Test environment in software testing: definition, setup, checklist, types

The robustness of the test environment is an important factor for the quality of testing. A resilient testing environment will be resistant to bugs and attacks, helping to ensure that the software is tested thoroughly and efficiently. In this article, you will learn how to build a test environment that is resilient to bugs and attacks.

What is a test environment?

When software tests are designed, they need an interface in which they will be executed. This interface is called testing environment. It is created by integrating hardware, software, the right network configurations and the data needed to run the tests. The test environment must basically replicate the production environment (i.e. the actual device and browser on which the software will run).

The test environment allows you to create an identical environment whenever you need to test your product. It is the most important tool for the tester to have confidence in the testing results.

Test environment importance

Completely untested software cannot be released, even for beta testing purposes. At the very least, unit, integration, stress and performance testing must be performed – although usually the testing is much more extensive.

These tests must be performed in an environment that mimics the conditions of a real user as closely as possible . Test environments do just that and allow QA to identify bugs, incompatibilities and other issues.

When bugs are found, testers and developers can adjust the data without affecting actual users or their experience. For example, let’s say you are testing an update to a banking application. Wouldn’t the best practice be to move real money in real customers’ accounts to test its effectiveness?

With a test environment, however, testers responsible for quality can perform all the actions they want, play with the application and test basic functionality without worrying about real-world consequences.

Due to the huge number of devices, Android and iOS versions and browsers, the test environment must ensure compatibility with multiple combinations of devices, browsers and operating systems.

In such cases, it is usually best to use real devices as the test environment. This is primarily because emulators and simulators do not offer all the features of a real device and browser that the software will have to work with. For example, the emulator does not allow testers to replicate a low battery condition, a weak network signal, or geolocation testing. Therefore, there is no way to test the application in non-optimal conditions. However, the app needs to work well to provide high standards of user experience, especially in situations like this.

  • The test environment provides accurate feedback on the features and functions of the application, or we can say that the test environment provides the necessary setup to run the test cases.
  • Test environments are also used to test and identify application bugs and find possible fixes to make the application work smoothly for the user.
  • It also helps to validate the behavior of the application by providing a standardized environment and the application/software is tested securely, which also provides a security benefit to the user.
  • Using test environments, we can look for vulnerabilities so that we can run a secure, tested application for the user.

Test environment requirements

Each test environment or QA environment is created by combining the following elements:

  • tested software,
  • operating system, database and test server,
  • test data,
  • network configuration,
  • the device on which the software will be tested – desktop or mobile,
  • framework for test automation and relevant tools such as Selenium, Cypress, Robot Framework,
  • relevant documentation – test scenarios, user guides, business and customer requirements,
  • software for the connection between the system and applications.

Test environment characteristics

A good test environment has the following characteristics:

  • It is a copy of the living environment or closely resembles it. That means it contains the same code, data, configuration, operating system, and features.
  • Changes made to the test environment cannot affect the live environment.
  • Easy to set up.

Test environments benefits

Test environments have many advantages, such as:

  • error fixing,
  • providing accurate feedback on the behaviour and quality of the application under test,
  • providing the necessary setup to run test cases,
  • enabling a dedicated environment to isolate code and verify application behavior,
  • encouraging improvement and innovation,
  • effectively tracking the progress of the development, testing and deployment of a new product or update to ensure that the end user has the best possible experience.

Challenges in test environment management

Managing a test environment is currently a complex and costly process. If you want to get the most out of your testing, you need to ensure that your testing environment is properly equipped and managed. However, this is not always easy. Many enterprises encounter three common issues that affect their testing environment.

  1. Resource management

One of the critical challenges in managing a test environment is the difficulty of managing resources. Test environments often contain both physical and virtual resources, and both need to be managed.

Resources include servers, storage and network infrastructure. The team must ensure that the environment is built and maintained appropriately. In addition, it needs to ensure that it can transfer resources to other releases and testing.

  1. Change management

Another challenge is managing changes in the codebase. For example, new resources or new versions of existing resources are added to the environment over time. When you make these changes, the team needs to have a way to track and document them.

  1. Non-existent early feedback and poor communication

Communication is the key to success, or so they say. Lack of communication or collaboration between product or QA managers and testers can lead to critical areas of the application being missed or key business risks being overlooked.

