What is software testing?

January 22, 2024 // 7 min read

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Software testing is the systematic process of evaluating and verifying software applications to ensure they function correctly and meet specific requirements.

Software testing is the process of verifying that an application works as intended and is free of bugs and defects. Software testing also helps determine if the application addresses all of its requirements. It is an essential part of software development because it helps reduce development costs, improve application performance, and create a better user experience.

To perform software testing, testers interact with the software manually, execute test scripts, or use automated testing tools.

Understanding software testing

Software testing involves running the application under controlled conditions to detect errors and verify that it behaves as expected. Testing is not necessarily a separate phase in software development, but rather something that can—and should—be performed throughout the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

Software testing is separate from software development. The primary goal of software development is to design, code, and create a software product that meets the specified requirements and solves a particular problem. The primary objective of software testing is to ensure the quality, reliability, and functionality of the software.

Importance of software testing

During software development, it can be difficult to identify bugs or determine how the numerous components of an application will work together when it is deployed. Software testing can verify that all components work seamlessly together.

Some of the benefits of software testing include:

  • Bug detection and prevention. The sooner bugs are identified and remediated in the software engineering process, the better.
  • Enhanced software quality. Comprehensive software testing produces a higher quality software product with fewer issues for users.
  • Improved user satisfaction. Organizations that deliver a product that is reliable and that meets the customers' needs will achieve higher user satisfaction.
  • Cost savings. Identifying and fixing defects during the testing phase is generally less expensive than addressing them later in the development process or after the software has been released. Early detection helps prevent issues from escalating into more complex and costly problems.
  • Reduced software maintenance costs. Thorough testing helps ensure that software is robust and less prone to bugs and errors. This, in turn, reduces the need for ongoing maintenance and support, saving costs associated with addressing post-release issues.
  • Compliance with standards. For industries where regulatory compliance is crucial (such as healthcare, finance, or aviation), meeting regulatory regulations and standards is crucial. Testing aids in ensuring that the software complies with industry regulations.

Types of software testing

There are many different types of software testing, each with different objectives, strategies, and outputs.

These types include:

  • Manual testing. Testers interact with the application manually, without scripts or tools.

  • Automated testing. Testers use scripts or tools, such as GitHub Actions, to automate parts of the testing process.

  • Unit testing. The term "unit" refers to the smallest testable part of an application, typically a function, method, or procedure. Unit testing therefore involves testing the individual components or units of an application in isolation to ensure they function as intended.

  • Integration testing. In a typical software development lifecycle, developers develop and test individual modules or components. An enterprise application might be composed of hundreds of such modules. Integration testing focuses on verifying that these different components work well together. During this phase, testers examine whether the interfaces and interactions between components behave as expected. Integration testing aims to validate that the combination of integrated components functions correctly as a whole.

  • Functional testing. This type of testing verifies whether the application functions as intended and delivers the expected output.

  • Non-functional testing. During non-functional testing, users evaluate whether the product not only meets functional requirements, but also performs well, is secure, and provides a positive user experience. These tests help identify potential issues related to performance, usability, application security, and other critical aspects, allowing teams to address them before the software is released.

  • Regression testing. Regression testing focuses on ensuring that updates to a codebase, such as bug fixes, enhancements, or new features, do not adversely affect the existing functionality of the software. Version control systems aid in tracing which changes introduced a bug. The goal of regression testing is to detect and prevent the introduction of new defects or unintended side effects in the software as it is updated.

  • User acceptance testing (UAT). This is often the final phase of the software testing process and the goal is to determine if the application meets user requirements. UAT also assesses whether the application satisfies business needs and is ready for deployment to a wider audience or production environment.

  • Usability testing. This type of testing validates how well a customer can use an application to complete a task.

  • Stress testing. In stress testing, applications are subjected to extreme conditions to identify the system's breaking points, measure its response to extreme loads, and understand its behavior under stress.

  • Security testing. Security testing involves evaluating a software system's ability to protect data, maintain functionality, and prevent unauthorized access. There are different types of security testing, including dynamic application security testing (DAST) and application security testing (AST).

The software testing types each organization chooses will depend on their ultimate goals and objectives.

Steps in the software testing life cycle

The software testing life cycle is a systematic process to verify and validate that a software application or system meets specified requirements and functions correctly. The steps can vary depending on the specific testing approach or methodology being used. Here are some common steps that may be followed in the software testing process:

