Unlike physical systems, most of the defects in software are design errors. Read about the important purpose of software testing and differentiate between verification and validation and basic software testing terms. Compare and contrast the use of various testing strategies, including black-box, white-box, top-down, and bottom-up.
Objectives of Testing
Testing is conducted in view of a specific objective, which is stated more or less explicitly, and with varying degrees of precision. Stating the objective in precise, quantitative terms allows control to be established over the test process.
Testing can be aimed at verifying different properties. Test cases can be designed to check that the functional specifications are correctly implemented, which is variously referred to in the literature as conformance testing, correctness testing, or functional testing. However, several other nonfunctional properties may be tested as well, including performance, reliability, and usability, among many others.
Other important objectives for testing include (but are not limited to) reliability measurement, usability evaluation, and acceptance, for which different approaches would be taken. Note that the test objective varies with the test target; in general, different purposes being addressed at a different level of testing.
References recommended above for this topic describe the set of potential test objectives. The sub-topics listed below are those most often cited in the literature. Note that some kinds of testing are more appropriate for custom-made software packages, installation testing, for example; and others for generic products, like beta testing.
Qualification testing checks the system behavior against the customer's requirements, however these may have been expressed; the customers undertake, or specify, typical tasks to check that their requirements have been met or that the organization has identified these for the target market for the software. This testing activity may or may not involve the developers of the system.
Usually after completion of software and acceptance testing, the software can be verified upon installation in the target environment. Installation testing can be viewed as system testing conducted once again according to hardware configuration requirements. Installation procedures may also be verified.
Alpha and beta testing
Before the software is released, it is sometimes given to a small, representative set of potential users for trial use, either in-house (alpha testing) or external (beta testing). These users report problems with the product. Alpha and beta use is often uncontrolled, and is not always referred to in a test plan.
Reliability achievement and evaluation
In helping to identify faults, testing is a means to improve reliability. By contrast, by randomly generating test cases according to the operational profile, statistical measures of reliability can be derived. Using reliability growth models, both objectives can be pursued together.
Software reliability refers to the probability of failure-free operation of a system. It is related to many aspects of software, including the testing process. Directly estimating software reliability by quantifying its related factors can be difficult. Testing is an effective sampling method to measure software reliability. Guided by the operational profile, software testing (usually black-box testing) can be used to obtain failure data, and an estimation model can be further used to analyze the data to estimate the present reliability and predict future reliability. Therefore, based on the estimation, the developers can decide whether to release the software, and the users can decide whether to adopt and use the software. Risk of using software can also be assessed based on reliability information. The primary goal of testing should be to measure the dependability of tested software.
There is agreement on the intuitive meaning of dependable software: it does not fail in unexpected or catastrophic ways. Robustness testing and stress testing are variances of reliability testing based on this simple criterion.
The robustness of a software component is the degree to which it can function correctly in the presence of exceptional inputs or stressful environmental conditions. Robustness testing differs with correctness testing in the sense that the functional correctness of the software is not of concern. It only watches for robustness problems such as machine crashes, process hangs or abnormal termination. The oracle is relatively simple, therefore robustness testing can be made more portable and scalable than correctness testing. This research has drawn more and more interests recently, most of which uses commercial operating systems as their target.
Stress testing, or load testing, is often used to test the whole system rather than the software alone. In such tests the software or system are exercised with or beyond the specified limits. Typical stress includes resource exhaustion, bursts of activities, and sustained high loads.
According to (IEEE610.12-90), regression testing is the "selective retesting of a system or component to verify that modifications have not caused unintended effects..". In practice, the idea is to show that software which previously passed the tests still does. Beizer defines it as any repetition of tests intended to show that the software's behavior is unchanged, except insofar as required. Obviously a trade-off must be made between the assurance given by regression testing every time a change is made and the resources required to do that.
Regression testing can be conducted at each of the test levels. The target of the test and may apply to functional and nonfunctional testing.
Correctness is the minimum requirement of software, the essential purpose of testing. Correctness testing will need some type of oracle, to tell the right behavior from the wrong one. The tester may or may not know the inside details of the software module under test, e.g. control flow, data flow, etc. Therefore, either a white-box point of view or black-box point of view can be taken in testing software. We must note that the black-box and white-box ideas are not limited in correctness testing only.
