Nelly Chang

Accelerate software development through automated testing

To drive digitization projects, applications need to be deployed faster and faster. Therefore, an manager must avoid lengthy and complex software tests and replace them with automated processes. As a result, the magic word is "Continuous Delivery".

IT managers are under enormous pressure due to the increasing pressure to digitize in companies. To stay competitive, they need to integrate software into their production processes faster and more reliably than the competition. Only with a high degree of automation can such tasks still be mastered today. A strategy based on continuous delivery can help with this dilemma. Fully automated unit, integration and UI testing is essential for rapid, continuous application delivery. They are necessary to pave the way for the introduction of a smooth continuous delivery process.

Application is tested on 3 levels throughout the development process.

At the first level, there are the so-called unit tests, in which a particular class or method is examined individually and isolated from other units. They are typically created by developers and ensure that a particular piece of code behaves as expected.

The next level is responsible for this: the integration test, in which the focus is on the interaction of several components. It always checks several code modules and their interfaces.

The third level is user interface testing, which tests the user interface of an entire application with simulated user input. The validation of the appearance and functionality ensures that the data provided by the server is also displayed correctly, which plays an important role especially in error handling.

Test automation improves software quality

The automation of these 3 types of tests is becoming increasingly important. Development-accompanying, fully automated tests continually determine the release capability of the software. Thus, the stability of an application can be assessed much more often and earlier in the development process, so that potential errors are detected more quickly and more frequently.

However, the different types of tests are not equally easy to automate. In unit testing, automation is established by frameworks such as JUnit and is considered the standard in software development.

In contrast, integration and UI tests require a more complex infrastructure . The application must be completely started and dependencies on other systems and components must be simulated to provide meaningful results. The preparation of the right infrastructure has a much higher complexity and effort. When checking the user interface, the simulation of valid user entries is added.

Test automation simplifies troubleshooting

Companies should plan for automation in development projects right from the start. All three types of tests must be an integral part of the build process, so that they are executed automatically with each change. When integrating into the build environment, the principle of the fail fast approach applies , in which a failure means that the further process steps are no longer executed.

The number of tests and the variety of variants being tested are decreasing with each test level from bottom to top. This hierarchy is based on the quickly executable unit tests, which work very close to the source code and check many variants as well as possible decision paths. Thereafter, the focus shifts to selected testing of components and interfaces. On the last level, the user experience is specifically evaluated and the overall system comes into view.

The decreasing number of test variations in the upper test hierarchy levels provides greater efficiency throughout the development process. Because of the greater overhead and significantly longer execution time of the Integration and UI tests, the run is restricted to the essential test routines.

Continuous deployment as the next level of automation

Test automation is just the first step in a continuous delivery pipeline. After the tests, the automated deployment of the application follows, for example in the form of a Java web archive in an application server. The artifact is automatically created by the build, tested and put into a repository for example Maven or Docker filed.

In this context, automation means that after the developer has committed, no manual action is needed to get the finished artifact. Tools like Jenkins have all the necessary features to set up such a continuous integration pipeline. The next step is then Continuous Delivery. Here, the CI pipeline is extended by an automated deployment, which updates any target system with a click.

Various manual approval steps can be incorporated in this context. It is conceivable that a test manager can provide systems for one-click acceptance. For the deployment of the production environment, however, only a specific operations team could be authorized. Once these automated processes run smoothly and have reached a high level of maturity, the next step in full automation is the introduction of continuous deployment. The trigger for providing the production environment is either the developer's commitment or a time interval - for example, at 3 o'clock at night.

Not every level of automation makes sense for all projects; organizational framework conditions must be taken into account when deciding. Businesses should definitely strive for automated deployment. This allows the project team to focus on the core task of application development. The manual provision of test and productive systems distracts attention from the main point, is in hindsight difficult to understand and not repeatable, usually poorly documented and thus not efficient enough.

Conclusion

Full automation of unit, integration and UI testing is a prerequisite for continuous delivery in software development. Reviewing application integration and user interfaces are more difficult to automate and require special infrastructure and test data preparation. By using specialized tools, this effort can be mastered and automation becomes a powerful weapon in the fight against bugs.

Automated testing enables fast and frequent software deliveries and is valuable in future refactoring . The increased test effort thus pays off twice for every delivery and every early discovered error. Fast feedback cycles and defined organizational responsibilities are indispensable, not least on the way to a successful continuous deployment process.

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