What Is Automated Testing and How Does It Work? (With Example)

Software tester performing automated testing

In an age where digital products are the backbone of business operations, ensuring their reliability, functionality, and security has never been more important. Companies face mounting pressure to deliver flawless digital experiences amidst relentless competition and heightened user expectations. 

This blog post explores why automated testing is a necessity for companies seeking to thrive in the digital era. We delve into the main benefits and drawbacks of test automation, identify which test cases should be automated and why, provide a comparative table summarizing the key differences between manual testing and test automation, and look at an example of automated testing.

What is automated testing?

Automated testing is a software testing approach where the execution of test cases is automated using scripts and specialized tools like Jenkins, CircleCI, Travis-CI, GitLab CI/CD, GitHub Actions, Bamboo, and Azure Pipelines, just to name a few. This method involves writing scripts or using testing frameworks to simulate user interactions with a software application, such as clicking buttons, entering data, and verifying outcomes. The automated tests are designed to validate various aspects of the software's functionality, performance, and reliability.

Automated testing is widely used in software development practices, particularly in agile and DevOps environments, where there is a need for CI/CD and delivery. It helps teams maintain high standards of quality, improve test coverage, and accelerate the delivery of new features to customers.

Why is it important to do automated testing?

Automated testing is an important approach for several compelling reasons. Firstly, it significantly enhances efficiency by automating repetitive testing tasks, saving valuable time and resources that would otherwise be spent on manual testing. This efficiency boost allows development teams to focus more on innovation and delivering value to customers. 

Additionally, automated testing improves the reliability of software by providing consistent and repeatable test results, reducing the likelihood of human error, a common manual testing challenge. Furthermore, automated testing facilitates faster feedback loops, enabling teams to identify and address bugs early in the development process, thus minimizing the risk of costly fixes. Overall, automated testing plays a pivotal role in ensuring the quality, reliability, and timely delivery of software products, making it an indispensable practice in today's fast-paced software development landscape.

QA engineer performing software testing

Benefits of automated testing

Automated testing offers several key benefits:

  1. Increased efficiency. Automated testing speeds up the testing process by executing tests rapidly and consistently, reducing the time and effort required for manual testing.
  2. Improved accuracy. Automated tests follow predefined steps precisely, minimizing human errors and ensuring consistent test results.
  3. Enhanced test coverage. Automated tests can cover a wide range of test cases, including repetitive tasks, edge cases, and regression testing, leading to comprehensive test coverage.
  4. Faster time-to-market. Automated testing accelerates the software development lifecycle by quickly identifying defects and facilitating rapid feedback loops, allowing for faster release cycles and time-to-market.
  5. Facilitates continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD). Automated testing integrates with CI/CD pipelines, enabling continuous testing and delivery of software updates with confidence.
  6. Enables regression testing. Automated tests can be easily rerun to validate the stability of the application after code changes, ensuring that new updates do not introduce regressions or unintended side effects.
  7. Scalability. Automated testing can scale to handle large test suites and complex test scenarios, accommodating the needs of growing software projects and evolving requirements.
  8. Reusability. Automated test cases can be later reused across other releases, guaranteeing that they are consistently and frequently tested over time.

Read our case study to learn how TestDevLab helped i-Hub improve testing efficiency with test automation.

Test automation limits

When discussing the advantages of test automation, it's essential to consider drawbacks too. Despite its many benefits, test automation has limitations. However, whenever automated testing isn't the best solution, we recommend using manual testing instead. 

You might be interested in: Manual Testing Explained—What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Some of the limitations of test automation include:

1. Cost of implementation. Initially, setting up test automation can be costly, including the cost of tools, infrastructure, and skilled personnel required for implementation and maintenance.

2. Limited scope. Not all testing activities can be automated effectively. Certain types of testing, such as usability testing, exploratory testing, and various types of performance testing, may still require manual intervention.

3. False sense of security. Automated tests may provide a false sense of security if they are not properly designed or if they fail to cover critical scenarios. Over-reliance on automated testing without manual validation can lead to undetected defects slipping into production.

