Nowadays, organizations cannot afford to make any errors. If something does go wrong, it will more often than not result in disgruntled customers turning to competitors for better satisfaction. Consumer frustration quickly results in losing any potential leads and conversions.
This is why continuously testing software through the software development life cycle is the key to eliminate any errors and ultimately release better and higher quality products.
This is especially important if you’re looking to implement DevOps practices within your organization as DevOps often relies on the fast and frequent release of software.
Continuous testing is now needed to keep up with the demand for speed in the modern software development world and keep pace with DevOps and Agile practices that advocate for shorter delivery cycles to keep up with rapidly changing consumer demands.
In other words, continuous testing goes hand-in-hand with effectively adopting DevOps practices and workflows in your organization.
What is continuous testing?
The basic idea behind continuous testing is evaluating and verifying the quality of the software as frequently as possible starting from the early stages of development using automation.
This means that the software undergoes continuous, uninterrupted testing at every stage of the software development lifecycle from development until it’s eventually deployed to the end-user to assess the quality and performance of the software.
This is the idea behind ‘shifting left’ or ‘shift-left testing’, which entails testing early on the development cycle so that issues are discovered early on, largely through the use of automated tests.
Put simply, if we want to retain the momentum of continuous testing, it’s important to automate whenever and wherever possible.
Therefore, automated testing can be carried out on a frequent basis every time code changes are made enabling fast feedback loops to quickly fix any issues as they arise. With such quick feedback loops, developers can quickly and efficiently optimize and improve products to match customer requirements.
Continuous testing is an integral part of continuous integration and continuous delivery.
This is because these processes require the software to go through a series of automated tests from unit tests early on in development in order to test single parts of a software to integration and functional tests to make sure that the individual parts work seamlessly together.
Why is this so important for a DevOps methodology?
Think of it this way: traditionally, testing is typically completed after the software development process is done, at which point it’s sent to quality assurance to be tested. If bugs are found, then the software is sent back to developers so that they can fix these bugs.
The issue with this traditional form of testing is that it’s risky. When developers rush to fix any issues, they often fix these issues so late in the development process that things get complicated fast. In this sense, it can be time-consuming and could delay the release process, which defeats the entire purpose of a DevOps methodology.
Moreover, DevOps embraces everything ‘continuous’, meaning it is dependent on continuous feedback and improvement through the implementation of continuous integration, continuous delivery and continuous testing.
Continuous testing enables teams to achieve the main goal of DevOps, which is to deliver high quality software quicker than ever before, hence reducing time-to-market and accelerating release cycles.
Benefits of continuous testing
As can be deduced from the above, continuous testing is a key element of DevOps and has a number of benefits including:
- Accelerating software delivery and helps teams respond quickly and efficiently to rapidly-changing market demands
- Improving code quality as software is assessed at each stage which, in turn, reduces risk and increases confidence
- Helping discover bugs early on: this is important as the earlier bugs are discovered, the less costly it will be to fix and also allows for faster recovery
- Ensuring immediate feedback and encourages better collaboration between testing and development teams as well as continuous improvement as teams can use the feedback to improve products’ reliability and quality
- Reducing manual efforts, hence freeing developers to focus on more important tasks
- Earning customer loyalty and satisfaction with products optimized for their needs
- Facilitating the adoption of a culture of DevOps and fulfills its underlying goal which is delivering of quality software faster
Challenges of continuous testing
While there are a number of benefits to continuous testing, there are a few challenges and points that teams need to take into consideration.
First, teams need to ensure that the test environments are exact replicas of the production environment to make sure that the software behaves as expected as it would in the production environment.
Setting up these simultaneous environments will require careful coordination of the different test environments and consume considerable resources and investments that may not always be readily available.
Keep in mind that teams should not only focus on testing. Continuous testing is not just about automating tests but it also involves using the results of these tests to continuously improve and optimize products. Consequently, it represents an opportunity for team members to utilize the feedback from these tests to find areas for improvement in code quality.
Thus, teams need to successfully implement a system for fast feedback loops that helps them gather relevant feedback in real-time, which may require advanced tools.