The black-box approach is a testing method in which test data are derived from the specified functional requirements without regard to the final program structure. It is also termed data-driven, input/output driven, or requirements-based testing. Because only the functionality of the software module is of concern, black-box testing also mainly refers to functional testing - a testing method emphasized on executing the functions and examination of their input and output data. The tester treats the software under test as a black box - only the inputs, outputs, and specification are visible, and the functionality is determined by observing the outputs to corresponding inputs. In testing, various inputs are exercised and the outputs are compared against specification to validate the correctness. All test cases are derived from the specification. No implementation details of the code are considered.
It is obvious that the more we have covered in the input space, the more problems we will find, and therefore we will be more confident about the quality of the software. Ideally we would be tempted to exhaustively test the input space. But as stated above, exhaustively testing the combinations of valid inputs will be impossible for most of the programs, let alone considering invalid inputs, timing, sequence, and resource variables. Combinatorial explosion is the major roadblock in functional testing. To make things worse, we can never be sure whether the specification is either correct or complete. Due to limitations of the language used in the specifications (usually natural language), ambiguity is often inevitable. Even if we use some type of formal or restricted language, we may still fail to write down all the possible cases in the specification. Sometimes, the specification itself becomes an intractable problem: it is not possible to specify precisely every situation that can be encountered using limited words. And people can seldom specify clearly what they want - they usually can tell whether a prototype is, or is not, what they want after they have been finished. Specification problems contributes approximately 30 percent of all bugs in software.
The research in black-box testing mainly focuses on how to maximize the effectiveness of testing with minimum cost, usually the number of test cases. It is not possible to exhaust the input space, but it is possible to exhaustively test a subset of the input space. Partitioning is one of the common techniques. If we have partitioned the input space and assume all the input values in a partition is equivalent, then we only need to test one representative value in each partition to sufficiently cover the whole input space. Domain testing partitions the input domain into regions, and consider the input values in each domain an equivalent class. Domains can be exhaustively tested and covered by selecting a representative value(s) in each domain. Boundary values are of special interest. Experience shows that test cases that explore boundary conditions have a higher payoff than test cases that do not. Boundary value analysis requires one or more boundary values selected as representative test cases. The difficulties with domain testing are that incorrect domain definitions in the specification can not be efficiently discovered.
Good partitioning requires knowledge of the software structure. A good testing plan will not only contain black-box testing, but also white-box approaches, and combinations of the two.
Contrary to black-box testing, software is viewed as a white-box, or glass-box in white-box testing, as the structure and flow of the software under test are visible to the tester. Testing plans are made according to the details of the software implementation, such as programming language, logic, and styles. Test cases are derived from the program structure. White-box testing is also called glass-box testing, logic-driven testing or design-based testing.
There are many techniques available in white-box testing, because the problem of intractability is eased by specific knowledge and attention on the structure of the software under test. The intention of exhausting some aspect of the software is still strong in white-box testing, and some degree of exhaustion can be achieved, such as executing each line of code at least once (statement coverage), traverse every branch statements (branch coverage), or cover all the possible combinations of true and false condition predicates (Multiple condition coverage).
Control-flow testing, loop testing, and data-flow testing, all maps the corresponding flow structure of the software into a directed graph. Test cases are carefully selected based on the criterion that all the nodes or paths are covered or traversed at least once. By doing so we may discover unnecessary "dead" code - code that is of no use, or never get executed at all, which can not be discovered by functional testing.
In mutation testing, the original program code is perturbed and many mutated programs are created, each contains one fault. Each faulty version of the program is called a mutant. Test data are selected based on the effectiveness of failing the mutants. The more mutants a test case can kill, the better the test case is considered. The problem with mutation testing is that it is too computationally expensive to use. The boundary between black-box approach and white-box approach is not clear-cut. Many testing strategies mentioned above, may not be safely classified into black-box testing or white-box testing. It is also true for transaction-flow testing, syntax testing, finite-state testing, and many other testing strategies not discussed in this text. One reason is that all the above techniques will need some knowledge of the specification of the software under test. Another reason is that the idea of specification itself is broad - it may contain any requirement including the structure, programming language, and programming style as part of the specification content.
