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Oleksandr Leonov, QA Automation Engineer Lead & Mentor's Scrum Master

Dec 07, 2023 15 min read

Automated Functional Testing: Why And How To Do It

This article explores the various aspects of automated functional testing, including its definition, significance, types, and the rationale behind choosing which tests to automate. 

Automated Functional Testing

Functional testing is crucial because it ensures your software works as intended.  The reliability of your software's core functionality is paramount, regardless of how user-friendly or compatible your product may be.  This article explores the various aspects of automated functional testing, including its definition, significance, types, and the rationale behind choosing which tests to automate. 

What is Functional Testing? 

Functional testing holds excellent importance in software development. Its ability to detect errors in software ensures a high-quality product. Functional testing verifies that a software product meets the requirements. Its primary objective is to ensure that all functions of the software work as expected, meaning they perform their functions correctly and efficiently. 

Functional testing is an indispensable stage in software development, and it is employed in various industries and for different types of software. It helps mitigate the risk of critical errors in the software and ensures its stable and reliable operation in real-world usage scenarios. 

Functional testing is crucial in quality assurance, where your software ensures it matches the specifications and requirements outlined in the documentation. It checks to ensure all the essential functions work as they should. This type of testing is typically one of the first steps when assessing a new or updated product. 

Why Automate Functional Testing? 

The decision to automate functional testing hinges on various factors: 

  • Stability and Repetition: Tests that are stable and executed repeatedly are prime candidates for automation. Automated tests excel in repeatedly verifying the same functionality. 
  • Test Volume: Automated functional testing can significantly reduce testing time and effort if you have many test cases. 
  • Regression Testing: Automated regression testing ensures that code changes do not introduce new defects into existing functionality. 
  • Data-Driven Tests: Automated functional testing is beneficial when multiple data sets need to be tested against the same functionality. 

Automated functional testing is a strategic choice based on factors such as stability, test volume, regression testing, and the need for data-driven tests. It offers efficiency and reliability in ensuring software functionality. 

Types of Automation Functional Testing 

Functional testing encompasses a range of approaches, from smoke testing to regression and acceptance testing. Each type plays a unique role in ensuring the success of a software application. Here, we will explore some of the most widely used functional testing types, considering their applicability to automation. 

Understanding the following functional testing types is crucial for effective software quality assurance. Let's take a closer look at each of them: 

Smoke Testing 

Smoke testing involves minimal tests executed immediately after a software deployment to ensure the basic functionalities are operational. It serves as a quick verification mechanism to prevent critical issues from progressing. Smoke testing remains crucial, even in the presence of regression testing. These rapid, 5-10 minute tests act as a litmus test, quickly signaling whether critical system functions are operational. It allows the development team to ascertain that users can interact with the application while the more extensive regression tests are still running. Depending on the application's complexity, it may take several hours or even half a day. 

Regression Testing  

Often considered a cornerstone of automated functional testing, regression testing is imperative. It involves retesting previously validated functionalities to ensure new code changes have not introduced unintended issues. 

Acceptance Testing 

Acceptance testing assesses whether the software satisfies user requirements and business objectives. It validates that the software is ready for release and use. 

Implementing Automated Functional Testing: Step by Step 

The process of implementing automated functional testing involves several key steps: 

IMPLEMENTATION STEPS

1. Analyze Requirements and Existing Documentation 

  • Begin by identifying the project's requirements and reviewing any available documentation. 
  • Perform exploratory (manual) testing to gain insights and document your findings. 

2. Select Test Cases for Automation 

  • Choose test cases that are suitable for automation, considering their stability and frequency of execution. 
  • Group these test cases into sets for regression and smoke testing. 

3. Choose Automation Frameworks and Tools 

  • Select automation frameworks and tools based on your project's requirements and team's expertise. 
  • Ensure compatibility with your application's technology stack. 

4. Set Up the Testing Environment 

  • Configure or integrate your chosen automation tools with the testing environment. It includes test servers and continuous integration (CI) pipelines. 

5. Script Test Cases 

  • Write test scripts that automate the selected test cases.  Focus on making the scripts reusable and easy to maintain. 

6. Execute Test Runs 

  • Run your automated test scripts and monitor their execution. 

7. Generate Test Reports 

  • Create comprehensive test reports, including bug reports if applicable. 
  • Document the results of both successful and failed test cases. 
  • Analyze the results and report any issues. 

8. Maintain and Update Tests 

  • Regularly maintain and update your automated tests to reflect changes in the application. 
  • Add new test cases as the application evolves. 

Automation functional testing is a critical component of software quality assurance, enhancing the efficiency of applications. Selecting the appropriate tests for automation is crucial to optimizing the testing process and reducing costs associated with identifying and fixing defects. With the right approach, automated functional testing can contribute significantly to successfully delivering high-quality software products. 

