Blog / What Is Continuous Testing in DevOps?

What Is Continuous Testing in DevOps?

The modern complexities of modern software development necessitate an evolved approach to digital quality assurance. Legacy software development meant stages of development spanning months of siloed work.

For many industries and organizations, this simply isn’t how it’s done anymore. Many businesses deal with intense competition that requires being first to market, adaptive to customer needs, or efficient with time and resources — sometimes all three. Today’s age of iterative development means software testing must occur throughout the software development lifecycle, ideally as a shared responsibility to ensure that the effects of defects are minimized. Anything short leaves open the possibility of friction and defects in the customer experience.

In short, a bug found sooner is better than later, and a bug found later is better than one never found. Enter continuous testing, a DevOps concept that helps organizations prioritize digital quality from the initial planning stages of development all the way through release and the user’s interactions with the product — and repeat, ad infinitum.

But what is continuous testing, and how does it work? In this blog, we’ll address the following areas:

  • What is continuous testing in DevOps?

  • Differences between continuous testing and other approaches

  • The role of continuous testing in DevOps

  • Continuous testing benefits

  • Continuous testing challenges

  • Continuous testing methodologies

  • Frameworks and tools for continuous testing

  • Applause solutions to support continuous testing

What is continuous testing in DevOps?

Continuous testing in DevOps is a digital quality assurance approach that emphasizes ongoing testing at all stages of the software development lifecycle. Compared to traditional software testing approaches, continuous testing involves:

  • incorporating a quality-centric mindset throughout the organization that promotes shared responsibility

  • shifting testing both left and right to catch bugs during development and after release

  • adopting test automation wherever it can reliably catch defects

  • embracing continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) with automated tests triggering on code commits

  • achieving comprehensive test coverage through a variety of testing types

  • seeking rapid and continuous feedback that provides actionable insight to dev teams

  • promoting collaboration between different teams and roles to alleviate barriers to software quality

  • improving visibility into testing activities and execution

For these reasons, organizations often undertake continuous testing and DevOps conjointly, as they share some of the same objectives and actions. What continuous testing provides is a path to alleviate testing backlogs and improve quality from the outset of product development.

Differences between continuous testing and other approaches

What is continuous testing, and how does it compare to similar approaches? There are plenty of similarities between continuous testing and other Agile or DevOps approaches to digital quality. Let’s clarify some of these similarities and differences below.

Continuous testing vs. test automation. Test automation refers to the practice of writing and executing automated test scripts. Test automation is very useful in achieving greater test coverage without adding extra burden onto QA teams, as a high volume of automated tests can execute quickly and at days or times that might be inconvenient for manual testers.

Thus, test automation is one specific technique that can be useful when embracing continuous testing — perhaps even the most important technique. While continuous testing makes great use of test automation to accomplish its overall objectives, it goes well beyond the scope of automation, aiming to evolve testing practices and activities throughout both the organization and the software development life cycle. That makes test automation one piece of the continuous testing puzzle.

Continuous testing vs. continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD). Similar to the example above, CI/CD helps enable continuous testing, but ultimately serves a different, distinct purpose.

CI/CD involves two different processes (integration and delivery of code) with the goal of reliably, securely and quickly integrating developer code changes into the code base. Through CI, the code is built and tested to identify potential defects. CD, which comes after CI, involves automatically deploying the code to the appropriate environments, such as staging or production.

In short, the goal of continuous testing is more efficient, effective testing, while the goal of CI/CD is more efficient, effective code integration and deployment. These goals are similar, but not synonymous.

Continuous testing vs. shift-left or shift-right testing. Both shift-left and shift-right testing involve spreading testing out across the development life cycle to alleviate testing backlogs and inefficiencies. Shift-left testing means moving tests earlier in the SDLC, such as automated integration and unit tests. Shift-right testing involves validating functionality and users flows after the bulk of testing is done, either with beta or production users.

The goals of continuous testing and shift-left/shift-right testing are the same. However, shift-left and shift-right are simply means of achieving continuous testing. A variety of additional tasks help facilitate continuous testing, including adopting a shared responsibility approach to digital quality, emphasizing automation and adopting different testing types to achieve better test coverage.

The role of continuous testing in DevOps

Just as some of the approaches mentioned above help facilitate continuous testing, organizations that adopt DevOps will likely gravitate towards and make use of continuous testing to help achieve their broader goals of consistent, high-quality, efficient software development and delivery. DevOps does not necessitate the use of continuous testing, but often relies on the approach.

Here are some of the typical similarities in approach between continuous testing and DevOps.

Feedback for developers. DevOps aims to improve and accelerate feedback loops. Continuous testing helps deliver rapid feedback to enable developers to improve performance and address defects as early as possible in the SDLC, when the cost and risk are lower.

Automation. DevOps relies on automation to reduce tedious manual tasks and get more value from teams and resources. Continuous testing also relies on automation for the same reason as well as to boost test coverage. CI/CD, in which code is automatically built and integrated, is a common hallmark of both approaches.