4. The complexity of test scripts. Developing and maintaining test automation scripts can be complex, especially for applications with dynamic user interfaces or complex business logic. Test scripts may require frequent updates to adapt to changes in the application.

5. Lack of human judgment. Automated tests lack human judgment and intuition, making them less effective in detecting certain types of defects that require human insight or creativity to identify.

6. Initial investment of time. It may take time to develop and implement automated tests, especially for large or legacy systems. The time investment required upfront can delay utilizing all the benefits of test automation.

7. Inability to detect visual defects. Automated tests may struggle to detect visual defects or layout issues in graphical user interfaces, requiring additional manual testing or specialized tools for visual validation.

8. Dependency on the environment. Automated tests may be sensitive to changes in the test environment, such as hardware configurations, network conditions, or third-party integrations, leading to test failures or false positives.

9. Skill dependency. Test automation requires specialized skills and expertise, including programming knowledge, familiarity with test automation frameworks, and an understanding of the application architecture. Companies may face challenges in finding and retaining skilled automation engineers.

It's always wise to double-check if your project would benefit from automated tests because in some cases, manual testing may be more beneficial. 

Types of automated testing

Person typing on laptop

There are many different types of automated testing. Here are the most commonly used ones:

Integration testing

Integration testing involves testing groups of integrated units or components to ensure they work together seamlessly. It verifies interactions, communication, and data exchange between these components, occurring after unit testing. Different integration testing approaches like top-down, bottom-up, or big bang can be used. Integration testing detects issues related to interfaces, communication protocols, and data flow early, ensuring the software functions correctly as a whole before deployment.

Smoke testing

Smoke testing is a preliminary testing phase in software development or hardware manufacturing where basic functionalities of the system are tested to ensure that it is stable for further testing. 

During smoke testing, testers execute predefined tests on the initial build of an application or system. The purpose is to check whether the critical features of the software work properly without delving into detailed testing. If the smoke test fails, we will highlight critical issues that need to be addressed before further testing can proceed. If the smoke test is passed, it indicates that the software is stable and ready for more comprehensive testing.

System testing

System testing is a comprehensive testing phase in the software development lifecycle where the entire integrated system is tested as a whole. It focuses on verifying that the system functions correctly and meets its specified requirements. Unlike unit testing, which tests individual components in isolation, system testing evaluates the behavior and performance of the entire system in various scenarios and environments.

During system testing, our testers execute test cases that cover a wide range of functionalities, including user interactions, data processing, error handling, and system integration. The goal is to identify any defects, inconsistencies, or deviations from the expected behavior of the system.

System testing can include different types of testing, such as functional testing, non-functional testing (e.g., performance testing, security testing), compatibility testing, and regression testing. It ensures that the software meets quality standards and is ready for deployment to end-users or customers.

Unit testing

Unit testing is a type of software testing where individual components or units of a software application are tested in isolation to ensure they perform as expected. These tests typically verify the correctness of small, specific units of code, such as functions or methods, by providing input and checking if the output matches the expected behavior. Unit tests help developers identify bugs early in the development process and provide a level of confidence that the code functions correctly. 

Sometimes, unit testing is confused with integration testing. However, there are some core differences and each serve distinct purposes, but both are crucial aspects of software development.

Regression testing

Regression testing is a type of software testing that verifies the impact of recent code changes on existing functionalities by re-running previously executed test cases. Its primary goal is to ensure software stability and performance after modifications, preventing regression defects that disrupt existing features or components. 

This type of testing can be manual or automated. Automated regression testing is advantageous for large-scale or frequently updated projects due to its efficiency. Conducting regression testing regularly throughout the software development lifecycle helps maintain overall quality and reliability while implementing new features and improvements.

API testing

API testing, also known as API-driven testing, is a type of software testing that focuses on testing the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) of an application. APIs serve as the communication channel between different software components or systems, allowing them to interact with each other.

API testing involves testing the functionality, performance, reliability, and security of APIs. Instead of testing the user interface (UI) of an application, API testing directly interacts with the APIs by sending requests and validating responses.

