What Is Exploratory Testing and Why Should You Care?
Exploratory testing is an approach to software testing that is described as simultaneous learning, test design, and test execution. The main focus of exploratory testing—in case you haven’t already guessed by the name—is to explore software without a predefined set of scripted actions and is entirely based on testers’ experience and skill set. It is an important part of manual testing and goes beyond the limits of scripted testing.
The history of exploratory testing
History? Is this a history lesson? No, don’t worry—I just want to briefly explain the roots of exploratory testing.
To fully understand this type of testing, we need to understand where it comes from and when it started. Though exploratory testing had existed for some time already, it was formally introduced into the software testing world by Cem Kaner in 1984.
Kaner coined the term and defined it as:
“Exploratory testing is a style of software testing that emphasizes the personal freedom and responsibility of the individual tester to continually optimize the quality of their work by treating test-related learning, test design, test execution, and test result interpretation as mutually supportive activities that run in parallel throughout the project.”
When and why should you use exploratory testing?
Exploratory testing is useful to discover the most unusual and weird edge cases. This type of testing can detect such bugs that other testing techniques might have missed or are more difficult to find during structured testing. Essentially, it gives testers more freedom and takes away the various constraints of scripted tests when searching for bugs.
In the early stages of software development, when the code is undergoing rapid changes, exploratory testing can be highly effective. The knowledge gained from it can be valuable in formulating test scripts in the later stages of software development. For example, it can help you create automation tests by providing you with insight about which test cases that are worth automating.
Additionally, exploratory testing helps you escape the restrictions of scripted test cases, allows you to further explore specific features, and ensures you don’t miss edge cases that can lead to critical failures. It is particularly useful for testing new features that are introduced to the app or website. By doing exploratory testing, you base the tests on your experience and by doing so, you can learn the ins and outs of the new features that were added. Also, exploratory testing can be done when you are working on a tight schedule and need to give quick feedback to your client.
Let me tell you a joke:
A software tester walks into a bar.
Runs into a bar.
Crawls into a bar.
Dances into a bar.
Flies into a bar.
Jumps into a bar.
a lizard in a beer glass.
A real customer walks into the bar and asks where the bathroom is.
The bar goes up in flames.
Funny, I know—but there is a grain of truth in every joke. So what can we take away from this one? Well, there can be a bunch of prewritten test cases and after execution you would consider the app tested and ready for deployment, however, there can be just one edge case that you just simply cannot detect with structured testing. This one edge case might be critical for your client and in such instances—when you need to detect the undetectable—exploratory testing can come in handy.
Exploratory testing versus scripted testing
There are many differences between exploratory testing and scripted testing. Let’s go over the main differences and compare the two.
|Scripted testing||Exploratory testing|
|Test cases can be easily traced back to the original requirements and specifications to demonstrate test coverage.||Test cases are not well documented. There is no clear and measurable test coverage.|
|Testing is easy to reproduce.||Testing is difficult to reproduce.|
|Feedback is slower.||Feedback is faster.|
|Testers follow predefined steps and rules.||Testers can alter tests on the fly.|
|All the tests are designed and reviewed in advance.||Tests cannot be designed and reviewed in advance.|
|Easy to manage test coverage.||Difficult to manage test coverage.|
|Can be automated.||Cannot be automated.|
Pros and cons of exploratory testing
There are various advantages and disadvantages of using exploratory testing. Here are some of the pros and cons:
- Beneficial to finding usability and UI issues.
- Project owners can get insights that were not possible to get with other test techniques.
- Can achieve more on tight deadlines than structured testing.
- Very little preparation time is needed.
- Speeds up bug detection.
- Can discover edge cases that can be used in future testing.
- Difficult to document.
- High risk of missing critical bugs.
- Easy to steer off course from testing the planned feature.
- Limited by testers’ skills and experience.
- Difficult to determine which tests were already executed.
Get the most out of exploratory testing
To sum up, I want to mention that as good exploratory testing is in terms of finding more bugs faster, detecting edge cases, and taking less time to prepare than scripted testing—you shouldn’t just rely on exploratory testing to test your solution. To get the most out of your software testing efforts, it’s best to combine this type of testing with other software testing methods. Each testing method comes with its own benefits that can be useful throughout the project lifecycle. Exploratory testing is most definitely one of them.
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