Selecting the Right Automation Tool for Functional Testing   

Exploring the latest tools and frameworks is essential when considering how to automate functional testing, streamlining the testing process and ensuring software quality. When selecting the technology stack for automation functional testing, several factors must be considered. Below, we outline some key considerations for technology selection: 

Programming Language Choice:  The choice of language should depend on the tester, but if the client wants developers to be involved as well, we should opt for something they are also familiar with.   

Some of the most widely used languages for test automation are JavaScript/TypeScript, Java, and Python. 

Framework Selection: The choice of testing framework largely depends on the type of application you are testing (web, mobile, desktop) and the programming language you've selected. Below is a table summarizing popular automation frameworks. 

Framework  

Web  

Mobile  

Desktop  

Program languages  

WebdriverIO  

Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Microsoft Edge 

Appium or other services 

Native support of electron app testing + Appium or other services 

JavaScript / TypeScript 

Playwright  

Chromium, Firefox, WebKit (Safari) 

Android (Chromium-based), iOS (WebKit-based) 

Windows, macOS, Linux 

JavaScript / TypeScript, Java, Python, C#

Cypress  

Chrome-based browsers (including Chrome, Edge, and Electron)

Cypress does not have native support for mobile application testing

Electron applications, which are desktop applications built with web technologies

JavaScript / TypeScript 

Selenium  

Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Safari, Opera 

Appium or other services 

Appium or other services 

JavaScript / Typescript, Java, Python, C#, Ruby, PHP 

Robot Framework 

Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge

Appium or other services 

Native support of electron app testing + Appium or other services 

Python, Java 

In some cases, additional technologies may be required. Tools like Appium are commonly used for mobile application automation. For cross-platform testing, services like BrowserStack can be beneficial. Consider integrating one or more reporting tools to enhance test reporting and result visualization.  

Selecting the right technology stack for automated testing efforts is crucial for efficient and effective testing processes. It's essential to align your choices with your project's specific needs and the types of applications you are testing.

Automated functional testing is a critical aspect of software development. To ensure its effectiveness, consider the following valuable tips: 

Write Independent and Cohesive Tests: 

  • Tests should be designed to be as independent as possible, ensuring that each test case stands alone without relying on the results of other tests. 
  • Cohesive tests should have a clear, logical flow from start to finish, making them easy to understand and maintain. 

Stay Updated with Stable Frameworks and Dependencies: 

  • Regularly update your testing frameworks, dependencies, and tools to the latest stable versions. Newer versions often include bug fixes, performance improvements, and new features. 

Ensure Application Compatibility: 

  • Verify your application is tested on the latest web browsers and development framework versions. Compatibility checks should be an integral part of your testing strategy. 

Implement Robust Assertions: 

  • Every automated test should include robust assertions. Assertions are the checkpoints that verify whether an application's behavior matches the expected outcome. 
  • To ensure the correctness of your assertions, test them with invalid data to confirm that they fail when a bug is present. Every test should conclude with an assertion. 

The Significance of Automated Functional Testing 

Automation functional testing plays a pivotal role in software development. Functional test automation has evolved into a standard practice within software development and quality assurance. This transformation is driven by various factors highlighting the advantages and necessity of automation in testing processes. 

Here are some benefits of Automated functional testing:

01

Efficiency and Speed  Automation allows for the rapid execution of test cases, significantly reducing the time required for testing. While manual testing can be time-consuming and prone to human error, automated tests can run continuously and swiftly, providing results much faster. 

02

Enhanced Test Coverage Automation enables comprehensive test coverage, as it can execute many test cases without fatigue or oversight. It ensures that critical functionalities are thoroughly tested. 

03

Early Bug Detection  Automated tests can be integrated into the development pipeline, catching bugs and issues in the early stages. It significantly reduces the cost and effort required for bug fixing. 

04

Consistency  Functional automated testing ensures that tests are executed consistently, reducing the risk of human error. It leads to reliable and repeatable results. 

Automated Functional Testing Methodologies 

Automated functional testing serves as a pivotal component of the software development process, ensuring that software functions as intended with precision and reliability. To facilitate efficient and effective testing, developers have three distinct automated functional testing methodologies, each offering unique advantages. By examining multiple testing methodologies, organizations can increase their chances of finding the perfect fit for their specific requirements. 

Keyword-Driven Testing 

This methodology involves defining keywords representing specific actions or operations within the application. Test scripts are created using these keywords, making maintaining and updating test cases easier without delving into the script details. One of the primary advantages of this methodology is its user-friendliness. Testers do not need to modify the script whenever they wish to perform a specific action or alter the automation tool. 

Data-Driven Testing 

This methodology separates test data from test scripts, allowing the same set of scripts to be executed with different data inputs. It involves writing tests based on existing functionality. 

It improves test coverage by running tests with various datasets, enhancing the robustness of the testing process. 