  1. Requirements analysis. To effectively test software, it's important to analyze and understand the software requirements. Review code documentation, user stories, and other specifications to gain this understanding and determine what needs to be tested.
  2. Test planning. Develop a test plan that outlines the testing strategy, scope, objectives, resources, schedule, and deliverables. This test plan serves as a guide for the testing process.
  3. Test design. Design test cases based on the requirements. Test cases describe the specific conditions, inputs, and expected outcomes for testing different aspects of the software.
  4. Test environment setup. Set up the testing environment, which includes configuring hardware, software, networks, and any other components necessary for testing. Ensure that the environment mirrors the production environment as closely as possible.
  5. Test data preparation. Prepare test data that is relevant to the test cases. This may involve creating datasets, databases, or scenarios to simulate real-world conditions.
  6. Test execution. Execute the test cases in the test environment. This involves running the software with predefined inputs and comparing the actual results with expected results.
  7. Defect reporting. If bugs or defects are identified during test execution, document them in a defect tracking system. Defect reports typically include information about the defect, steps to reproduce it, and its severity.
  8. Regression testing. Perform regression testing to ensure that new changes or fixes do not introduce new defects or negatively impact existing functionality. This is crucial to maintain software stability as the codebase evolves.
  9. Test reporting. Generate test reports that provide an overview of the software testing process, results, and any issues encountered. Distribute the test to relevant stakeholders.
  10. Test closure. Complete the testing process and formally close the testing phase. Closure includes reviewing the test objectives, evaluating the test coverage, and ensuring that all test deliverables are in order.
  11. Retesting. After defect fixes are implemented, retest the application to verify that the reported issues have been successfully addressed. This ensures that the fixes do not introduce new problems.
  12. Deployment and monitoring. Deploy the software to the production environment and monitor its performance. When issues arise, repeat the testing steps as needed.

Best practices in software testing

By following best practices, organizations can build a robust testing process that contributes to the delivery of high-quality software that meets business requirements and user expectations. Here are a few practices:

Early testing. The cost of fixing a defect increases as the SDLC progresses. Early testing for issue prevention is considered a best practice because it reduces costs, prevents defects from propagating, and reduces rework.

Comprehensive test coverage. Testing a broad range of scenarios minimizes the business risks associated with software failures. Comprehensive test coverage also helps ensure that the software meets user expectations, operates reliably, and performs well under various conditions.

Strategic use of automation. Manual testing may be adequate for smaller software projects. However, for larger, more complex projects like enterprise application development, automated testing can be indispensable. Automated tests can be performed much faster than manual tests. This efficiency is especially crucial in scenarios where repetitive and time-consuming tests need to be performed, such as during regression testing or when running large-scale test suites.

Realistic test data for simulation. Using realistic test data for simulation in software testing is crucial because it provides an accurate representation of the production environment. Testing with data that closely mirrors actual data makes it easier to identify potential issues and behavior that may occur in real-world conditions.

Continuous learning for improvement. Software development is an incredibly dynamic field, and new tools, frameworks, methodologies, and technologies are regularly emerging. Fostering an environment of continuous learning allows teams to stay abreast of the latest developments and take advantage of new tools and techniques for more effective testing.

Software testing tools. Tools play a vital role in software testing by providing support and automation for various testing activities. Software testing tools help testers, developers, and quality assurance professionals perform their tasks more efficiently and effectively throughout the SDLC. There are numerous tools available to meet different needs.

Test automation tools. Automation tools enable testers to automate various activities like testing for web applications, mobile applications, or continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) processes. Many DevOps tools on the market include test automation capabilities.

Performance testing tools. Performance testing tools are used to assess and optimize application performance under various conditions. These tools can highlight areas where the application may experience slowdowns or resource constraints, providing insight into response times.

Security testing tools. Tools for security testing, like GitHub security tools, help teams identify, prioritize, and address security vulnerabilities in software applications. Their use is essential for building resilient and secure software in an environment where cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving.

Code review tools. Code review tools facilitate and streamline the process of reviewing source code within a development team. These tools help developers collaborate, find errors, ensure code quality, and maintain coding standards. GitHub code review tools are built into every pull request, so they fit easily into teams' existing workflows.

AI tools. AI-powered tools, such as GitHub Copilot, can be useful to help testers perform such activities as writing tests or research potential issues. Learn more about how GitHub Copilot works by visiting the GitHub Copilot Trust Center.

Get started with software testing

Software testing is critical for any organization developing software. To ensure your organization operates a successful testing program, foster a culture of quality within the organization, emphasizing the importance of delivering reliable and high-quality software to customers. Encourage collaboration between development and testing teams to streamline the testing process and identify issues early in the development life cycle. It's also important to invest in modern software testing tools and technologies that align with your organization's goals, and ensure that testing efforts contribute to improved customer satisfaction, reduced time-to-market, and minimized business risks. Make sure to stay informed about the evolving landscape of software testing, as it directly correlates with the overall success and competitiveness of your organization.

Frequently asked questions

What do software testers do?

Software testers play a crucial role in the SDLC by ensuring the quality, reliability, and functionality of software applications.

What are the main types of software testing?

There are many types of software testing, including manual testing, automated testing, unit testing, integration testing, functional testing, non-functional testing, and regression testing.

What is the difference between software testing and quality assurance?

Software testing is the process of systematically evaluating a software application to identify defects, ensure that it meets specified requirements, and verify its functionality. Quality assurance has a broader scope, and involves the systematic monitoring and improvement of the software development process to ensure the delivery of high-quality software.

What is the difference between software testing and automation testing?

Software testing and automation testing are related concepts. Software testing refers to the entire process of evaluating a software application to identify defects, ensure it meets specified requirements, and verify its functionality. It includes both manual and automated testing. Automation testing refers to the use of tools and scripts to automate the execution of testing.

What is the difference between software testing and manual testing?

Software testing refers to the entire process of evaluating a software application to identify defects, ensure it meets specified requirements, and verify its functionality. It includes both manual testing and automated testing. Manual testing involves human testers executing test cases without the use of automated testing tools.

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