  1. High cost of synchronising data with production

Running tests on live data requires proper planning and infrastructure setup. An inconvenient loss of data or corruption of instances can completely destroy the tests.

  1. Inconsistent test data across teams

All members of the development team should have the most up-to-date test data. Inconsistent data resulting from poorly configured test environments can lead teams to spend unnecessary effort on otherwise resolved issues.

Test environment types

  1. Integration test environment

It is used to integrate individual software components and test the performance of the integrated system. Integration tests check that the system works as it should – according to the requirement documents.

In a DevOps, integration occurs multiple times a day, which means that the integration environment will be used almost continuously. Naturally, it must be modelled to replicate the production environment as closely as possible.

  1. Performance Testing Environment

It is used to verify how the software performs against predefined standards. These goals can range from response time, stability and compatibility to throughput and concurrency. It depends on what the app is trying to offer its users.

Performance testing is a broad term and encompasses various categories of tests – stress, load, volume, breakpoint and so on. Performance tests basically work on every feature and identify user’s vulnerabilities or limitations.

In general, performance tests require a significant amount of time and money. Therefore, it is best to set up a QA environment and run multiple tests at the same time, usually when a significant change has been implemented into the software. It also makes sense to perform performance tests before the software release cycle.

  1. Security Testing Environment

It is used to check whether the software has security gaps, weaknesses or vulnerabilities related to authentication, confidentiality, authorisation and compliance.

The QA security testing environment is created by internal and external security experts who examine the software to determine which parts are likely to be targeted by attacks and by what means such threats may show up.

  1. An environment for testing chaos

It is used to introduce stressors that can cause the software to fail. The intent of chaos testing is to test the resilience of systems in the real world. Successful chaos tests identify areas of instability and ensure that the software does not settle with minimal stability. It also helps testers and developers become aware of critical dependencies of systems and their major nodes of potential failure.

Chaos testing environments must be configured for scaling and high availability. Testers often perform chaos tests together with performance tests, so it is possible to perform both tests in the same interface.

  1. User Acceptance Tests ( UAT)

Acceptance or user testing is performed to check whether the application meets the business requirements of the end users. This is the final phase of testing. If the features and functions of the application are satisfying to the end user, the application is moved to the production environment.

  1. Alpha testing

In this environment, end-to-end testing is performed on the application after successful integration of all modules. The goal of alpha testing is to ensure that the application works as expected by the client.

  1. Beta testing

In a beta testing environment, the app will be released to a limited number of users. Real-world users put the application under load to ensure that the product performs as intended and meets end-user requirements. This is the last test environment before the final application is released for commercial use. An open-source testing environment is needed here.

IT environments types – which one do you need?

When it comes to software development, there are several IT environments that are typically required to ensure the quality and efficiency of software. These environments include the development environment, the test environment, and the staging environment.

Development environment is the environment in which the development team creates and tests software. It is usually separated from the production environment to avoid negative impact on the living system. In the development environment, developers can test new features and functions without risking damage to the production environment. Test environment In a test environment, software is tested to ensure that it meets requirements and specifications. This environment is usually an exact copy of the production environment and is used to simulate different scenarios and thoroughly test the software. Staging environment – In a staging environment, also known as a pre-production environment, software is tested with real data and conditions. This environment is used to verify that the software is ready for deployment in a production environment.

Test environment vs Staging environment

The staging environment replicates the production environment in which the live version of the application will be placed. It is very important that the staging environment is an exact replica of the production environment. This can often be achieved by having very detailed documentation. It should describe all the needs and the correct configuration of your production environment. While the testing environment is focused on testing individual components, the staging environment is focused on testing the entire application. The staging environment is basically a safe playground where you can test the entire application. This makes the staging environment ideal for performing end-to-end tests or performance testing. End-to-end tests confirm that the entire application works as expected by testing all integrations. In addition, since the staging environment replicates the production environment, it’s a safe space to test the limits of the environment and the application with performance tests. In short, in a staging environment, you test the entire application in real-world conditions that would application experience in a production environment.

