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Software Testing - An Essential Key to Software Success

Software Testing - An Essential Key to Software SuccessSoftware testing - what is it, how is it performed, and will it be beneficial to me? All these are valid questions when it comes to software development. Software testing is part of the software development lifecycle, which basically begins with identification of requirements and ends with the formal verification of software against these requirements. Software testing is process steps setup to test and ensure that the software is performing as specified. Considering that components of software may be reused in different ways than otherwise thought by the developer, testing is most essential. Testing is also very important if a developer is considering integrating components from other applications, because a system is only as good as the weakest link. An all-encompassing component that is developed is likely to have more applications touch it, for which a higher standard should be considered.

Software quality essentially will be higher and more efficient when testing is performed at an early stage in development. Testing should be actively developed during the component's concept phase, whether using Extreme Programming or another approach. Specifications of the software and the software testing should be done before the development of the software to alleviate the mistake of testing the software against what is observed, versus what it is specifically required to do. Testers should work hand-in-hand with the developers and define what needs to be tested and at which part in the cycle it should be done. Verification (checking for conformance and consistency) and Validation (checking specifications user requested) is important to the integrity of the software. Software testing using these activities is ineffective without software specifications. Full regression testing also needs to be done when changes are implemented.

Don’t confuse software testing with debugging. Debugging is used to locate bugs and analyzing them when software indicates by its performance that there is a problem. Although debugging supports software testing, it shouldn't be used as a replacement.

Software Testing - An Essential Key to Software SuccessThere is not one standard methodology that will work for everyone, so a specific process should be developed for each organization keeping in mind flexibility for cross-functional communication. Having a testing strategy up-front is very important. This hierarchy of specifications will allow for testing at different phases of the project. The key to testing is to find the problems as early as possible before integrations with other components and after the inception with these components. One could consider these three specifications: Requirements, Architectural Design, and Detailed Design when developing testing methods. Requirements are the specifics of what the software could do and how this will be achieved. The Architectural Design should describe the relationships between components of the software and how it will implement the requirements. Detailed Design breaks down the implementation into individual units.

A great deal of thought and consideration should go into developing the testing for software; this is where many times bugs are found before the testing begins. Testing should be carried out in various stages. Once the specifications for each level have been written, then the designing of the tests may begin. Tests should always be designed before the implementation of the software to avoid the mistake of testing against what is observed versus what is specified. Like the testing itself, the test design process should evolve from different stages and include specifications from the software.

Another important key to every project is Release Criteria. Having release criteria will help establish when the project is "done" or "done enough" and ready for release. Knowing exactly what is expected or having object measurements, will aid in the development so developers can concentrate on the specifics of what needs to be done by the deadline date. With a release criteria date, developers can work on making it run or execute it in the simplest way possible, so they can build from there and the additional steps can be completed after this initial date. When planning release criteria, one should consider the importance of the project and categorize and prioritize them so and initial release date may be set. Release criteria can be a very effective tool in evaluating the phases of the project, by measuring the progress to see if the deadline dates will be met or if an adjustment should be made in the schedule.

Testing stages should begin with a Test Strategy that identifies what types of tests will be performed, how they will be performed, and what type of tools will be involved. When developing a test strategy, one should look at the "big picture", and develop a process organizational wide. Test Plan is the next step to the process, where information on which items will be tested and at what levels. Prioritization of these levels, the conditions of the testing environment, and how the test strategy will be implemented with each item should also be included. Test plans may be for individual steps or project wide and should include details for the development of all intended tests. Meeting the software requirements is the reasoning behind test plans. Test plans should be designed for the following tests: Unit Testing, Software Integration Testing, System Testing, and Acceptance Testing.

The first step in the testing process should begin with Unit Testing. To verify that correct implementation of the design has been done, each basic unit of the software should be tested, hence, Unit Testing. Unit Testing can help produce more accurate code with better-designed systems. Software Integration Testing is designed to integrate large groups of already tested components as a whole that will work together. System Testing reflects that all requirements have been met, when the software is integrated with the overall product. The last phase of testing is Acceptance Testing, where the actual client or customer has a hand on session with the software or system, and accepts the results as meeting the set requirements.

Another testing procedure that could be performed is called Black-box testing or "behavioral" testing. During this type of test, components are sent a message to see how they respond and what functions they perform. Users know the results of the test, but not why the test was done. This test is done to ensure the functionality of what is expected. White-box testing also known as "instructional or architectural”; helps to define the tests that will be used, by use of its internal knowledge of the software. Another phrase for this testing is clear-box or glass-box testing. Gray-box testing is a "new breed" of testing that combines Black-box and White-box testing.

Two other key aspects of software testing are static and dynamic analysis. Static analysis is conducted without executing the code, while gathering metrics and looking for problems in the source code. While dynamic analysis is preformed while the software is executing, and looks at its behavior and provides such information as, timing profiles, test coverage information, and execution traces.

At each level of testing for an item, a testing scenario should indicate how particular requirements or design decision will be applied, and what will be the standard for a successful test. Positive (does what it should) and negative (doesn't do things it shouldn't) scenarios must also be used. Scenarios performed should follow a certain designated process and the test results should be documented and assessed against the criteria. Test results and summaries can be used in reports for analysis. Considering the amount of scenarios that could be performed, a Verification Cross Reference Index (VCRI) should be kept for organizational and cross-reference purposes.

During the various levels of testing, one can only advance to the next level when all the problems of the software or testing procedures themselves have been solved. Even though acceptance of the software has been accomplished, this does not mean the testing phase is over. Maintaining the software or fixing problems that occur during use, is all part of this cycle. Repetition, modification, and extension of testing sometimes become a major portion of the overall cost of developing and maintaining software. Regression testing is done to make sure that any change made to the software doesn't have any new side effects.

The last consideration is the software maintenance lifecycle. A plan should be devised in which procedures will be followed for maintenance. Decisions also need to be made on the estimated lifespan not only of the product, but also of the maintenance.

Many testing tools exist today that can help make this process more efficient and faster. Having a testing strategy and implementing it throughout an organization is just another way to achieve a quality product. Finding and fixing bugs early in the process will help keep costs down. There is nothing like a first impression, having a customer frown upon a product that was delivered with bugs in it, may cause that customer to go elsewhere next time around. Even though patches and fixes for software might be minor to the developer, it may cause the customer to think twice for the inconvenience.