Test Environment: What it is And Why It Matters in Software Testing
Table Of Contents
What is a Test Environment?
In the simplest terms, a test environment is an interface (often a virtual environment) when software tests are executed. This includes the server required to power test infrastructure and hardware and software configurations to match specific projects and use cases; devices, browsers, operating systems, automation frameworks, network configuration, data, streaming implementation for testing over the cloud, etc.
QAs run the software under development within the test environment to ensure it delivers expected functions. It is where testers identify, report, and iron out bugs, anomalies, and glitches before the software is deployed to the public domain.
A test environment should allow users to create identical environments every time they need to run tests. Ideally, test environments should be able to replicate the real-world conditions in which a website or app is expected to run. This helps the QAs find bugs that are likely to show up for the actual end-users.
For example, an e-Commerce app under development must be tested for compatibility across many aspects like; different mobile devices, browsers, OS, network conditions, and other real-world scenarios. The same app must be monitored for functionality on different iPhones and Android phones to ensure that it works perfectly on each one.
The entire infrastructure required to run these tests (either manual or automated) constitutes the test environment.
Quick Note: The terms “test environment” and “test bed” are often mistaken as synonyms. While there are similarities between the two, a key difference exists.
The term “test bed” refers to a test environment that has already been fed with the data required for specific test scenarios to work. Let’s take an example of this.
Let’s say you’re testing an application meant to record student attendance for online classes. The app intends to record attendance and deliver a report including each student’s name, attendance status (present or absent), and the time they joined the virtual class.
To check software functionality, the test environment must be fed with data on multiple students signing in at different times. Since testers can’t get students to do this, they will replicate the input via valid data points. Once the necessary data has been added to the environment, it becomes a test bed.
The Necessity of the Test Environment in Software Testing
Development teams cannot release software for public usage without thoroughly checking that it provides the best possible user experience. Given the number of providers vying for success in each industry, users have multiple apps and websites that will offer the products and services they want.
Therefore, if a team releases inadequately tested, buggy, glitchy software, users will not think twice about uninstalling an app or leaving a website. They have numerous other options, so why stick with a bad app?
Comprehensive testing covering all software features can only be conducted in an accurately configured test environment. When we say “accurately configured,” we refer to all necessary elements required to run particular tests. For example, if you’re testing to check how quickly a site loads in 2G internet on an iPhone 14, the test environment should give you access to a real iPhone 14 and a network throttler to switch between different internet strengths.
To provide the optimal user experience, software must check “right” on multiple prerequisites. A few of them are:
- Compatibility with multiple devices, browsers, and operating systems
- Solid functionality under challenging conditions: weak network, low battery, etc.
- Robust, responsive design that allows it to render flawlessly on different screen sizes and resolutions
- Ability to handle interruptions such as incoming calls and messages, notifications from other apps, etc.
- Industry-best security mechanisms to protect sensitive customer data
- The ability to handle sudden spikes in user requests without crashing
- A clean, intuitive UI that users can quickly and easily navigate without hassle or confusion
Testers need a tester environment to ensure that software matches the above requirements (and often more). Within it, the software can fail, revealing critical flaws, which are reported to developers for fixing. Test environments are also necessary for testing edge cases where the software faces sudden, extreme conditions and must adapt accordingly. This is especially true for high-priority software such as medical and banking apps.
The ideal test environment comprises the actual browsers, devices, and operating systems end-users would use to access the software in question. For instance, Testsigma users can run tests in their local browser/device or choose from 800+ browsers and 2000+ devices on our cloud-hosted test lab. Essentially, you don’t have to buy devices, install browsers/OS, or manage and maintain hardware and software configurations. You simply log in, choose devices and start testing.
Types of Test Environment
- Performance Testing Environment: This environment is required to test how the software works in reaction to usage in the real world. This includes page load speed, stability, reliability, user input response, etc.
- System Integration Testing Environment: In this environment, testers verify if all software modules – code, third-party apps, client and server apps, and shared databases – can interact with each other as required to fulfill user commands.
- User Acceptance Testing Environment: Testers monitor if the software is easy to use for the end-users. Generally, these tests require a sample group of target users browsing the app/site and giving feedback.
- Security Testing Environment: As the name suggests, this environment facilitates the verification of any software’s security mechanisms. Ideally, the software must be able to guard user data and its internal logic from hackers, malicious programs, viruses, malware, and other threats. Tests must also be triggered to validate the software’s authentication and validation capabilities.
