. The challenges they face have grown in size and scope, as operations have expanded, and it has never been more important to get high-quality software to market quickly and consistently (it would also help them keep a competitive advantage!).

This is where automated testing can make a strong impact! Automation software is used to run various tests which evaluate the quality and performance of the software as it’s being developed. Normally, it’s expected to produce higher quality software at a much faster rate than manual testing, but each type of testing has it’s strengths and weaknesses.

Is there a process?

Automated testing improves your quality assurance processes dramatically, saving you time and money, and ultimately leading to higher-quality products. But you can’t just dive in and expect the automation to produce the desired results! You need a clear process in place if you want your releases to go as smooth as possible (and who doesn’t?).

The process in your organisation may look a little bit like this:

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - What is automated testing? Image showing the testing process and automated testing framework

Wait... what is the automated testing framework?

The automated testing framework is a set of guidelines for developing and designing test cases and will assist you in making better use of resources.

Here are the most common types of automated testing frameworks:

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image showing three arrows to describe a linear framework

Linear Framework

A linear automated testing framework (also known as a record-and-playback framework) removes the need to write any custom code. Instead, you’ll record each step (such as navigation, user inputs and interactions) whilst using specialised tools to capture the scenario under test. Your recorded scenarios can then be ‘played back’ to repeat the testing process.

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image showing four boxes to describe a modular framework

Modular Framework

To implement a modular automated testing framework, you’ll divide the application that’s being tested into separate units, functions, or sections, each of which will be tested independently. After breaking the application down into individual modules, you’ll then create a test script for each part and then combine them to build larger tests by hierarchy. These larger groups of tests will start to represent different test scenarios.

Building an abstraction layer is a key strategy for using the modular framework, so that changes made in individual sections do not affect the overarching module.

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image showing four connected boxes to describe a library architecture framework

Library Architecture Framework

The library architecture automated testing framework is based on the modular framework, but it has a few advantages. Rather than dividing the application that’s being tested into various scripts, similar tasks within the scripts are identified and later grouped by function, so that the application is eventually broken down by common objectives.

These functions are saved in a library and can be accessed by the test scripts as needed.

What are the different types of automated testing?

Before you start implementing automated testing into your QA department, you should know the different types and how comprehensive they are.  

Generally, there are two types of automated testing, and we’re going to use the following images when discussing the example of testing that are suited for automation. 

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image that shows two cogs and a magnifying glass to show functional testing

Functional testing examines each feature of the software and can be done manually.

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image that shows a gauge and a magnifying glass to show non-functional testing

Non-functional testing examines aspects such as security, data storage and performance and is more automated.

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image that shows two cogs, a gauge and a magnifying glass to show functional and non-functional testing

Many different types of testing fall into the above two categories, and some may overlap.

The following are examples of testing that are well suited for automation:

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image that shows two cogs and a magnifying glass to show functional testing

Unit testing

A unit is the smallest testable component of an application, such as a field or button. Unit testing validates that each software component works or behaves as expected. It’s the first stage of testing, and while it’s typically done manually, it can be automated.

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image that shows two cogs and a magnifying glass to show functional testing

Smoke testing

Smoke testing determines the stability of a build. It verifies that all the critical features work so that the programme can withstand further testing. The name is derived from the idea that these tests ensure the program won’t catch fire.

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image that shows two cogs and a magnifying glass to show functional testing

Integration testing

Integration testing makes sure that software components or functions interact together as expected. This is particularly important when working with third-party APIs and may relate to capturing data or processing a payment.

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image that shows two cogs, a gauge and a magnifying glass to show functional and non-functional testing

Regression testing

Regression testing checks if a new feature breaks existing core functionality. Commonly, regression testing will follow the full end-to-end process of your product or system and may include creating a user, creating a customer, adding stock and pricing, and making a purchase.

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image that shows two cogs and a magnifying glass to show functional testing

API testing

The API links all the systems needed for your software to function correctly. It is usually tested after software development to ensure that everything is working as intended.

