Software testing

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Software testing is an investigation conducted to provide stakeholders with information about the quality of the product or service under test.[1] Software testing can also provide an objective, independent view of the software to allow the business to appreciate and understand the risks of software implementation. Test techniques include, but are not limited to the process of executing a program or application with the intent of finding software bugs (errors or other defects).

Software testing can be stated as the process of validating and verifying that a computer program/application/product:

  • meets the requirements that guided its design and development,
  • works as expected,
  • can be implemented with the same characteristics,
  • and satisfies the needs of stakeholders.

Software testing, depending on the testing method employed, can be implemented at any time in the software development process. Traditionally most of the test effort occurs after the requirements have been defined and the coding process has been completed, but in the Agile approaches most of the test effort is on-going. As such, the methodology of the test is governed by the chosen software development methodology.


Testing can never completely identify all the defects within software.[2] Instead, it furnishes a criticism or comparison that compares the state and behavior of the product against oracles—principles or mechanisms by which someone might recognize a problem. These oracles may include (but are not limited to) specifications, contracts,[3] comparable products, past versions of the same product, inferences about intended or expected purpose, user or customer expectations, relevant standards, applicable laws, or other criteria.

A primary purpose of testing is to detect software failures so that defects may be discovered and corrected. Testing cannot establish that a product functions properly under all conditions but can only establish that it does not function properly under specific conditions.[4] The scope of software testing often includes examination of code as well as execution of that code in various environments and conditions as well as examining the aspects of code: does it do what it is supposed to do and do what it needs to do. In the current culture of software development, a testing organization may be separate from the development team. There are various roles for testing team members. Information derived from software testing may be used to correct the process by which software is developed.[5]

Every software product has a target audience. For example, the audience for video game software is completely different from banking software. Therefore, when an organization develops or otherwise invests in a software product, it can assess whether the software product will be acceptable to its end users, its target audience, its purchasers and other stakeholders. Software testing is the process of attempting to make this assessment.

Defects and failures[edit]

Not all software defects are caused by coding errors. One common source of expensive defects is requirement gaps, e.g., unrecognized requirements which result in errors of omission by the program designer.[6] Requirement gaps can often be non-functional requirements such as testability, scalability, maintainability, usability, performance, and security.

Software faults occur through the following processes. A programmer makes an error (mistake), which results in a defect (fault, bug) in the software source code. If this defect is executed, in certain situations the system will produce wrong results, causing a failure.[7] Not all defects will necessarily result in failures. For example, defects in dead code will never result in failures. A defect can turn into a failure when the environment is changed. Examples of these changes in environment include the software being run on a new computer hardware platform, alterations in source data, or interacting with different software.[7] A single defect may result in a wide range of failure symptoms.

Input combinations and preconditions[edit]

A fundamental problem with software testing is that testing under all combinations of inputs and preconditions (initial state) is not feasible, even with a simple product.[4][8] This means that the number of defects in a software product can be very large and defects that occur infrequently are difficult to find in testing. More significantly, non-functional dimensions of quality (how it is supposed to be versus what it is supposed to do)—usability, scalability, performance, compatibility, reliability—can be highly subjective; something that constitutes sufficient value to one person may be intolerable to another.

Software developers can't test everything, but they can use combinatorial test design to identify the minimum number of tests needed to get the coverage they want. Combinatorial test design enables users to get greater test coverage with fewer tests. Whether they are looking for speed or test depth, they can use combinatorial test design methods to build structured variation into their test cases.[9] Note that "coverage", as used here, is referring to combinatorial coverage, not requirements coverage.


A study conducted by NIST in 2002 reports that software bugs cost the U.S. economy $59.5 billion annually. More than a third of this cost could be avoided if better software testing was performed.[10]

It is commonly believed that the earlier a defect is found, the cheaper it is to fix it. The following table shows the cost of fixing the defect depending on the stage it was found.[11] For example, if a problem in the requirements is found only post-release, then it would cost 10–100 times more to fix than if it had already been found by the requirements review. With the advent of modern continuous deployment practices and cloud-based services, the cost of re-deployment and maintenance may lessen over time.

Cost to fix a defect Time detected
Requirements Architecture Construction System test Post-release
Time introduced Requirements 5–10× 10× 10–100×
Architecture 10× 15× 25–100×
Construction 10× 10–25×

The data from which this table is extrapolated is scant. Laurent Bossavit says in his analysis:

The “smaller projects” curve turns out to be from only two teams of first-year students, a sample size so small that extrapolating to “smaller projects in general” is totally indefensible. The GTE study does not explain its data, other than to say it came from two projects, one large and one small. The paper cited for the Bell Labs “Safeguard” project specifically disclaims having collected the fine-grained data that Boehm’s data points suggest. The IBM study (Fagan’s paper) contains claims which seem to contradict Boehm’s graph, and no numerical results which clearly correspond to his data points.

