What is Continuous Testing?
Learn more about the process of software development where testing happens during the entire development life cycle.
Software development is an area particularly exposed to competitive markets. Customers demand excellence every step of the way and it is the obligation of developers and testers to provide an experience that can stand out from the competition. It is this notion of quality and the slow but sure prevalence of the mobile-first development approach that makes continuous testing such a lucrative proposition for software companies in this day and age.
According to market forecasts, the market for continuous testing is set to grow from $1.15 billion to $2.41 billion the world over by the year 2023. This is a compounded annual growth rate of almost 16% – a testament to the value and desirability of the continuous testing methodology. To understand this comprehensive approach to testing, it is important to understand how to define it, how to achieve it, and the important benefits and pitfalls you need to watch out for.
Understanding Continuous Testing
While it is simple to define continuous testing, the underlying philosophy goes above and beyond the simple definition. In essence, continuous testing is the process of software development where, during the entire software development life cycle, the software is continuously tested. The entire goal of the process is to keep tabs on software quality during the entire development life cycle. This way, all stakeholders can be real-time critical feedback regarding quality. This enables issues to be fixed quickly and eventually makes way for faster delivery, but not with a quality compromise.
The core processes involved in continuous testing include testing early, testing often, testing everywhere, and automating tests wherever feasible. The testing process should then continue undisrupted throughout the software development life cycle. This testing methodology is most often associated with the DevOps model.
In legacy development models like the Waterfall model, the development and testing would involve hand-offs of the software in its current state within different teams. One specific task would be handled by one specific team and then the results passed along to the next. This made for distinct phases in the development life cycle dedicated with actual development and QA separately. With this kind of siloed duties and obligations, the teams would get more time and scope to perform their tasks and would end up with higher quality results.
However, as the speed of development has increased over time, such an approach has lost its usefulness. Organizations now need to develop and deliver faster, while keeping to high standards of quality. This necessitates a development model that does away with the siloed approach and the hand-offs. Rather, it relies on continuous activity across the board that works on small, incremental changes. This agile development model is what most organizations at present work with and continuous testing is an integral part of this.
Specifically, this approach is most often associated with the DevOps or DevSecOps models. In these models, development times are markedly shorted. With continuous testing, the DevOps pipeline receives a major boost as quality can be monitored consistently throughout the development process. Continuous testing is a major driver for effective CI/CD pipelines as it allows teams to take the “shift left” approach, helped along by timely critical feedback throughout the development life cycle.
The Main Components of Continuous Testing
With continuous testing, the focus is on multiple quality parameters, including software reliability, performance, stability, usability, and security. To achieve these goals, DevOps teams can resort to a wide spectrum of testing approaches. These can include the “shift left” and “shift right” approaches, along with rigorous unit testing, performance testing, smoke testing, functional testing, regression testing, and user acceptance testing.
In short, the process of continuous testing can be broken down into three crucial main components.
One of the key ways to reduce development time is to ensure key critical feedback is readily available at all times. This is difficult with manual testing, which can be intensive both in terms of time and effort. This is where test automation becomes an integral part of the continuous testing methodology. With test automation, the focus can move from finding bugs to actually fixing them.
While the scope for automation in development projects is seldom all-encompassing, there will always certain tests that can be automated, especially with the help of new, innovative test automation tools that leverage technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to achieve better results. Once these tests are reliably automated, the concerned teams can receive quick and early feedback regarding bugs and issues and can make the requisite changes early on in the process.
The ideal scenario for continuous testing is where it is fully or almost fully automated and requires no human intervention.
CI is an essential building block of the continuous testing methodology. Essentially, it involves the gathering of any code the developers write and putting it in a code repository. This way, code from multiple developers can be placed into a single repository, remarkably accelerating the development process. However, this can also generate a lot of bugs. This is where it plays really nice with continuous testing.
Testing can be automated so that with each new addition of code to the repository, one or more automated tests get executed. With testing occurring as soon as the code is integrated, bugs, if any, are more likely to be found early and reliably. This means they will also be fixed faster. The point is to find and fix bugs before they can make their way onto the production itself at an early stage. This strategy can help organizations save significant amounts of time, effort, and money.
CD is the other main foundation of the continuous testing process. CD involves keeping all versions of the code ready to be deployed to the actual production. The trick is to make small changes more frequently so that variables can be reduced, which makes for more reliable results. With continuous testing, all the code can be thoroughly tested before it is finally deployed without taking any extra time or effort.
A solid implementation of CD means that DevOps teams will always have on hand code that is ready for deployment, having automatically passed through a standardized testing procedure.
Continuous Testing – Benefits
The continuous testing approach comes with several key benefits.
Faster Release Times – With continuous testing working seamlessly with an efficient CI/CD pipeline, organizations can release software faster and also more frequently. With automated tests, teams have the peace of mind knowing that their code is always tested and thoroughly screened. This allows them to deliver assured results at a great speed. Release times can therefore be accelerated with reliable code.
Better Consistency – With proper test automation, teams can make sure that testing criteria and procedures can be formalized and standardized, leading to better consistency. A standardized testing procedure can help keep every part of the development process, including all concurrent development streams, in perfect sync. It also helps create robust environment that is particularly suited for efficient testing.
Reduced Risk – While an accelerated delivery plan is excellent from a market perspective, companies also need to minimize risk by making certain that there are no quality issues in finished products. In legacy testing models, every code change can be a potential place for errors to occur. These can have a cumulative effect and become burdensome at the end of the development process. With continuous testing, quality is never sacrificed for speed or vice versa.
Better Transparency – Visibility of all testing operations for the entire DevOps team gives rise to better transparency and accountability. This is exactly what can be achieved through continuous testing, where the testing process is communal, starts early on, and is always visible to the entire team. Modern test automation tools can also add to this experience by offering rich, deep insights via dashboards, and report generation. Teams, therefore, are always apprised of test performance, code performance, and failure rates.
Better Test Coverage – Test coverage and test debt are crucial subjects for any DevOps team. It can be said without much debate that continuous testing is one of the best approaches to ensure the maximum possible test coverage without many of the pitfalls that a maximum-coverage approach might bring otherwise. With continuous testing, all the features are always evaluated and all potential points of failure thoroughly explored. This makes for near-ideal test coverage levels.
Quick Code Review – With the quick and early feedback that continuous testing provides, code reviews can take far less time and cause far less downtime. The speed and comprehensiveness of the feedback makes for easy cooperation between development and testing teams. This can ensure cooperation between CI pipelines and version control systems.
Better User Experience – With continuous testing, there is a lot of scope to integrate unique and novel use cases and simulate specific scenarios to note user feedback. These scenarios can help generate data that acts as insight for remarkably improving the user experience in the end product.
Most of the pitfalls related to continuous testing involve limited cultural shift among organizations and the lack of skilled DevOps personnel with experience in agile environments. Issues with resource management and test data management can also be particularly challenging.
However, the benefits of continuous testing usually far outweigh the pitfalls.