Testing techniques

In a simplified view of a software testing process, developers perform two distinct tasks: designing test cases, and executing test cases.

The first task, as we just mentioned, is about analysing and designing test cases. In simple words, the goal of this stage is to systematically devise different test cases that together will give us a certain level of confidence as to whether the software is ready to be shipped or not. Devising test cases is an activity that is often done by humans (although we will explore the state-of-the-art in software testing research, where machines also try to devise test cases for us). After all, it requires good knowledge of the requirements. In the Roman Numeral example of a previous chapter, we devised three test cases during the test case design phase.

The second task is about executing the test cases we have devised. We often do this by running the software system, feeding it with the inputs we crafted, and checking whether the system responded in the way we expected. Although this phase can also be done by humans, this is an activity that we can easily automate. As we discussed before, we can (and should) write a program that runs our software and executes the test cases.

As a side note, in industry, the term "automated software testing" often relates to the automatic execution of test cases (that were manually devised). In academia, whenever a research paper says "automated software testing", it means automatically creating test cases (by means of artificial intelligence techniques, for instance).

When it comes to devising test cases, while our experience helps us a lot in finding bugs, it might not be enough:

  • Experience-based testing is highly prone to mistakes. The developer might forget to test a corner case.
  • It varies from person to person. Our goal is to define techniques such that any developer in the world is able to test any software.
  • Without clear criteria, it is difficult to know when to stop testing. Our gut feelings might not be precise enough.

The following chapters aim at exploring different techniques to test a software system effectively, rigorously, and systematically, and how to automate as many steps as possible along the way. These techniques will rely on the different artefacts that are present during the software development process.

More specifically, we will discuss the following topics:

  • Specification-based testing: Techniques to derive tests from textual requirements. Understanding the category/partition method and equivalence partitioning.

  • Boundary testing: Deriving tests that exercise the boundaries of our requirement.

  • Structural testing: Test cases based on the structure of the source code.

  • Model-based testing: Leveraging more formal documentation such as state machines and decision tables to derive tests.

  • Design-by-contracts: Devising explicit contracts for methods and classes to ensure that they behave correctly when these contracts are (and are not) met.

  • Property-based testing: Deriving properties of the system (similar to contracts) and using them to automatically generate test cases.

References

  • Yu, C. S., Treude, C., & Aniche, M. (2019, July). Comprehending Test Code: An Empirical Study. In 2019 IEEE International Conference on Software Maintenance and Evolution (ICSME) (pp. 501-512). IEEE. Chicago

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