- Chaos Testing Environment: Chaos testing checks how the software responds when exposed to sudden pressure or stress. For example, how would a shopping app handle the drastic increase in user traffic and purchase requests? This is mandatory to minimize unexpected downtime and sudden crashes.
- End-to-End Testing Environment: Once all modules have successfully integrated, alpha testing verifies the software’s end-to-end functionality. This is necessary to ensure that every application feature performs according to business requirements and user expectations.
- Beta Testing Environment: At the final stage of QA, the software is released to a limited number of end-users to monitor real-world performance. When actual users handle an app/site, unpredictable bugs may show up due to a gap in test requirements and planning. Beta testing prevents those bugs from causing large-scale user dissatisfaction.Beta Testing needs a staging environment to be executed, completed, and provide legitimate results for analysis.
What is a Staging Environment?
The staging environment replicates the real-world conditions in which the software will finally operate. The staging environment is primarily required to verify user-facing features such as browser-device-OS compatibility, page load speed, responsive design, etc. It often does not apply to unit tests, integration tests, system tests, and other back-end verifications.
In the simplest terms, the staging environment refers to the different browsers and devices users leverage to access software. Of course, testers have to put the environment through varying levels of stress, introduce unexpected, chaotic elements, and ferret out every possible issue before the software hits production.
While detecting and eliminating every bug or issue is rarely possible, the staging environment goes a long way towards doing so. This is why all major and minor version updates should ideally be battle-tested in staging before being approved for final deployment. If at all feasible, it is recommended that all code changes go through the gamut of tests required in a stage so that the final product can be as pristine as humanly possible.
Key Elements of a Test Environment
While specifics of a test environment will vary based on the product, user expectations, team budget, and resource allocation, the following elements serve as the basics:
- Backend databases
- Data required to prep the test bed
- The testing server
- Relevant network configurations
- The right hardware and software for test execution – multiple devices, browsers, and OS combination
- Test automation frameworks
- Robust test documentation tools
- Test result documentation mechanisms – such as Testsigma’s reporting & analytics feature
- Integrations that support software development best practices such as CI/CD, Shift Left Testing, and Continuous Testing
Major Challenges in Setting Up a Test Environment
- Acquiring necessary browsers and devices: For any software test to deliver accurate results, it must be checked for functionality in real-world conditions. You cannot depend on emulators and simulators because of their inability to replicate what real devices deal with. For example, most emulators cannot mimic the experience of low device battery or incoming calls. However, if testers do not monitor app performance in those conditions, there is a high likelihood that the app will crash in end-users’ hands.However, purchasing enough devices and configuring them with the right browsers/OSes is expensive, time-confusing, and relatively tedious. The costs are recurring, too, as you must keep buying newly released devices and maintaining and updating your in-house setup.Once again, it’s much easier and cheaper to use a cloud platform like Testsigma that allows automated testing on 800+ devices and 2000+ browsers on a single plan.
- Implementing automation: The importance of automated testing is beyond question. To keep up with market demand for faster releases, development teams have to automate processes as much as possible, or they risk slowing down and releasing software long after their competitors do.However, automation testing is generally more complicated than manual testing since test scripts need to be created to instruct the framework on how to execute each test step. This requires a fair bit of technical knowledge, thus restricting the process to individuals with a specific background. Consequently, non-tech personnel on a team cannot contribute to tests in any meaningful way, limiting the potential for collaboration and even faster results.But platforms like Testsigma have remedied this by letting users write end-to-end tests for web, mobile apps, & APIs in simple English instead of framework-specific code. In other words, non-tech individuals can create test steps for any scenario by recording user actions or describing them in simple English.This bolsters your test environment to be more prosperous and productive. More tests can be run because practically anyone can write and run them, but the tests cover more software areas because they include unique insights from business-level stakeholders.
Test environments help you accomplish the entire point of Quality Assurance: the actual testing. However, an inadequately configured and supported test environment can only return sub-par results – ones that are not reliable enough to guarantee solid post-deployment performance.
Fortunately, QA teams have the option to access an industry-best test environment without having to invest exorbitant amounts of money, work hours, and effort. Cloud platforms like Testsigma provide a perfectly calibrated, widely intuitive, and exceptionally usable test environment supported by the right resources (real browsers & devices) while accessible on the pocket.