In software development, testing and quality assurance are the processes that ensure software meets performance and usability requirements. Testing and QA can also play a role in identifying software requirements in the first place.
Testing and quality assurance have long been considered in software development. Over the past decade, however, the increasing speed and complexity of software delivery cycles, along with higher quality expectations from users, have led to major changes in the way many projects address software testing.
This article explains how software testing and quality assurance works today. It also describes key practices for optimizing testing and identifies key methodologies that inform modern software testing routines.
How does testing and quality assurance work?
There are many ways to implement testing and quality assurance in a software project. In all cases, however, the goal of modern software testing and quality assurance is to ensure that a consistent and systematic process is in place to assess whether the software meets quality requirements throughout the software development life cycle.
In small projects, software testing is often done by the developers themselves. Larger projects or organizations typically have a dedicated QA team that is responsible for test design, execution, and evaluation.
The role of test automation
Most software tests can be run manually. Engineers can review code or manually dig into applications to assess whether quality requirements have been met. Historically, manual testing was at the heart of QA.
But this approach, of course, is time-consuming and impractical on a large scale. You can’t really do unit or integration testing manually when you have new code written every hour. You also cannot realistically perform acceptance and usability testing based on large numbers of users if you do it manually.
For these reasons, most software testing today is automated. Using specific testing and quality assurance frameworks, such as Selenium or Cucumber, engineers write tests that evaluate application code or functionality. Tests can be run automatically (and in many cases, in parallel), allowing a high volume of tests to be run in a short time. By extension, test automation allows teams to write and update code quickly without worrying about overlooking software quality issues.
In a world where developers often release application updates on a weekly or even daily basis, test automation has become essential to ensure that QA processes keep pace with the larger software development cycle.
‘Shift-Left’ and ‘Shift-Right’ test
Another change that has taken place over the past decade is the adoption of what is known as left and right shift testing.
Left-shift testing promotes test execution as early as possible in the software development lifecycle. The main purpose of left shift testing is to ensure that quality issues are detected early. Detecting problems early generally facilitates faster and easier resolution because developers won’t have to fix other parts of the application that were created to depend on the problematic part. If you find the problem while it’s still limited to a small code snippet, you can fix it without major code redesign.
The purpose of shift-right testing, on the other hand, is to improve teams’ ability to detect quality issues that have escaped previous testing. To do this, right-shift tests run tests against applications that have been deployed to production. It complements application observability and monitoring by providing another way to detect quality issues that may affect end users.
What are the benefits of testing and quality assurance?
The obvious benefit of embracing testing and quality assurance is that when testing is well designed and comprehensively executed, it greatly reduces the risk of introducing software quality issues into production environments.
Along the same lines, software testing and quality assurance improve developers’ ability to act quickly, as many programmers are forced to do today. Coders can build new features quickly, while trusting testing to catch issues that programmers have overlooked. That doesn’t mean that testing and quality assurance eliminates the need to follow best practices in app design and coding, but it does reduce the risks associated with coder oversights.
Testing and quality assurance also play a role in defining what software quality should mean in the context of a given application. In particular, usability and acceptance testing is a valuable way to gather user feedback on what they expect from an app and what features they use the most. This information can, in turn, indicate what tests the development team runs and what the tests verify.
Finally, a key benefit of modern testing and quality assurance techniques, which focus on test automation, is helping developers work efficiently at scale. When teams can run hundreds of tests automatically, they can update apps continuously without worrying that testing processes will cause delays in release schedules.
What are the disadvantages of testing?
The single major potential downside of software testing and quality assurance is that, when poorly planned and implemented, it can waste time and resources without providing meaningful insights into software quality.
There are three specific risks to consider:
- Poor test design: If you don’t test the right things, your tests consume development resources without providing much value. This is why it is essential to define software quality requirements before writing tests.
- Slow test execution: Tests that take a long time to run can delay the deployment of application updates to production. Test automation greatly reduces this risk. The same goes for running tests in parallel (meaning running multiple tests at once).
- Poor test coverage: Tests that only assess the quality of applications under certain configurations or conditions may not accurately assess how end users will feel. For this reason, tests should be run in a variety of settings. For example, if you are testing a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application that users access through a web browser, it is important to test how the application behaves in different browser types, browser versions, and operating systems. operation.
These aren’t drawbacks of testing per se, but they are issues that arise when teams fail to properly plan and implement their testing routines. Unless you’re making major mistakes in this regard, there’s no reason not to have a software testing and quality assurance strategy in place. Indeed, not systematically testing software, contrary to the way teams approach testing, is the real risk.
Examples of quality assurance tests
There are a variety of types of quality assurance testing that teams typically perform. Here are the tests that are part of most QA routines (although many projects may run additional tests beyond those described below).
Unit tests are executed on small code bodies. They are usually run shortly after new code is written and before it is integrated into a larger code base. Unit testing typically focuses on detecting code quality issues that may cause code compilation to fail, or that could cause application performance or reliability issues.
Integration tests assess whether new code has been successfully integrated into a larger code base. They check for issues such as conflicts between new code and existing code.
Functional testing assesses the ability of new application features to meet basic business requirements. They usually focus on evaluating the presence of key features, although they usually don’t do more than that. Functional testing usually takes place immediately after a new release candidate of the application is compiled.
Acceptance testswhich also take place after a new application has been compiled, validate that features properly integrate with each other to ensure proper end-to-end functionality of an application.
Usability testing assesses how well app functionality meets user expectations. They often involve the automatic collection and evaluation of data on how test users interact with application functionality, but usability testing can also involve manual evaluation of individual user experiences. Usability testing is usually one of the last tests done before the app is released.
Performance and load tests
Developers or IT operations engineers can run performance or load tests before or after deploying applications to a production environment. The purpose of these tests is to gauge how quickly applications respond, especially under varying levels of user demand. Performance and load testing are useful to ensure software continues to meet usability goals throughout its lifecycle.
Regardless of the type of application a team is developing or the size and complexity of the application, testing and quality assurance play a key role in ensuring that the application does what it is supposed to do. . There are many types of tests you can run, and several test automation frameworks are available to help you run tests quickly. But whatever approach you take, the key is to make sure you have a consistent and systematic testing routine to minimize the risk of malware being deployed to your users.