Blend of speed and quality. DevOps encourages quick incremental releases. But what about software quality? Continuous testing helps make the speed of these releases possible from a practical perspective, spreading testing throughout the lifecycle and making it ongoing so releases don’t have to wait for a glut of tests to complete before launch.

Cross-organization collaboration. Breaking down silos and fostering collaboration is a big part of achieving DevOps-oriented outcomes. Continuous testing encourages this approach as well, by making digital quality the responsibility of all team members who help develop software. In both approaches, shared responsibility helps teams succeed and meet their goals.

Continuous improvement. Under DevOps, digital products are iterative, meaning they can improve with each update. This is also the goal for the teams themselves in both DevOps and continuous testing approaches, as teams can pinpoint areas of inefficiency and work toward ongoing improvement together.

Continuous testing benefits

Compared to the potential hazards of a lengthy, phased approach to software testing, the benefits of continuous testing are numerous and significant. When evaluating the best way to adopt continuous testing, organizations should consider establishing benchmarks to measure the success of continuous testing efforts to justify further adjustments in the future, or with other departments within the business.

Continuous testing benefits include the following:

Earlier defect detection. Shift-left testing is a common tactic with continuous testing, pushing test execution earlier in the SDLC. Defects caught during the early stages of development are easier and cheaper to remediate than reputation-damaging production defects. For example, a defect caught by a developer running a unit test might only necessitate a quick code change that nobody in a production environment notices, but a severe defect in a live setting might require a product rollback or emergency bug fix, which carries a hefty resource cost.

Improved software quality. Testing throughout the SDLC opens up opportunities to validate the product via automated tests early on or user-facing assessments after launch. While it might be ideal to catch defects or issues early, a full-scale focus on digital quality with continuous testing will inevitably improve test coverage and reduce risk.

Reliable, efficient testing. Inconsistencies in the SDLC misalign expectations across teams. From there, projects might experience delays or otherwise be rushed to production with unfixed issues. Through continuous testing, and especially through an organization-wide approach to quality that includes automation for consistency and speed, the company can have confidence that its releases have undergone sufficient and effective testing.

Collaborative approach to digital quality. Software quality is no longer just a tester’s concern, especially in continuous testing. In DevOps and continuous testing, different groups across the organization work together to remove impediments and achieve goals. When development, operations and testing teams work together with a shared vision and open communication, both the customer and the business are happier with the end product.

Customer satisfaction. The whole point of creating a digital product — other than turning a profit — is to serve a customer need. That’s why organizations establish customer requirements and test software in the first place. Continuous testing helps organizations prioritize quality at all stages of development, including when the product is in the customers’ hands, to improve retention, satisfaction and loyalty.

Continuous testing challenges

Every software development or testing approach comes with its challenges and setbacks. To succeed with the approach and deliver better products to customers, the organization must be ready to confront these continuous testing challenges:

Adapting to change. Continuous testing and DevOps require an organization-wide commitment to changing how work gets done. Sometimes, leaders fail to properly train or equip team members with the skills and tools they need. Other times, team members’ resistance to change undermines the efforts of leadership. There are many potential obstacles, tangible or otherwise, that can get in the way of adopting a continuous testing approach — and not always easy fixes.

Provisioning the right environments. It’s important to maintain a stable test environment that works seamlessly with the code base. Inconsistencies in the test environment can result in false positives or defects escaping to production. The same goes for the production environment, which should mirror the test environment to ensure code functions as expected.

Automation challenges. It’s no easy task to create a robust test automation suite. It takes time to create these tests. Even when the automation is in place, organizations can run into issues with flaky tests — inconsistent results caused by a variety of factors, like inconsistency between testing environments. And integration issues can occur when integrating these automated tests with the various tools within a CI/CD pipeline. In short, automation is a huge help toward achieving test coverage, but also presents a myriad of complexity, consistency, time and integration challenges, all of which might present a false sense of security.

Maintenance. Another ongoing challenge with test automation is maintaining test scripts. The application will evolve over time to add features, meet new standards, adjust to new designs or adapt to customer expectations. These changes require the team to update automated test scripts, which might be a problem if automation skills are limited or time constraints come into play.

Resource constraints. Software development teams use a variety of tools to get their work done. Continuous testing might require the use of additional tools, which means more budget and/or risk. Don’t forget to upskill as many members of the team as possible so that one person isn’t tied down managing one task, like test automation. Additionally, collaboration between developers, testers and operations teams means more of those personnel resources get tied up in testing activities. To succeed with continuous testing, invest in resources and tools wisely.

Continuous testing methodologies

Continuous testing in DevOps is not a singular type of testing or tool. A continuous testing approach requires a constant and ongoing focus on digital quality throughout the SDLC. Thus, continuous testing methodologies and approaches encompass a range of tests to accomplish the ultimate objective of better, more efficient digital quality.

Shift-left and shift-right testing alleviate the burden of testing for QA professionals. By moving some tests to the development and production stages of the SDLC, organizations can either catch bugs earlier where they are easier to remediate, or later where they only manifest in production environments.