Furthermore, continuous testing becomes more complex as the scope for the product grows and moves towards the production environment. The number of tests increases as does the complexity of these tests. This may result in delayed tests which could result in some serious bottlenecks delaying releases and defeating the whole purpose of continuous testing.
There’s also the issue of the tools being used not having enough scalability as more tests are run which could overwhelm the testing system
Best practices for continuous testing
- Adopt automation wherever possible
Automate tests as much as possible to achieve faster releases and reduce the human error component that often comes with manual testing.
Automation is also a key enabler of DevOps implementation and by setting up an efficient CI/CD pipeline, this will help automate workflows to reduce manual tasks.
Moreover, your products will reach your customers faster helping you gain competitive advantage.
Keep in mind, however, that continuous testing and test automation are not the same concept even though they’re sometimes used interchangeably.
As we mentioned above, test automation is a vital part of continuous testing but that’s not all there is to it. Continuous testing evolves beyond the idea of test automation.
It instead encompasses all the tools, processes and teams that come with automation and which aims to verify software through feedback at every step of the development process.
- Select the right tools
Automation isn’t the only key component of continuous testing. It also involves teams having the right tools at hand to make the continuous testing process more efficient and easier.
Teams need to select the right tools that will reduce manual operations so they can focus on more pressing things: building better software. Therefore, they will need to set in place a robust test automation framework that focuses on all aspects of testing-for each layer of the testing pyramid- from unit to UI tests.
Remember that whatever tools you opt for will largely depend on your organization’s and teams’ needs and overall objectives.
Read more: our picks of the best DevOps tools
- Track the relevant metrics
You will need to keep track of relevant metrics to measure the success of your tests. In other words, you will need to keep track of all the bugs that occur as well as the number of successful and failed tests.
For example, if you see the number of errors and bugs increasing, you know that you will need to look into your development process in order to rectify it and in the long run will help you improve the functionality of your products.
Keeping tracks of tests will also help create a more efficient continuous testing strategy.
- Establish clear lines of communication
One of the most essential contributing factors to successfully implementing continuous testing is getting teams to collaborate to avoid different teams working in silos. This will help prevent bottlenecks and conflicts from occurring which could disrupt the development process.
Therefore, constant and transparent communication will keep your pipeline moving seamlessly and will increase productivity among teams.
Feature flags: Continuous testing in production
So you’ve run all the necessary tests to verify that the software is working as expected before releasing it into production so users can access it.
However, continuous testing shouldn’t end in staging environments pre-production. It’s still imperative to test your releases even after they’ve been deployed to production and thus should be incorporated into your testing strategy and framework.
No matter how much you try to replicate your staging environments to match a production environment, it’s unlikely that it would end up being an exact replica. This means that errors and bugs may still end up in production even after thorough testing pre-deployment.
As a result, testing in production is essential to uncover these bugs that you may have missed in your previous tests.
But how do you implement a safe strategy to test in production to reduce major negative impact on your end-users?
Two words: feature flags.
Through progressive deployment, feature flags will allow you to control who sees (or who doesn’t see) the new feature allowing you to verify this feature before releasing it to everyone else. You can even choose to limit a release to internal users only, a type of targeting known as dogfooding so your team can verify the code in production before end-users have access to it.
Continuous testing: The magic ingredient for your CI/CD pipeline for better and faster releases
As we’ve seen, uncovering bugs early on in the software development lifecycle will make your life and development process much easier and more efficient, not to mention that nowadays having major bugs show up in production is a major business risk that organizations can no longer afford to make.
To fulfil the goal of DevOps, which is releasing high quality software fast, continuous testing needs to be implemented.
Make sure you set in place a robust testing strategy that covers all the stages of the software lifecycle and above all, make sure that it fulfills your requirements and needs.
There are many tests you can run as part of an effective continuous testing strategy. However, keep in mind that continuous testing goes over and beyond test automation and is key to building and maintaining an efficient CI/CD pipeline as well as reducing risk while accelerating time-to-market.