Boehm doesn’t even cite a paper for the TRW data, except when writing for “Making Software” in 2010, and there he cited the original 1976 article. There exists a large study conducted at TRW at the right time for Boehm to cite it, but that paper doesn’t contain the sort of data that would support Boehm’s claims.[12]


Software testing can be done by software testers. Until the 1980s, the term "software tester" was used generally, but later it was also seen as a separate profession. Regarding the periods and the different goals in software testing,[13] different roles have been established: manager, test lead, test analyst, test designer, tester, automation developer, and test administrator.


The separation of debugging from testing was initially introduced by Glenford J. Myers in 1979.[14] Although his attention was on breakage testing ("a successful test is one that finds a bug"[14][15]) it illustrated the desire of the software engineering community to separate fundamental development activities, such as debugging, from that of verification. Dave Gelperin and William C. Hetzel classified in 1988 the phases and goals in software testing in the following stages:[16]

  • Until 1956 – Debugging oriented[17]
  • 1957–1978 – Demonstration oriented[18]
  • 1979–1982 – Destruction oriented[19]
  • 1983–1987 – Evaluation oriented[20]
  • 1988–2000 – Prevention oriented[21]

Testing methods[edit]

Static vs. dynamic testing[edit]

There are many approaches to software testing. Reviews, walkthroughs, or inspections are referred to as static testing, whereas actually executing programmed code with a given set of test cases is referred to as dynamic testing. Static testing can be omitted, and in practice often is. Dynamic testing takes place when the program itself is used. Dynamic testing may begin before the program is 100% complete in order to test particular sections of code and are applied to discrete functions or modules. Typical techniques for this are either using stubs/drivers or execution from a debugger environment.

Static testing involves verification whereas dynamic testing involves validation. Together they help improve software quality.

The box approach[edit]

Software testing methods are traditionally divided into white- and black-box testing. These two approaches are used to describe the point of view that a test engineer takes when designing test cases.

White-Box testing[edit]

White-box testing (also known as clear box testing, glass box testing, transparent box testing and structural testing) tests internal structures or workings of a program, as opposed to the functionality exposed to the end-user. In white-box testing an internal perspective of the system, as well as programming skills, are used to design test cases. The tester chooses inputs to exercise paths through the code and determine the appropriate outputs. This is analogous to testing nodes in a circuit, e.g. in-circuit testing (ICT).

While white-box testing can be applied at the unit, integration and system levels of the software testing process, it is usually done at the unit level. It can test paths within a unit, paths between units during integration, and between subsystems during a system–level test. Though this method of test design can uncover many errors or problems, it might not detect unimplemented parts of the specification or missing requirements.

Techniques used in white-box testing include:

  • API testing (application programming interface) – testing of the application using public and private APIs
  • Code coverage – creating tests to satisfy some criteria of code coverage (e.g., the test designer can create tests to cause all statements in the program to be executed at least once)
  • Fault injection methods – intentionally introducing faults to gauge the efficacy of testing strategies
  • Mutation testing methods
  • Static testing methods

Code coverage tools can evaluate the completeness of a test suite that was created with any method, including black-box testing. This allows the software team to examine parts of a system that are rarely tested and ensures that the most important function points have been tested.[22] Code coverage as a software metric can be reported as a percentage for:

  • Function coverage, which reports on functions executed
  • Statement coverage, which reports on the number of lines executed to complete the test

100% statement coverage ensures that all code paths, or branches (in terms of control flow) are executed at least once. This is helpful in ensuring correct functionality, but not sufficient since the same code may process different inputs correctly or incorrectly.

Black-box testing[edit]

Black box diagram

Black-box testing treats the software as a "black box", examining functionality without any knowledge of internal implementation. The tester is only aware of what the software is supposed to do, not how it does it.[23] Black-box testing methods include: equivalence partitioning, boundary value analysis, all-pairs testing, state transition tables, decision table testing, fuzz testing, model-based testing, use case testing, exploratory testing and specification-based testing.

Specification-based testing aims to test the functionality of software according to the applicable requirements.[24] This level of testing usually requires thorough test cases to be provided to the tester, who then can simply verify that for a given input, the output value (or behavior), either "is" or "is not" the same as the expected value specified in the test case. Test cases are built around specifications and requirements, i.e., what the application is supposed to do. It uses external descriptions of the software, including specifications, requirements, and designs to derive test cases. These tests can be functional or non-functional, though usually functional.