If you want to dig deeper into what API testing is and what the benefits and drawbacks are of using such an approach, take a look at our dedicated blog post: An Overview of API Testing: Types, Benefits and Drawbacks.

Model-based testing

Model-based testing (MBT) is a software testing technique that uses models to represent the desired behavior of the system under test (SUT) and automatically generates test cases from these models. The models can be created at various levels of abstraction, such as requirements, specifications, or system architecture.

GUI testing

Graphical user interface (GUI) testing is a type of software testing that focuses on evaluating the functionality, usability, and visual appearance of the graphical interface of an application. GUI testing involves interacting with the application's user interface elements, such as buttons, menus, forms, dialog boxes, and other graphical components, to ensure that they behave as expected and meet the specified requirements.

Which test cases should be automated?

Not everything should be automated, however, test cases with complex manual scenarios and extensive data requirements are prime candidates for automation. A test case should be automated if:

  • It will save a significant amount of time.
  • The tests are recurrent.
  • The tests exhibit stability, minimal risk, and are unlikely to undergo frequent changes.
  • The tests are susceptible to errors when performed manually.
  • The test experiences considerable downtime between steps

Following these criteria you not only facilitate getting strong ROI on your test automation but also set testing standards across the team and prioritize tests, increasing the likelihood of meeting release deadlines.

Automated testing vs. manual testing

It's worth highlighting that neither manual nor automated testing holds a clear advantage over the other, particularly when assessing elements such as project size, complexity, testing cadence, resource availability, and testing aims.

You might be interested in: Manual Testing vs. Test Automation: A Practical Guide on Choosing the Right Approach

While some clients opt for one testing approach or the other, in practice, a blend of both usually produces the best outcome. This is particularly true when, within one particular project, manual testing is chosen for exploratory and usability testing, while automation testing is used for repetitive and resource-intensive tasks.

Below we have summarized the fundamental differences between both approaches to help determine the most suitable one for your specific requirements. 

Testing Aspects Manual Testing Automated Testing
Accuracy Manual testing is less precise due to increased chances of human error, but excels in managing complex tests that require human reasoning and judgment. Automated testing tends to be more accurate and consistent, as it eliminates the potential for human error in test execution. However, lower accuracy can stem from inadequately designed test cases or errors within the test scripts.
Suitable for Exploratory testing, usability testing Regression testing, performance testing
Setup & Speed of Execution Manual testing can be slower and more labor-intensive but doesn't require scripting skills. Automated Testing generally offers faster execution and higher efficiency, as it can run tests much quicker than manual testing, yet initial setup requires scripting skills.
Scalability Manual testing may struggle to achieve comprehensive coverage and scalability due to time and resource constraints. Automated testing allows for greater test coverage and scalability, as it can easily execute a large number of tests across various environments and configurations.
Adaptability to Changes Manual testing is more adaptable to changes in the software or requirements, as human testers can quickly adjust test cases based on evolving needs. Automated testing requires the maintenance of test scripts to accommodate changes, which can be time-consuming.
Cost Efficiency Manual testing has lower upfront costs but can be more expensive in the long run due to ongoing manual labor. Setting up automated testing may require a higher investment in tools, infrastructure, and scripting efforts, however, over time, it can lead to cost savings due to increased efficiency and reduced manual effort.
Complexity Manual testing, while simpler to set up, may require significant effort to manage large test suites and documentation. Automated testing can be more complex to set up and maintain, especially for highly dynamic or rapidly changing applications.
Project Scale Suitable for small projects or when test cases change frequently. Suitable for large and complex projects with consistent requirements.

How to do automation testing?

Automation testing involves using specialized software tools to execute pre-scripted tests on software applications. QA testers or developers typically create tests that are designed to simulate user interactions with the application's user interface, APIs, or backend processes. Before you write any test scripts, think about your overall test automation strategy—a general plan on how to introduce test automation into software testing. A test automation strategy usually includes things like goals and results, risks and their mitigation, and what should be the first thing to automate.

