What is QA Automation? Types, Tools & Process
Every piece of software needs to be rigorously tested before it reaches the market; otherwise, it would risk anything from minor bugs to significant security vulnerabilities. However, the pressure is ever-growing to deliver software to market faster than ever and to release more frequent updates to Web and Mobile apps to keep up with customer demand.
To continually test their latest software more effectively and frequently than manual testers can, many companies rely on quality assurance (QA) automation.
Two types of testing exist in the software world—manual and automated. Some types of invaluable manual testing can't be automated, such as discovery and usability testing. You can manually do other testing, like regression and functional testing. Still, it's a wasteful practice for humans to keep doing the same thing repeatedly. These kinds of repetitive tests lend themselves to test automation with excellent results.
Automatically running tests, managing test data, and utilizing results to improve software quality continually is called Test Automation. It primarily focuses on quality assurance; however, it requires the whole team's dedication, from business analysts to developers and DevOps engineers; obtaining the most out of test automation takes the inclusion of everyone.
There are many different kinds of tests, but not all testing situations should be automated; therefore, a test needs to meet some criteria—otherwise, it might cost more than it saves. After all, one primary goal of automation is to save time, effort, and money.
There's no point in automating a test that can only be run once; a repeatable test has the following three phases:
- Set up the test, data, and environment needed, as we want to put the environment into a consistent state.
- Execute the feature and log the results for further analysis, for example, attempting to create an account or add a user.
- Clean up test data and the environment; once the test is complete, the environment should be returned to the base state.
A determinant function, for example, a mathematical addition, is one where the outcome is the same every time it's executed with the same input, which is also true for tests that can be automated.
On the other hand, the software may use such a high number of variable inputs that it's challenging to have the same result over time. Some variables may even be random, making it challenging to specify the precise outcome.
Other features of an application, for example, creating a new user, may be additive and add to the number of users. While we know that the number of users should only grow by one, concurrently running tests in parallel may cause unexpected results. Environment isolation can prevent the occurrence of false positives.
You cannot automate matters of opinion; user feedback is essential, but it just can't be automated; this is why usability testing, beta testing, and so forth shine.
QA automation explained
QA automation refers to using a different piece of software to run tests on the software that you're developing. In the past, human testers had to accomplish many of these duties, using some technology to lessen repetition. However, automated testing can address many of these tasks and even perform more advanced tests that aren't possible manually.
Some of the several ways of incorporating QA automation into your workflow include:
- Your in-house development team creates tests from scratch.
- When working with teams of non-coders, tools designed for codeless test automation are used to create tests.
- You are working with a third-party QA service to develop tests for your application.
Continuous integration, which translates to software being developed, tested, and deployed multiple times daily rather than in stages, makes Automated QA testing vital for companies. Software testing detects serious bugs, security vulnerabilities, and user experience issues, such as glitches that only appear in specific use cases.
How does QA automated testing work?
While the testing process can be automated, writing the script that performs the test still requires some programming understanding.
Development teams usually write the code for the QA team; however, codeless testing software allows teams to write tests using keywords.
Automated QA testing is divided into two main branches:
- GUI (graphical user interface) testing is a type of QA testing that replicates the user experience, for example, performing a series of clicks and keystrokes to ensure the application works as designed while recording any irregularities for review by the team. While similar to the kinds of tests that could be run manually, automation speeds up the process and eliminates any variabilities caused by human error.
- API testing focuses on end-to-end transactions used to test the application programming interface that must be tested at the message layer. It may include testing response time and format, how the software handles boundary conditions and edge cases, and security attack responses.
The smartest thing your team can do for your application
The main benefit of QA automation is speed; being one of the critical tools that startups and SaaS businesses must use to get their products to market faster, with fewer bugs and less downtime.
With traditional software development models, coding and testing processes are treated as separate stages of development, causing it to take longer for developers to recognize a problem and change course to fix it.
With QA automation, testing occurs much more frequently, making it easier to discover issues and respond to user feedback. It makes it possible to test individual components one at a time, rolling out updates without returning to the designing phase of development.
Incorporating automated testing can help your team anticipate problems and write more robust code.
Automated testing requires less time and money than manual QA testing by paying developers or testing companies to write and execute the tests instead of paying someone to perform every test manually.
In particular, teams benefit from automated regression testing, which ensures that a piece of software still works after changes have been made. Any changes to the product, from software patches to enhancements, can create new issues or cause old ones to resurface.
Automated testing allows teams to record a test that locates a problem and then re-run the same test with each iteration of the software to ensure that it doesn't happen again.
As software becomes more complex, automated QA testing allows companies to deliver a high-quality product without slowing down due to technical issues. Automated testing allows for creating tests based on product acceptance criteria and testing your application against worse-case scenarios, such as DDoS attacks and cross-site scripting.
Types of software tests
The specific QA tests you need to run will depend on the type of software and your development methods. A cloud app that relies on continuous integration may require more complex testing than internal software developed using the waterfall model. Some of the standard tests you'll encounter include the following:
Unit tests are among the most accessible QA tests to automate since they involve testing minor pieces of your software application or units.
With unit testing, diagnosing a bug is easy because you can run one of these specific tests to pinpoint where the issue is.