Behavior-Driven Development (BDD) 

BDD focuses on collaboration between developers, QA, and non-technical stakeholders to define and test desired system behaviors. It describes the system's expected behavior in words before writing the code. Utilizes natural language specifications, such as Gherkin, to create readable and understandable tests, promoting better communication among team members.

Acceptance Test-Driven Development (ATDD) 

Unlike BDD, ATDD involves collaboration between developers, QA, and business stakeholders to define and validate acceptance criteria. Automated tests are created based on these acceptance criteria to ensure the delivered software meets the specified business requirements. 

Test-Driven Development (TDD)  

Test-Driven Development (TDD) is a software development methodology where tests are written before the actual code implementation. 

The primary goal of TDD is to create a reliable and maintainable codebase by continuously validating that the software meets its specifications. TDD serves as a safety net, allowing developers to make changes and refactor code confidently, knowing that existing functionality won't be inadvertently broken.  

This methodology encourages a modular and testable code structure, leading to higher software quality and reduced debugging time. 

Best Practices in Functional Testing 

Functional testing has become indispensable in software development, ensuring that software products perform as expected. In recent years, this critical aspect of quality assurance has seen significant advancements and innovations, promising a more efficient and effective future for testing processes.

As technology continues to evolve rapidly, functional testing is poised for transformation. In this exploration, we'll delve into the future of functional testing, highlighting emerging trends, cutting-edge technologies, and best practices that will shape how we test software. 

Automation Takes Center Stage 

Automation functional testing has been a game-changer in testing software. While it has been around for some time, its importance and capabilities are set to grow exponentially. Automated testing tools are becoming more sophisticated, allowing testers to automate complex scenarios and repetitive tasks. This trend will continue to reduce manual testing efforts and enhance overall testing efficiency. 

AI and Machine Learning Integration

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) revolutionize functional testing. These technologies can analyze vast datasets, identify patterns, and predict potential issues, making them invaluable for test case generation, anomaly detection, and test optimization. AI-powered testing tools are already making waves in the industry, and their adoption is set to rise further. 

Shift-Left Testing

The concept of "shift-left" testing is gaining prominence. This approach integrates testing earlier in software development, allowing quicker bug detection and resolution. Developers and testers collaborate closely to identify and address issues at the earliest stages, reducing the cost and effort required for later-stage bug fixes. 

Adopt Infrastructure as Code

Treat test environments as code to ensure consistency and reliability. Implement Infrastructure as Code practices to automate the provisioning and configuration of test environments. 

Shift to Cloud-Based Testing

Cloud-based testing solutions are gaining traction. They offer scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness, allowing teams to access various testing environments and devices on demand. This shift to the cloud will continue to provide new opportunities for efficient testing. 

Testers and developers must continuously update their skills and adapt to emerging technologies to thrive in this dynamic landscape. By staying at the forefront of these developments, organizations can ensure that functional testing remains a cornerstone of software quality assurance in an ever-evolving digital world.

Conclusion 

In the pursuit of optimizing efficiency and minimizing manual effort, understanding how to automate functional testing is pivotal for modern software development practices, offering a pathway to quicker releases and improved product reliability. Every software project comprises common and unique challenges. Automated functional testing plays a crucial role in guaranteeing software reliability. By adhering to best practices, such as writing independent and cohesive tests, adopting the Page Object Model, keeping frameworks and dependencies up to date, verifying application compatibility, and implementing robust assertions, you can enhance the quality of your automated testing efforts. 

While each project may present obstacles, a well-executed automated testing strategy can be a cornerstone for success. Whether you are working on a new or existing application, these tips will help you ensure the reliability and functionality of your software. For optimal results, consider seeking the expertise of professionals in automated testing. Their knowledge and experience can be invaluable in delivering high-quality software products. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Functional Testing?

Functional testing is a critical stage in software development that ensures a high-quality product by detecting errors and verifying that the software meets specified requirements. It is indispensable for mitigating the risk of critical errors, ensuring stable and reliable operation, and is a crucial step in quality assurance to validate essential functions in software. 

Why automate functional testing?

Functional automated testing enhances testing efficiency, accelerates bug detection, and ensures consistency in test execution, ultimately leading to higher software quality. 

What is the meaning of automated unit testing?

Automated unit testing involves testing individual units or components of code to ensure they work as expected in isolation. 

Which automation tool is used for functional testing?

Functional test automation is a critical practice in software development and quality assurance to increase efficiency, speed up testing cycles, and maintain the reliability of applications by detecting defects and regressions. Various functional testing tools, including WebdriverIO, Playwright, and more, are available. The choice depends on your project's requirements and technology stack. 

What are the benefits of functional automation?

Functional automation offers increased testing efficiency, early bug detection, comprehensive test coverage, and reusable test scripts, leading to higher software quality. 

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