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image that shows a gauge and a magnifying glass to show non-functional testing

Security testing

Security testing inspects everything for security flaws to make sure that they can’t be exploited.

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image that shows a gauge and a magnifying glass to show non-functional testing

Performance testing

Performance testing is used to evaluate how the system performs under expected workloads and is designed to make sure your system can cope during busy periods. Software vendors sometimes need to comply with non-functional requirements relating to performance.

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image that shows two cogs and a magnifying glass to show functional testing

Acceptance testing

Acceptance testing evaluates changes with a primary goal of determining whether the system complies with the business requirements and whether it is suitable for delivery.

A Beginner's Guide to Automated Testing - Image that shows two cogs, a gauge and a magnifying glass to show functional and non-functional testing

UI testing

UI testing is intended to closely resemble a typical user experience. It ensures that the final product that users interact with functions as intended.

What are the benefits of automated testing, and the drawbacks?

While manual testing has its place in quality assurance testing (QA testing), automation has taken over significant elements of quality assurance due to the numerous benefits it provides, such as:

  • Cost savings and efficiency: Test automation identifies common application bugs and faults quickly, speeding up the process and lowering the overall cost of developing the final product. It reduces QA process times by up to 80%, resulting in a shorter lead time.
  • Faster testing cycles and feedback: Manual testing for new features can take a long time because it requires a lot of human intervention. If you don’t need human intervention and can automate testing then it will shorten your feedback cycle, therefore speeding up the testing process.
  • Increased accuracy and more consistent results: Even the most experienced testing engineers can make mistakes (it’s human error!), especially in complex cases. In contrast, automated tests are more accurate because they are run the same way every time.
  • Increased and broader test coverage: New tests can be written and added to the testing suite using automation. This improves test coverage, allowing you to verify more features and facilitating the development of high-quality software.
  • Significantly faster than manual testing: Sometimes, manual testing is necessary. However, automated testing means fewer man-hours spent on feature verification. The team can use that time to focus on other important aspects of product development and quality assurance.
  • It makes the previously impossible, possible: There are many things that manual testing simply cannot do, but automated testing can. Such as, simulating hundreds of thousands of virtual users interacting with the product simultaneously. On the other side, there is also sides of manual testing that cannot be automated, for example, two-factor authentication or CAPTCHA submissions.

Test automation does however have its own drawbacks, which I will explore below:

  • Time required for development: The first-time you develop testing scripts will be a time-consuming process!
  • Debugging scripts is difficult: Not only is debugging difficult, but any errors in the testing script can have serious consequences.
  • Costly tools and labour: Specialised automated software tools are expensive, especially if you have a bespoke platform. Hiring automated QA engineers is also more expensive than hiring manual QA engineers.
  • The test scripts require support and maintenance: As conditions change, coding within the product will need to be modified and re-tested, so that it continues to work properly. Whilst existing automated test cases are intended to prevent regressions, these test cases need constant support and maintenance to remain effective.
  • Which tasks should be automated: Not all testing scenarios can be automated and some will need to be manually tested. Automation is best suited for high-risk, repetitive, tedious, or time-consuming testing scenarios.
  • Unrealistic expectations: When you expect too much from something, you set goals that are far beyond what is possible. Create expectations based on actual archived relevant data. Realistic expectations will yield better results overall.

Organisations can struggle to identify the best areas to automate for the best results; they can set unrealistic goals, and they can overlook the ongoing importance of manual testing.

However, automated testing has a lot to offer and when implemented properly, and as part of a larger picture, it is a prominent feature of quality assurance. It’s also critical in assisting organisations in effectively implementing continuous improvement and development strategies.

What about the stuff I can't automate?

In today’s dynamic environment, the benefits of test automation far outweigh the drawbacks, making a strong case for businesses to automate.

However, to cover the situations where test automation isn’t the right fit for your organisation or your organisation still relies on manual testing, we offer Qucate to bridge the gap.

Qucate allows you to create fully audited test plans for compliance, visibility, and transparency, whilst improving quality and test coverage. Head to our Qucate page for more information and to start your free 30-day trial, with no credit card details required!

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