Specification-based testing may be necessary to assure correct functionality, but it is insufficient to guard against complex or high-risk situations.[25]

One advantage of the black box technique is that no programming knowledge is required. Whatever biases the programmers may have had, the tester likely has a different set and may emphasize different areas of functionality. On the other hand, black-box testing has been said to be "like a walk in a dark labyrinth without a flashlight."[26] Because they do not examine the source code, there are situations when a tester writes many test cases to check something that could have been tested by only one test case, or leaves some parts of the program untested.

This method of test can be applied to all levels of software testing: unit, integration, system and acceptance. It typically comprises most if not all testing at higher levels, but can also dominate unit testing as well.

Visual testing[edit]

The aim of visual testing is to provide developers with the ability to examine what was happening at the point of software failure by presenting the data in such a way that the developer can easily find the information he or she requires, and the information is expressed clearly.[27][28]

At the core of visual testing is the idea that showing someone a problem (or a test failure), rather than just describing it, greatly increases clarity and understanding. Visual testing therefore requires the recording of the entire test process – capturing everything that occurs on the test system in video format. Output videos are supplemented by real-time tester input via picture-in-a-picture webcam and audio commentary from microphones.

Visual testing provides a number of advantages. The quality of communication is increased dramatically because testers can show the problem (and the events leading up to it) to the developer as opposed to just describing it and the need to replicate test failures will cease to exist in many cases. The developer will have all the evidence he or she requires of a test failure and can instead focus on the cause of the fault and how it should be fixed.

Visual testing is particularly well-suited for environments that deploy agile methods in their development of software, since agile methods require greater communication between testers and developers and collaboration within small teams.[citation needed]

Ad hoc testing and exploratory testing are important methodologies for checking software integrity, because they require less preparation time to implement, while the important bugs can be found quickly. In ad hoc testing, where testing takes place in an improvised, impromptu way, the ability of a test tool to visually record everything that occurs on a system becomes very important.[clarification needed][citation needed]

Visual testing is gathering recognition in customer acceptance and usability testing, because the test can be used by many individuals involved in the development process.[citation needed] For the customer, it becomes easy to provide detailed bug reports and feedback, and for program users, visual testing can record user actions on screen, as well as their voice and image, to provide a complete picture at the time of software failure for the developer.

Grey-box testing[edit]

Grey-box testing (American spelling: gray-box testing) involves having knowledge of internal data structures and algorithms for purposes of designing tests, while executing those tests at the user, or black-box level. The tester is not required to have full access to the software's source code.[29][not in citation given] Manipulating input data and formatting output do not qualify as grey-box, because the input and output are clearly outside of the "black box" that we are calling the system under test. This distinction is particularly important when conducting integration testing between two modules of code written by two different developers, where only the interfaces are exposed for test.

However, tests that require modifying a back-end data repository such as a database or a log file does qualify as grey-box, as the user would not normally be able to change the data repository in normal production operations.[citation needed] Grey-box testing may also include reverse engineering to determine, for instance, boundary values or error messages.

By knowing the underlying concepts of how the software works, the tester makes better-informed testing choices while testing the software from outside. Typically, a grey-box tester will be permitted to set up an isolated testing environment with activities such as seeding a database. The tester can observe the state of the product being tested after performing certain actions such as executing SQL statements against the database and then executing queries to ensure that the expected changes have been reflected. Grey-box testing implements intelligent test scenarios, based on limited information. This will particularly apply to data type handling, exception handling, and so on.[30]

Testing levels[edit]

Tests are frequently grouped by where they are added in the software development process, or by the level of specificity of the test. The main levels during the development process as defined by the SWEBOK guide are unit-, integration-, and system testing that are distinguished by the test target without implying a specific process model.[31] Other test levels are classified by the testing objective.[31]

Unit testing[edit]

Unit testing, also known as component testing, refers to tests that verify the functionality of a specific section of code, usually at the function level. In an object-oriented environment, this is usually at the class level, and the minimal unit tests include the constructors and destructors.[32]

These types of tests are usually written by developers as they work on code (white-box style), to ensure that the specific function is working as expected. One function might have multiple tests, to catch corner cases or other branches in the code. Unit testing alone cannot verify the functionality of a piece of software, but rather is used to assure that the building blocks the software uses work independently of each other.

Unit testing is a software development process that involves synchronized application of a broad spectrum of defect prevention and detection strategies in order to reduce software development risks, time, and costs. It is performed by the software developer or engineer during the construction phase of the software development lifecycle. Rather than replace traditional QA focuses, it augments it. Unit testing aims to eliminate construction errors before code is promoted to QA; this strategy is intended to increase the quality of the resulting software as well as the efficiency of the overall development and QA process.

