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What Is Test Automation?: A Quick Guide to What You Need to Know

One of the hallmarks of a modern, high-performing software development team is how well the team handles testing, which also includes test automation. However, most teams have some room to improve, and many of them are still uncertain about what test automation is and how they should be implementing it. To help your team feel confident about answering the question “What is test automation?” our team at testRigor has put together this quick guide to get you up to speed.  

What is test automation? The High-Level Explanation

Software test automation is the process of creating and maintaining automated tests to measure the behavior of the software relative to the requirements – in a way that the tests can be run automatically without needing manual work on every execution. 

The test automation process also yields important insights and data that the software team should use to make well-informed decisions on how to further develop and maintain the software over time. 

Why is test automation so important?

Test automation is critical in the modern software development world. Most modern software projects have a tremendous opportunity to apply test automation vigorously across the project to achieve profound benefits. 

Manual software testing for certain types of testing is highly inefficient and quickly becomes unsustainable over time and at scale. While some portion of testing may be better suited for manual testing, automated testing usually ends up being able to cover more of the project in a more thorough and frequently repeatable way. 

The benefits of test automation are many. Here are just some of the highlights:

  • Automated tests can be run frequently without much additional cost or effort compared to manual testing
  • Automated tests scale more efficiently to cover more of the software project with less effort
  • Automated tests allow team members to spend more time focusing on solving other problems that they might otherwise not be able to spend time on.
  • Automated tests remove a lot of the risk of human error that can occur during manual testing. 
  • Since automated tests can be highly efficient, they improve the scalability of the software project over time.

When to automate? The criteria for test automation

Test automation is not suitable for every test or every situation. As we alluded to above, sometimes manual testing may be necessary or preferred. 

At this point, you may be wondering when it makes sense to use test automation rather than manual testing. While you should consider each scenario you face to check the specific circumstances of the issue to be solved, there are primary areas that you can check most of the time to get started with making this decision. 

First, software teams looking to use automated testing usually consider whether the test is repeatable. Usually, this means examining if the test is likely to be the exact same and run in the same way each time it is applied or if it needs to be different or adjusted every time it runs or at least most of the time. Suppose the test would require manual adjustment to the parameters during execution. That usually means that it’s less suitable for automation since it already requires manual intervention. 

On the other hand, tests that are highly repeatable and can be run in the exact same way every time they are applied are excellent candidates for test automation. A repeatable test should usually consist of setting up the test, including any related data and environmental configurations, executing the test function, measuring the test results, and cleaning up the data and environment. If your test meets these criteria, it’s likely the best time to automate. 

In addition to being repeatable, teams also often look for determinant tests. This essentially means that the outcome is the same every time the test is run, with the same output. The concept is similar to repeatability but in terms of the consistency of the results. 

Since there are usually many variables involved, the software can produce inconsistent results most of the time. However, there are some ways that software teams can work around this challenge to still automate tests, like utilizing a test harness and isolating tests to avoid parallel tests influencing one another to produce unexpected results. 

Lastly, automated tests should be as objective as possible and not opinionated. So while manual UI testing may be better suited for uncovering aesthetic feedback from a manual tester, trying to gain similar findings from automated tests would be very difficult and probably not worth the effort. 

The process behind test automation

In terms of how to implement test automation, it usually comes down to a few key steps. 

The first step is to prepare the state, test data, and environment where the test should be applied. Usually, this is designed into the automated process to take these actions as part of preparing to run an automated test suite each time.

Next, the test driver runs the test. You can do this via calling an API or running code directly by interacting with the UI of the software project. The test management system coordinates the entire process across all steps.

Finally, get the test results for each test. Usually, the results include a concise pass or fail status, which the team should regularly monitor to maintain the health of the automated test suite. The end result of the test automation process should also include the ability to produce log outputs for the software team to investigate – in cases where tests may fail or be inconclusive and require examination. 

What are the various types of test automation?

Like with all software testing in general, there is a wide range of test types within test automation. Most of these test types can also be automated and aren’t usually inherently impossible to consider for automation. 

Here is a quick rundown of some of the most commonly discussed automated test types:

  • Unit tests are designed to test a single function in isolation, targeting just a specific component or module. These tests are often simple by design and great candidates to start looking for automation opportunities. Software developers, not QA, typically write unit tests.
  • Integration tests, sometimes called end-to-end tests, test components together as a combined set. Since integration tests include external dependencies, they tend to be more complex to set up in an automated way. That said, teams usually end up simply creating simulated external resources, which still provides a lot of value in automating the test. 
  • Automated acceptance tests aim to take acceptance criteria and turn them into automated tests, which can also serve as the basis for automated regression testing – after the software changes are tested for acceptance and released into production. Sometimes, this is driven by test writing practices like those seen in a behavior-driven development (BDD). There has even emerged a term called automated acceptance test-driven development (AATDD), explicitly referring to this process. 
  • Regression tests can be automated either alongside automated acceptance tests or separately. Regression testing checks the software to make sure it is functioning to meet the previously established and fulfilled requirements that have been addressed in past software project updates. 
  • Smoke tests are used to ensure that all services and dependencies are operating as needed. Perform these tests after deployment or a maintenance window.
  • Performance tests are used to check how the software system functions under pressure. This can mean more concurrent utilization than expected, a high volume of data saved into the database, etc. Usually, this requires some level of simulation or automation of the performance strain: for example, simulating thousands of users simultaneously running some functions rather than trying to find thousands of humans to do so manually. 
  • Code analysis tests are usually run when developers check in code and can help analyze code quality, style, form, and potential security issues. 

The next stage in automated testing

At testRigor, we’re pushing the boundaries of test automation by introducing AI-powered test creation and maintenance to our customers out in the market. In addition, our tools for translating tests written in plain English into executable tests further streamline the software testing process for our customers, making their automated testing process even more scalable and efficient. We’ve got a ton of other exciting ways that we are helping software teams succeed with their automated software testing. Be sure to reach out to us if you are interested in learning more or need help with your software test automation.