Here's a simplified overview of how automation testing works:

Step 1: Select the right tool

Choose the right automation tool that fits the project's requirements, such as Selenium, QTP, or Jenkins.

Step 2: Create a framework

Set up a test automation framework that provides a structured approach to writing and managing test scripts.

Step 3: Write a test script

Testers or developers create test scripts using automation testing tools. These scripts outline the steps to be executed during the test and include assertions to verify expected outcomes.

Step 4: Perform automated testing

The automation testing tool executes the test scripts automatically, following the predefined steps. It interacts with the application under test, simulating user actions such as clicking buttons, entering text, or submitting forms.

Step 5: Gather results

The automation testing tool compares the actual results generated by the application to the expected results defined in the test scripts. Any deviations are logged as defects.

Step 6: Prepare test closure reports

Compile a report documenting the results of the test execution, including passed and failed tests. These reports provide valuable insights into the application's quality and help identify potential issues or bugs.

Step 7: Integrate automation testing into your CI/CD pipeline

We highly suggest integrating automation testing into your CI/CD pipelines, allowing tests to be automatically triggered whenever changes are made to the application's codebase. This ensures that new code changes are thoroughly tested before being deployed to production environments.

Step 8: Regularly update test scripts

Automated test scripts need to be maintained regularly to accommodate changes in the application, such as new features or updates to the user interface.

Automated testing—A simple example

Let's say you have a web application for an online store and want to automate the testing of the login functionality. Let’s follow the steps mentioned above to create and run the script.

Step 1: Select the right tool

We chose Selenium as our automation tool because it supports web applications and integrates well with various CI/CD tools.

Step 2: Create a framework

We set up a test automation framework using Selenium WebDriver with Java and TestNG for organizing our test cases. We also use Maven for dependency management and Jenkins for CI/CD integration.

Step 3: Write a test script

We created a test script that contains instructions for the automated testing tool to open a web browser, navigate to the login page of your website, enter predefined username and password credentials, click the login button, and verify that the user is successfully logged in.

WebDrive driver = new ChromeDriver ();

Step 4: Perform automated testing

Execute the test script using TestNG. The tool opens a web browser, performs the actions specified in the script, and verifies the results.

Step 5: Gather results

After the test execution, TestNG generates a report indicating whether the test passed or failed. The automation tool compares the actual results (such as the appearance of the user dashboard after login) with the expected results (as defined in the script). If the actual results match the expected results, the test case passes. If not, it fails.

Step 6: Prepare test closure reports

The automation tool generates a detailed report of the test execution, indicating which tests passed and which ones failed. It may also include logs and screenshots for further analysis.

Step 7: Integrate automation testing into CI/CD pipeline

Integrate automation testing into CI/CD pipelines, for example, using Jenkins, to ensure rapid and reliable software delivery. Whenever developers commit code changes to the version control system, CI/CD pipelines trigger automated tests. If all tests pass, the code is automatically deployed to production.

How do you know if the test passed or failed? Well, for one, if the automated test for login functionality successfully logs in with the correct credentials and navigates to the user dashboard, the test case is marked as passed. If, however, the login fails due to incorrect credentials, the test case is marked as failed, and the report will provide details about the failure, such as error messages or screenshots of the unexpected behavior.

Automation testing allows for the efficient and repeatable testing of software applications, saving time and effort compared to manual testing, especially for repetitive and regression testing tasks.

The bottom line

We can come to the conclusion that while automated testing offers numerous benefits, like speed, accuracy, reliability, and integration with CI/CD pipelines, it's essential to consider its limitations and determine the most suitable testing approach based on project requirements. Embracing automation testing practices empowers development teams to achieve higher efficiency, agility, and confidence in delivering high-quality software products.

In need of automated testing services?

We can help you set up test automation from scratch and even join your existing software quality assurance teams. Being in the software QA business for over a decade now—test automation is kind of our strong suit.

Book a meeting with us today and let’s collaborate to ensure that your product checks all the boxes.

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