Typically run locally and not intended to test components linked to a database or remote web services, Unit tests are often designed by the same programmers who wrote the code for the unit. In test-driven development (TDD), each code section is subjected to repeated tests and only added to the software when it passes.
Unit test suites can also be automated and are designed to test a single function in isolation and usually run on a build server. They don't depend on databases, external APIs, or file storage, as they must be fast and designed not to test the external dependencies but to test the code only.
Integration tests test multiple components simultaneously, such as whether or not the software can connect to the right web services, and as such, are a step up from unit tests.
An integration test can test a customer action, such as placing an online order, to see whether specific steps, for example, sending a confirmation email, are working correctly.
Integration tests are vital to ensuring that your app or software works as intended; however, they cost more time and money to design and are executed at the code level rather than through the GUI.
Functional tests resemble integration tests, but while integration tests ensure that the components work, functional tests focus on ensuring the output is correct. They're referred to as black-box testing meaning that the internal systems are not evaluated, so the QA team doesn't need to know or understand the underlying code.
Integration tests present a different kind of challenge when it comes to automation. Since an integration test needs to interact with external dependencies, they're more delicate to set up. Often, it's best to create functional mockups of external resources, such as services and databases, especially when dealing with resources beyond your team's control.
If you, for example, have an online app that depends on a web service from a third party, your test may fail unexpectedly if the vendor's service is down or unreachable.
Does this mean your application is broken? It might, but the team should have enough control over the entire test environment to recreate each scenario in a controlled manner. Depending on an external factor to determine the outcome of your test scenario is not a good practice.
Smoke tests aren't meant to be all-out functional tests. They are usually performed after a deployment or maintenance window, ensuring that all services and dependencies are up and running. They can be run as part of an automated deployment or triggered through a manual step.
They're designed to test the stability of a build and whether or not the essential features are working so the build can move to more extensive testing. If critical components are not working correctly, the developers can troubleshoot the issues before spending more time testing them.
End-to-end tests are among the most comprehensive, requiring frequent maintenance and access to any relevant web services or databases.
However, they're crucial to ensuring that your entire application or system runs as expected, for example, verifying that online purchases are reflected in the company's CRM.
Performance tests are non-functional tests designed to benchmark a system's performance, such as verifying its speed or stability under high data loads. Many performance tests exist, but they all test some aspect of an application's agility and response.
Will it hold up to the extreme concurrency of users? Are we testing the system for high intensity? Or are we simply interested in response time under load? How about scalability? Is the application designed to scale up automatically?
Usually, these tests require emulating a massive number of users, cloud resources are available to help with this testing, but it's possible to use on-premises resources.
Finally, regression tests confirm that a change to the software hasn't introduced any new or previously known issues.
General Test Automation Process
The general test automation process has three significant steps: prepare, take action, and report results.
First, we must prepare the state, the test data, and the environment where tests occur. A typical prerequisite is a specific environment state before an operation occurs, like the execution of a function or the usage of a feature; this typically requires some setup, as either the application will need to be in a specific state, data will need to be manipulated, or both!
Once the state and environment are in the predefined condition, it's time to take action! The QA team will run the test by calling an application's API or user interface or directly executing the code. While the test driver is responsible for "driving" the tests, the test management system coordinates everything else, including building reports.
Results are recorded by the test automation application or system and compiled into a report. These results may come in several different formats and even create problem tickets or bugs in a work tracking system.
The direct result, however, is a pass or fail. Usually, each test scenario has a green or red indicator to indicate pass or fail.
Tests can sometimes be inconclusive or fail to execute entirely for some reason. If and when this happens, the automation system will have a complete output log for development teams to review, helping them track down the issue. Ideally, the QA team will be able to replay the scenario once they've put a fix in place.
Open source QA testing tools
Plenty of open-source tools allow teams to create automated test scripts if they're interested in doing their QA testing. Some of these tools include:
Selenium, one of the most popular open-source testing tools, works with multiple browsers and OS systems while offering plug-ins for various programming languages. Regression tests can be created on your browser using Selenium WebDriver or Selenium Grid to run your tests at scale across multiple machines.
Appium is a popular testing tool for mobile apps and native apps on Android, iOS, and Windows while also boasting support for web and hybrid apps.
Cucumber, designed for Behavior Driven Development (BDD), this tool allows non-technical customers to help define how an application or service is expected to behave.
Benefits of Professional QA Automation
A test automation system coordinates all aspects of testing, including managing test data, test execution, and result tracking and reporting. Test automation is the next logical step for teams overwhelmed by the burden of repeating the same manual tests that should be automated.
Not every company wants to do its testing, and hiring a team of professional QA testers to get it right is an option too.
Professional QA Teams have experience developing and testing various software and systems, providing customized QA workflows for web apps, mobile apps, cloud-based platforms, online stores, and more.
In conclusion, test automation helps improve quality with speed, even if only some testing scenarios can be automated. There's an investment involved. With so many types of tests, it's crucial to get the right mix for your company.
Whether you need a series of integration tests or a one-time end-to-end test, we can help you out! Drop us a line here to learn how we can automate your QA testing routine today!