Additionally, continuous testing takes advantage of test automation to achieve greater test coverage. Developers often write and automate unit tests, which validate the smallest bits of code possible, and integration tests, which validate how one system works with another within an end-to-end workflow. Automated regression tests can also ensure that software changes do not adversely affect previously working functionality. Smoke tests, which can be manual or automated, provide a quick and rough assessment of the features under test.

Beyond automated functional tests, non-functional tests also have a place in continuous testing — the software must work, but it also must work well. Performance testing reveals how the software perhaps as a whole, with integrated hardware and middleware also taken into account. There’s a wide variety of different performance tests that organizations can run, automatically or manually, including load tests, stress tests, spike tests and volume tests.

Ideally, most organizations remove bugs before a product reaches production, but some defects only manifest on the user’s unique device/OS/network environment. User acceptance testing (UAT) helps reveal the issues that a subset of users experience. Alpha, beta and canary testing are types of UAT. User experience testing offers further insight into how an end user feels about the product, including what delights them or is off-putting.

Crowdtesting goes a step further to solicit real feedback from users who match criteria selected by the organization. Crowdtesting providers can provide testing throughout the SDLC, as early as during a sprint or as late as in the production environment, augmenting the internal QA efforts already in place. A crowdtesting provider can tap into its pool of digital experts, such as Applause’s network of more than one million global testers, to uncover defects in real user environments. One example might be testing a customer journey from a specific target demographic on a mobile app on the latest iPhone and iOS in a European country — testing that cannot be reliably simulated.

Frameworks and tools for continuous testing

Continuous testing can entail a chain of tools and frameworks. The most common and popular continuous testing tools are typically open source or third-party options that enable test automation or CI/CD pipelines, but many other tools will foster more comprehensive or efficient testing.

Some of types of continuous testing tools include:

  • test automation tools like Selenium, Cucumber and Appium

  • CI/CD platforms like Jenkins, Travis CI and TeamCity

  • non-functional testing tools like Gatling, LoadRunner and BlazeMeter

  • API testing tools like Postman, Swagger or SoapUI

  • cloud-based testing platforms like Sauce Labs, BrowserStack and Applitools

  • crowdtesting solutions and services like Applause.

Additionally, a variety of continuous testing frameworks can help keep teams on track. While some of the methodologies and practices discussed above are keys to continuous testing success, these frameworks help foster the approach as a means of organization.

Continuous testing frameworks include:

Continuous testing maturity model. Organizations design or follow this type of model to define how well it has established continuous testing according to a variety of stages or levels. Individual maturity models might prioritize or deemphasize certain criteria, but the overall approach serves as a roadmap from beginning stages to full integration into the organization’s culture. Organizations use these models to track progress over time and improve.

Test-Driven Development (TDD). In this approach, the organization writes tests that fail by default, until the code satisfies that the test passes. TDD inserts testing into the earliest stages of development and inverts the traditional logic of software development, forcing the source code to validate the test instead of the test validating the code. Developers refactor the code to be as minimal as possible while still causing the test to pass, then commit the code to the base.

Behavior-Driven Development (BDD). Emphasizing the use of plain language to describe what a system should do, BDD puts customer interactions and user pathways at the forefront of dev and test. Developers, testers and other experts throughout the organization collaborate in BDD to create user stories that ultimately define software functionality — and evolve along with the digital product. For testers, BDD scenarios typically provide the basis of their tests, including automated tests which can be written with a variety of structured languages.

Acceptance Test-Driven Development (ATDD). Similar to the above frameworks and methodologies, ATDD fosters collaboration throughout the dev organization to define acceptance criteria that serves as a basis for the product. ATDD relies on automated continuous acceptance tests to validate that the app meets established requirements and delivers feedback on where it fails.

Testing pyramid. This visualization serves to inform organizations how they should distribute their quantity of tests throughout the SDLC. The testing pyramid typically puts unit tests at the bottom, which can be reliably automated and are typically numerous, and more complicated, time-consuming tests, like end-to-end tests, at the top.

Ultimately, the means of achieving continuous testing are less important than the results. Overly prescriptive approaches to continuous testing, DevOps or any software development or testing methodology can do more harm than good. Work to refine and improve in your continuous testing efforts to see real business benefits.

Applause solutions to support continuous testing

Whether the goal of your continuous testing efforts is to expand test coverage, see better ROI on digital quality investment, improve the customer experience or all of the above, Applause stands ready to help you achieve it. As the world leader in testing and digital quality, Applause helps well-known brands all around the world meet their testing needs with our global community of more than one million digital experts.

Applause testing solutions offer unmatched speed, scale and flexibility to support your continuous testing efforts. Applause offers everything from in-sprint testing to AI training and testing to crowd-driven test automation and, of course, real user feedback to gather substantive feedback throughout the SDLC, with results seamlessly delivered to your reporting system of choice. Applause offers additional services and support for accessibility, localization and customer journey testing, constantly evolving to meet the needs of our enterprise customers.

Let’s start a conversation today about your continuous testing goals and how Applause can help supplement testing throughout the SDLC.


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