We may be reluctant to consider random testing as a testing technique. The test case selection is simple and straightforward: they are randomly chosen. Random testing is more cost effective for many programs. Some very subtle errors can be discovered with low cost. And it is also not inferior in coverage than other carefully designed testing techniques. One can also obtain reliability estimate using random testing results based on operational profiles. Effectively combining random testing with other testing techniques may yield more powerful and cost-effective testing strategies.
Not all software systems have specifications on performance explicitly. But every system will have implicit performance requirements. The software should not take infinite time or infinite resource to execute. "Performance bugs" sometimes are used to refer to those design problems in software that cause the system performance to degrade.
Performance has always been a great concern and a driving force of computer evolution. Performance evaluation of a software system usually includes: resource usage, throughput, stimulus-response time, and queue lengths detailing the average or maximum number of tasks waiting to be serviced by selected resources. Typical resources that need to be considered include network bandwidth requirements, CPU cycles, disk space, disk access operations, and memory usage. The goal of performance testing can be performance bottleneck identification, performance comparison, and evaluation, etc. The typical method of doing performance testing is using a benchmark - a program, workload or trace designed to be representative of the typical system usage.
Software quality, reliability, and security are tightly coupled. Flaws in software can be exploited by intruders to open security holes. With the development of the Internet, software security problems are becoming even more severe.
Many critical software applications and services have integrated security measures against malicious attacks. The purpose of security testing of these systems include identifying and removing software flaws that may potentially lead to security violations, and validating the effectiveness of security measures. Simulated security attacks can be performed to find vulnerabilities.
Software testing can be very costly. Automation is a good way to cut down time and cost. Software testing tools and techniques usually suffer from a lack of generic applicability and scalability. The reason is straight-forward. In order to automate the process, we have to have some ways to generate oracles from the specification, and generate test cases to test the target software against the oracles to decide their correctness. Today we still don't have a full-scale system that has achieved this goal. In general, significant amount of human intervention is still needed in testing. The degree of automation remains at the automated test script level.
The problem is lessened in reliability testing and performance testing. In robustness testing, the simple specification and oracle: doesn't crash, doesn't hang suffices. Similar simple metrics can also be used in stress testing.
When to stop testing?
Testing is potentially endless. We can not test till all the defects are unearthed and removed - it is simply impossible. At some point, we have to stop testing and ship the software. The question is when.
Realistically, testing is a trade-off between budget, time and quality. It is driven by profit models. The pessimistic, and unfortunately most often used approach is to stop testing whenever some, or any of the allocated resources - time, budget, or test cases - are exhausted. The optimistic stopping rule is to stop testing when either reliability meets the requirement, or the benefit from continuing testing cannot justify the testing cost. This will usually require the use of reliability models to evaluate and predict reliability of the software under test. Each evaluation requires repeated running of the following cycle: failure data gathering - modeling - prediction. This method does not fit well for ultra-dependable systems, however, because the real field failure data will take too long to accumulate.
Alternatives to testing
Software testing is more and more considered a problematic method toward better quality. Using testing to locate and correct software defects can be an endless process. Bugs cannot be completely ruled out. Just as the complexity barrier indicates: chances are testing and fixing problems may not necessarily improve the quality and reliability of the software. Sometimes fixing a problem may introduce much more severe problems into the system, happened after bug fixes.
Using formal methods to "prove" the correctness of software is also an attracting research direction. But this method can not surmount the complexity barrier either. For relatively simple software, this method works well. It does not scale well to those complex, full-fledged large software systems, which are more error-prone.
In a broader view, we may start to question the utmost purpose of testing. Why do we need more effective testing methods anyway, since finding defects and removing them does not necessarily lead to better quality. An analogy of the problem is like the car manufacturing process. In the craftsmanship epoch, we make cars and hack away the problems and defects. But such methods were washed away by the tide of pipelined manufacturing and good quality engineering process, which makes the car defect-free in the manufacturing phase. This indicates that engineering the design process (such as clean-room software engineering) to make the product have less defects may be more effective than engineering the testing process. Testing is used solely for quality monitoring and management, or, "design for testability". This is the leap for software from craftsmanship to engineering.