Depending on the organization's expectations for software development, unit testing might include static code analysis, data flow analysis metrics analysis, peer code reviews, code coverage analysis and other software verification practices.

Integration testing[edit]

Integration testing is any type of software testing that seeks to verify the interfaces between components against a software design. Software components may be integrated in an iterative way or all together ("big bang"). Normally the former is considered a better practice since it allows interface issues to be located more quickly and fixed.

Integration testing works to expose defects in the interfaces and interaction between integrated components (modules). Progressively larger groups of tested software components corresponding to elements of the architectural design are integrated and tested until the software works as a system.[33]

System testing[edit]

System testing tests a completely integrated system to verify that it meets its requirements.[34]

In addition, the software testing should ensure that the program, as well as working as expected, does not also destroy or partially corrupt its operating environment or cause other processes within that environment to become inoperative (this includes not corrupting shared memory, not consuming or locking up excessive resources and leaving any parallel processes unharmed by its presence).[citation needed]

Acceptance testing[edit]

At last the system is delivered to the user for Acceptance testing.

Testing Types[edit]

Installation testing[edit]

An installation test assures that the system is installed correctly and working at actual customer's hardware.

Compatibility testing[edit]

A common cause of software failure (real or perceived) is a lack of its compatibility with other application software, operating systems (or operating system versions, old or new), or target environments that differ greatly from the original (such as a terminal or GUI application intended to be run on the desktop now being required to become a web application, which must render in a web browser). For example, in the case of a lack of backward compatibility, this can occur because the programmers develop and test software only on the latest version of the target environment, which not all users may be running. This results in the unintended consequence that the latest work may not function on earlier versions of the target environment, or on older hardware that earlier versions of the target environment was capable of using. Sometimes such issues can be fixed by proactively abstracting operating system functionality into a separate program module or library.

Smoke and sanity testing[edit]

Sanity testing determines whether it is reasonable to proceed with further testing.

Smoke testing consists of minimal attempts to operate the software, designed to determine whether there are any basic problems that will prevent it from working at all. Such tests can be used as build verification test.

Regression testing[edit]

Regression testing focuses on finding defects after a major code change has occurred. Specifically, it seeks to uncover software regressions, or old bugs that have come back. Such regressions occur whenever software functionality that was previously working correctly stops working as intended. Typically, regressions occur as an unintended consequence of program changes, when the newly developed part of the software collides with the previously existing code. Common methods of regression testing include re-running previously run tests and checking whether previously fixed faults have re-emerged. The depth of testing depends on the phase in the release process and the risk of the added features. They can either be complete, for changes added late in the release or deemed to be risky, or be very shallow, consisting of positive tests on each feature, if the changes are early in the release or deemed to be of low risk.

Acceptance testing[edit]

Acceptance testing can mean one of two things:

  1. A smoke test is used as an acceptance test prior to introducing a new build to the main testing process, i.e. before integration or regression.
  2. Acceptance testing performed by the customer, often in their lab environment on their own hardware, is known as user acceptance testing (UAT). Acceptance testing may be performed as part of the hand-off process between any two phases of development.[citation needed]

Alpha testing[edit]

Alpha testing is simulated or actual operational testing by potential users/customers or an independent test team at the developers' site. Alpha testing is often employed for off-the-shelf software as a form of internal acceptance testing, before the software goes to beta testing.[35]

Beta testing[edit]

Beta testing comes after alpha testing and can be considered a form of external user acceptance testing. Versions of the software, known as beta versions, are released to a limited audience outside of the programming team. The software is released to groups of people so that further testing can ensure the product has few faults or bugs. Sometimes, beta versions are made available to the open public to increase the feedback field to a maximal number of future users.[citation needed]

Functional vs non-functional testing[edit]

Functional testing refers to activities that verify a specific action or function of the code. These are usually found in the code requirements documentation, although some development methodologies work from use cases or user stories. Functional tests tend to answer the question of "can the user do this" or "does this particular feature work."

Non-functional testing refers to aspects of the software that may not be related to a specific function or user action, such as scalability or other performance, behavior under certain constraints, or security. Testing will determine the flake point, the point at which extremes of scalability or performance leads to unstable execution. Non-functional requirements tend to be those that reflect the quality of the product, particularly in the context of the suitability perspective of its users.

Destructive testing[edit]

Destructive testing attempts to cause the software or a sub-system to fail. It verifies that the software functions properly even when it receives invalid or unexpected inputs, thereby establishing the robustness of input validation and error-management routines.[citation needed] Software fault injection, in the form of fuzzing, is an example of failure testing. Various commercial non-functional testing tools are linked from the software fault injection page; there are also numerous open-source and free software tools available that perform destructive testing.

Software performance testing[edit]