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What is Smoke Testing in Software QA?

When it comes to testing, the first step is identifying an approach. There are many software testing strategies, such as sanity testing, regression testing, acceptance testing, and so on. Each of them has a primary objective. One such strategy is smoke testing. Let’s look at what smoke testing involves and how it can help you optimize your QA process.

What is smoke testing?

Consider the example of cooking a dish. You have added all the ingredients and cooked it to the best of your abilities. However, you might want to give it a taste before serving – to check if it is cooked properly and if the taste is up to your expectations.

In the example above, you would perform smoke testing (no pun intended!) to assess if the dish is ready. The main objective of smoke testing in software is to verify if the developed software application is stable and without any major defects – before it is taken further into the testing cycle. Smoke testing is a part of acceptance testing and is usually done right after the build is ready and before getting further into testing.

The term was coined from the age-old practice of checking for smoke to appear once a hardware device, like a television, was turned on for the first time. This concept from the electrical and mechanical industries has been adopted in the software industry. Instead of actual smoke, you are supposed to look for critical issues in the build. If any critical issues are present, continuing testing for more specific aspects is pointless, and the build is rejected.

Why is smoke testing the first step?

Smoke testing is performed to verify if the application’s build is further testable. Hence this exercise is also sometimes termed build verification testing.

With complex software applications like e-commerce portals, banking applications, etc., engaging the entire QA team to validate every build with full force is a waste of time and resources. Especially if the build is unstable or faulty, to begin with, there is a bigger chance that bugs will be identified across the floor by all QA teams. The smoke testing suite is meant to be small enough to take a bare minimum amount of time necessary to verify the core functionality.

Consider the scenario where the build for an e-commerce website was not smoke tested in advance and becomes available for any of the following testing stages, e.g., regression. The QA team might spend hours full-force testing a new feature, only to discover that the checkout process is failing – meaning the entire build is deemed broken.

Advantages of performing smoke testing

Opting for smoke testing can give you the following benefits:
  • It helps detect blockers and critical issues with a particular build version at the earliest stages. This reduces cost and effort due to early detection. Additionally, a smoke test can also help you minimize integration risks.
  • Allows for conserving precious QA bandwidth by assessing whether the build version is ready for in-depth testing. Before starting intense testing exercises like regression testing or user acceptance testing, having the system vetted is a great way to operate efficiently.
  • Performing smoke testing is relatively fast and easy due to the nature and lower number of test cases involved. If the test cases are automated, they can be directly triggered after the build completion.
  • Smoke testing can be performed either manually or via automation, making it a flexible approach.

How to identify smoke testing scenarios?

When identifying scenarios for smoke testing, make sure you pick those cases or workflows that are inherently crucial to your application. For example, if you have a checkout portal, you need to check the flow of being able to add a product to the cart, check it out, see the payment gateway, and receive a success message once checkout is complete. Any finer validations, such as (for example) validating whether the success message text got localized based on the user’s location, will typically not be a part of smoke tests.

Some cases that you ought to consider when building your smoke testing suite are as follows:
  • Check whether the correct build is made available and the environment is operational.
  • Creation of new users, if that is a possibility in your application.
  • Check login and logout functionality.
  • Depending on your application’s purpose, any business-critical scenarios should be verified. These scenarios will vary depending on the industry and your product.
  • So if the application allows you to add products to the cart and ship, then the end-to-end flow should be tested. However, do remember that these cases are not meant to be granular; the goal is to locate critical-level issues.
  • System integrations should be considered if you have any. For example, if purchasing a product through your application calls a third-party payment gateway, check this flow via smoke testing. 
  • To check if data gets updated properly in the database, do try to add, edit and delete records as a part of your testing.
  • Finally, if there are any widely used sections or workflows in your application, cover those too. For example, if your application supports a page bookmarking functionality and you know that it is used a lot by your customers, then it is a good idea to consider that use case as a part of smoke testing.

Methods to perform smoke testing

There are multiple ways to organize your smoke testing efforts.

Manual smoke testing

Smoke tests are usually documented and scripted since they need to be repeated often, typically for every build. The QA team identifies these crucial test cases, which, if verified, will ensure that the build is stable. These cases are then executed after every build by the QA team.

Manual testing is usually the easiest way to get started with testing, and it might still be the preferred method for startups or any teams where the product is under rapid development. For any stable products, however, automated or hybrid approaches will suit better.

Automated smoke testing

We know that smoke testing needs to happen after every build deployment. Thus, doing this repetitive task manually can be painstaking, time-consuming, and prone to human error. Having an automation suite to tackle smoke testing is the way to go. Once smoke tests are run via automation, they can also be integrated with the CI/CD pipelines so that these tests are triggered after every application build. If you intend to follow this approach, then make sure to pick an automation tool that is compatible with your framework, reliable, and doesn’t require a lot of test maintenance.

Hybrid smoke testing

Here the testing happens using both manual and automated efforts. Through this approach, you can leverage the benefits of automation as well as manual testing methods. For example, your automation tool might not support some of the test cases.

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have the entire smoke test suite automated since that will save the team a lot of time in the long run.

How does testRigor help with smoke testing?

If you wish to adopt automated smoke testing, then testRigor is an excellent option. It allows you to write your test cases in plain English. It also supports direct integrations with many issue and bug tracking systems, CI/CD tools, and more. There is no infrastructure setup required, and the initial setup is extremely simple. Its AI-powered engine interprets your English commands and executes them.

The tool offers great reporting capabilities, which come in handy in identifying issues. Screenshots are taken at every step when any test case is executed, giving you a clear analysis of each executed step. It also has a provision for plugins that help you record your test scenarios.

Conclusion

Product quality is of utmost importance when it comes to any competitive market. Thus having a solid testing strategy in place is imperative for an organization’s success. Smoke testing is the first and fastest way to assess if the build is stable enough for any deeper testing. For the next testing steps, consider looking into this article.