Agile

What is a Test Automation Tool? Definition and How to Choose

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Are you familiar with the term “test automation tool?” If you’re not, you’ve definitely come to the right place. Before I dive into why, I have a small confession to make: as a software developer, I have a strong dislike for the word “coder.”

I mean, sure, we write code in our jobs. But writing code is more a means to an end than the end itself. Instead of “someone who writes code for a living”, a better description of a software developer would be “someone who employs automation to solve problems as efficiently as possible.” I know, now you’re wondering what this seemingly random digression is all about, but it’s going to make sense soon.

Here’s the thing: developers have long ago figured out that, since their (our) jobs consist of automating all kinds of process, they could do the same to the software development processes itself. Why not automate your app’s build process? Why not go a step further and automate the whole packaging of the product? Heck, why not go even further than that and automate the deploy to final users?

Automate All That’s Automatable

The answer to all the questions above was an obvious “Let’s do it!”. Modern software development relies heavily on automation, on all fronts, from analyzing source code looking for mistakes to testing to the already mentioned build, packaging and deploy process. That’s the scenario where a test automation tool becomes relevant. But as this post title already asked, what is a test automation tool? In this post, we’ll answer the title question and more.

First, we’ll give you a broad definition of test automation. Then, we’ll proceed to define a test automation tool, explaining their use cases and how they fit into the whole test automation scenario, making the process easier. Finally, we’ll show you a few different options of test automation tools, equipping you to make an informed decision.

Let’s get started.

Defining Test Automation

We could easily define test automation as “the automation of test-related activities.” It’d be easy, quick and insufficient. Such a definition would be shallow unless we first define automation itself. And what’s automation?

We could define automation as the technique of performing tasks without human intervention. The justification for doing so is to achieve speed and efficiency levels that greatly surpass those of human beings. Also, in most cases, you’ll apply automation to tasks that are repetitive. As such, they can be extremely error-prone when performed by people.

Ok, that’s a passable definition of automation. In light of that definition, let’s now try to rephrase our first, insufficient definition of test automation:

Test automation is the process of performing software testing activities with little or no human interaction, in order to achieve greater speed and efficiency.

When putting a test automation strategy in place, it’s important for you to remember that usually, the automated part is the running of the tests. Before you’re able to execute your test cases, you first have to create them using some process. This might mean writing code. Or it might mean performing a task while using a window and recording it. Test automation is a broad topic. There is a wide range of techniques and—you’ve guessed it—tools at your disposal.

Speaking of tools, that’s exactly what we’re going to cover on the next section.

Defining Test Automation Tool

Since we’ve already defined both “automation” and then “test automation”, it doesn’t look like defining test automation tool is going to be a lot of trouble for us. Here it goes:

A test automation tool is a piece of software that enables people to define software testing tasks, that are afterwards run with as little human interaction as possible.

Again, it’s important to understand that there are a plethora of different types of test automation tools available. They might differ in the types of application they test (web, desktop, mobile), in the way the test cases are set up (by writing code using a scripting language, writing code in a full programming language, recording steps performed using a GUI) in their licenses (free, freemium, commercial) and many other factors.

Meet Some of the Test Automation Tools at Your Disposal

Now that we’re done defining stuff, it’s time for us to start showing you some of the test automation tools available for you. As we’ve said, there are many different types of tools. We’ll try to give you as broad a sample as possible, so you can experiment with the variety of tools available. Let’s get started.

Katalon Studio

Katalon Studio is a test automation tool that enables you to test your web and mobile apps, as well as APIs. This solution makes use of Selenium and Appium engines, offering users an integrated environment for testers to integrate different frameworks and tools.

UFT

UFT is a commercial tool that originally allowed its users to test desktop, web, and mobile apps. Currently, it also offers features for API testing.

Selenium

Selenium is a very well-known tool when it comes to testing automation. It allows its users to write scripts in a lot of different languages, including Java, C#, Python, Perl, and Ruby. This tool also runs in several operating systems and browsers.

The disadvantage of this tool is that to use it effectively, you must spend a non-trivial amount of time building frameworks, libraries and other tools necessary for the actual automation you’re trying to accomplish.

TestComplete

TestComplete also enables Web, mobile, and desktop testing. It offers its users the choice between JavaScript, VBScript, Python, or C++Script to write scripts.

The tool features an object recognition engine that is able to accurately detect dynamic user interface elements, which makes it particularly useful to test apps whose user interfaces change very often.

Testim

Testim is a test automation tool that employs machine learning to help developers with the authoring, execution, and maintenance of automated tests. This tool allows developers to quickly create test cases and execute them on many web and mobile platforms. The tool learns from data with every execution.

Testim then uses all that learning to improve itself, making test cases more stable. The result of that is a robust test suite, that doesn’t break on every code change.

How to Pick the Right Test Automation Tool

As you can see, there are plenty of options for test automation tools for you to choose from. The tools you’ve just learned about are only but a few of the available tools at your disposal. So, how can you choose?

Giving a definitive, one-size-fits-all answer is hard. So what we’re doing instead is to suggest that you choose based on three main factors: target platform, learning curve, and pricing. The first factor should be easy to understand. If your product is a desktop application, then every automation tool that works only for mobile and web are automatically declassified.

The second factor you have to analyze is the learning curve. A given tool might be widely known and used, but if its learning curve is too steep, that might be a bad sign. How much of a problem is a steep learning curve? It depends on how quickly you want your team to be up and running. Maybe it makes sense for your team to take their time learning the tool because of its benefits. I wouldn’t bet on it, usually. But your mileage may vary.

Last, but not least, we have pricing. Again, it doesn’t matter how popular or sophisticated a tool is if its price is way beyond your team/department/division budget for tooling. Many of the tools presented are free or have a free tier, which allows you to at least try them before making a final decision.

So, based on these three factors—platform, learning curve, and pricing—you should be able to choose a tool that is right for your scenario. Weigh every candidate against the three factors and see how many points they score in each area.

That’s a Wrap

In today’s post, we started by defining a bunch of things. Namely: “automation”, “test automation” and finally “test automation tools”. After that, we proceeded to give you a quick overview of some of the test automation tools at your disposal. Finally, instead of giving you a generic, one-size-fits-all answer to the title question, we gave you an easy framework you can use to evaluate the available tools and find the best match for your reality.

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