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Articles : Continuous Integration: The Cornerstone of a Great Shop
on 2007/10/2 22:35:42 (4116 reads)

Test Automation

Another practice that a CI system encourages is test automation. Writing and running tests is a huge milestone for many shops and is one of the hallmarks of a great shop. I think test automation is the core of why a CI system adds such benefit. People who recognize the benefit of automating common tasks tend to be more strategic thinkers. They automate everything possible, including building and testing, and it frees them up for more interesting work. (Of course, this doesn’t eliminate manual testing, but that’s another topic.)

What is an automated test?
* Binary
* Automatic
* Repeatable
* Binary

A test with a binary result passes or fails unambiguously. There’s no question about whether the test succeeded. Sometimes a test will return a result that requires a judgment call from a tester. The odds are good that you don’t need this.

Work hard to make your tests clean and binary. Write them so they evaluate the result and tell you if it passed or failed.


If the test isn't automatic then someone has to set up an environment, start the test, click a button, or look at the results. When this happens, the test becomes interactive again. Much of the benefit of test automation is lost.

You've created a hybrid test somewhere between an interactive test and an automatic test. Instead of letting a small number of testers baby-sit a large number of tests and continually adding more tests, you'll have a large number of testers looking at log files all day long. Half-automated tests are certainly better than pure interactive testing but they fall far short of where you can be. Work hard to make your tests completely automatic, including the determination of the pass or fail status.


An automated test also needs to be repeatable. A good test doesn't give you different results for three out of five test runs. If your tests aren't repeatable, break the tests down into smaller tests. Eventually you'll isolate the problem area and as a bonus, you’ll have new tests created for your test suite.

Don't forget about external dependencies either. You can rebuild and restock database tables cleanly before each test run with tools like Ant's SQL task or dbUnit (http://dbunit.sourceforge.net). A dirty database table can introduce all sorts of variation into a test run. (You may want to create a small but representative data set to load for your testing runs.)

Leverage Yourself

An automated test is a great way to leverage your experience and expertise. As an expert on your product, you probably know how to test parts of it in a way that few other people can. You can encode that knowledge in a reusable format by creating an automated test. This makes your experience available without diverting your attention. Sometimes a co-worker will run the tests, other times you will. In other cases, a program will run them.

Let these bits of your expertise exercise the product while you do other things, like go home on time, or stay late and solve problems that are more interesting. These tests might run while you are coding or at home sleeping, but you are doing something else. Your tests are working in the background.

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