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What is a Test Environment?: A Quick-Start Guide

What is a Test Environment?

Ensuring your test environment is set up correctly is crucial to the success of any software company. Thus, it is very important that you and your team have a firm understanding of what exactly a test environment is. To help you answer this question, our team at testRigor has put together this quick-start guide to get you up to speed.

What is a test environment, and why is it so important to have one?

Test environments are used by software teams as a sandbox, where any new changes are being implemented and tested before releasing them to customers. The aim of a test environment is to be as close as possible to your production environment each time you need to run tests on your software project. 

For this reason, many testing teams see the test environment as a very important tool in their process. A high priority is placed on maintaining the test environment to ensure it is producing accurate results with high confidence. 

Having one or multiple test environments is vital since it allows to test any changes or new features in a safe place without potentially breaking anything in production. 

Depending on the company, there might be a different structure and different naming for all of the pre-production environments. Sometimes it can be just one, called a test/staging/release environment. It can also be a lot more specific with development environments used first to deploy and test any small pieces of code, that are later being assembled on a staging/release environment preceding production. Regardless of how these environments are being called within the company, they all serve the same purpose – to make new feature releases and bug fixes as safe as possible.

All of that said, test environments can still have differences compared to production because the purpose is to test changes that are being considered for a possible new release. Furthermore, a test environment is often used for testing specific components within a software application, so it may diverge to some extent from the production environment in some cases. 

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Having one or multiple test environments is vital since it allows to test any changes or new features in a safe place without potentially breaking anything in production. 

Best practices for setting up a test environment

Within the overall goal of setting up an environment that is as close to identical to production as possible, there are a number of steps that usually go into setting it up.

Usually, you’ll need to generate test data and set up the process for getting the data into the test environment. Therefore, you’ll also need to set up a database and configure this environment to match production as closely as possible. You’ll also need to make sure any hardware, network, operating system, as well as connected databases and microservices, are configured to match production as closely as possible. 

It’s also essential to document the setup process of the test environment in a way that is clear and easy to understand for anyone who needs to re-create the test environment or create their own instance of it. 

What is a staging environment, and how is it different from a test environment?

Some people get confused about the difference between a test environment and a staging environment, but they serve different functions which are important to the software project.

In software projects, a staging environment is typically meant to be an exact replica of the production environment that hosts the live version of the software application. Staging environments are not meant to test changes to individual small components of the software project, instead, they may be used for end-to-end or performance testing to ensure everything is working across the entire software application as a whole. For these reasons, it is critically important for the staging environment to be identical to the production environment. 

The staging environment can also often be an ideal place for performance and stress testing of your systems and applications since it’s still a safe place to perform this type of testing without affecting real users, while still providing test results that are valid for production. 

One aspect that is the same across staging environments, test environments, and production environments is that documentation of the design and setup of the environments is extremely important. Without documentation of the environments and how they are set up, you may end up with variations in how your staging and testing environments are implemented compared to the production environment.

Leveraging automation to manage multiple environments for testing

You may be thinking that with all of these environments running across your systems, the organization of these environments can be challenging. However, it’s actually not too bad as long as you have the right tools and processes in place. 

Automation is an increasingly popular way to make managing your environments as streamlined as possible. Build and deployment automation can ensure consistent creation and management of these environments. Consistency is crucial to producing accurate test results, as we mentioned earlier. 

Popular tools for continuous integration (CI) like Jenkins are a must for teams looking to automate as much as possible. Jenkins also helps with the running of tests and automating the deployment process. While Jenkins is one of the most popular free and open-source automation servers in the software industry today, there are other tools to choose from. 

Again, documentation also helps a lot with managing across your multiple environments. While CI tools like Jenkins can help standardize the builds of environments across your project, documentation can help explain the why behind the designs.

Another commonly used tool for testing independent pieces of code is Docker, which can create virtual OS-level containers to facilitate the reproducibility of environments such that they are always created with the same configuration and behave the same way no matter how many times the creation process is run. It is commonly used as a more cost-effective solution to test smaller code pieces before merging them onto a testing or staging environment.

What’s next?

Once your environments are solid and ready for consistent and accurate testing, you’ll want to extend the concepts of automation and reproducibility to your actual test suites and run your tests. This is where tools like the ones provided by testRigor provide a huge help. 

The automated testing tools provided by testRigor draw on artificial intelligence to learn from how users are utilizing your software to help ease automating the test creation and execution processes. testRigor also provides tools to help translate tests written in plain English into executable software tests in a standardized way, to help maximize the consistency of tests and test results. 

Using a platform like testRigor to bring the power of AI to your test automation process is the perfect complement to tools like Jenkins and Docker, and is often the final piece of the puzzle for software teams looking to implement a fully streamlined, highly automated testing process across their software projects with powerful results. If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to reach out to our team to get the conversation started, and we’ll be happy to help.