Test environment setup

Step 1. Setting up a test server

Each test does not have to be run on a local computer. It may be necessary to create a test server that can support the application. For example, Fedora setup for PHP, Java-based applications with or without mail servers, cron setup, Java-based applications, and so on.

Step 2. Network

Setting up the network according to the test requirements. Includes:

  • internet settings,
  • LAN Wifi setup,
  • private network settings.

Ensures that overload that occurs during testing does not affect other team members.

Step 3. Setting up a test computer

In web testing, it may be necessary to set up different browsers for different testers. For desktop applications, you will need different types of operating systems for different testers’ computers.

For example, testing a Windows Phone app may require:

  • install Visual Studio,
  • Windows phone emulator,
  • or assign a Windows phone to the tester.

In web testing, it may be necessary to set up different browsers for different testers.

Step 4. Error reporting

Testers should be provided with bug reporting tools such as Jira.

Step 5. Creating test data for the test environment

Many companies use a separate test environment to test a software product. A commonly used approach is to copy production data into the test environment. This helps the IT tester to detect the same issues as on a live production server without corrupting the production data.

Access to copy production data to test data includes:

  • setting up production tasks to copy data to a common test environment,
  • All PII (Personally Identifiable Information) is edited along with other sensitive data. PII is replaced with logically correct but impersonal data,
  • removing data that is irrelevant to your test.

Testers or developers can copy them into their individual test environment. They can modify it according to their requirements.

Privacy is a major concern when copying production data. To overcome privacy issues, you should deal with fake and anonymized test data.

Two approaches can be used to anonymise data:

  • Black list: in this approach, all data fields are left unchanged. Except for those fields specified by users.
  • White list: this approach anonymizes all data fields by default. With the exception of the list of fields that are allowed to be copied. A field on the white list indicates that it is OK to copy the data and anonymization is not required.

If you use production data, you also have to choose the way you get the data wisely. An efficient approach is to retrieve data from the database using an SQL script.

Test environment checklist

Hardware

  • Check that the required testing equipment is available.
  • Check if peripheral equipment is available. Such as scanners, special printers, handheld devices and so on.

Software/connections

  • Are the necessary applications specified? Applications such as Excel, Word, etc.
  • Is in the organisation a test environment for the new software ? Does the organisation have experience in using and maintaining the software?
Checklist of test environments
Environmental data

Check that standard test data sets are available.

Maintenance tools/processes

  • Check if there is at least a single contact for the maintenance of the test environment. If not, prepare a list of all possible members involved in the maintenance of the test environment. It should also include their contact details.
  • For example, are acceptance criteria, maintenance requirements, etc. correctly described?
  • Are all known members involved in the maintenance process?

In addition to these questions, there are several others that need to be answered before a test environment can be created:

  • Whether to create an in-house test environment or outsource it to an external vendor?
  • Whether to follow an internal company standard or to follow an external one (IEE, ISO, etc.)?
  • For how long is the test environment needed?
  • The differences between test and production systems and their impact on the validity of the tests need to be determined.
  • Is it possible to reuse an existing setup for other projects in the company?

Test environments – best practices for creation

  1. Approach testing with feature management in mind

Instead of modifying and testing the entire code, isolate and test individual functions. This is the spirit behind feature management, a new class of tools and processes for developing and delivering software that is established in use of feature flags. The best use of your time is testing these small features in production. But even if you choose to test these features in pre-production testing and staging environments, you can still get the benefits of breaking code changes into small chunks. For example, testing small code changes requires less time to write test scripts and run tests overall.

  1. Build communication into the environment

Set up integrations with the chat tools your team uses (e.g. Slack and Microsoft Teams) so that if automated tests fail, you’re notified immediately. This will ensure that the right people are able to correct errors quickly.

It can also be useful to alert team members who are not directly involved in the CI/CD pipeline. If non-developers have a better understanding of upcoming features and enhancements to the app, they can take actions that will result in a better user experience.

  1. Configuration of bug tracking tools and solution lifecycles into test environments

A systematic way of processing test problems makes it easier to improve tests over time. In the short term, it keeps everyone busy to do their part whenever it needs to be done. The difference when such a structure is not in place is that testing is often left to the testers. No escalation of errors and no tracking of how often an error occurs will certainly reduce the consumption of valuable time and effort.

  1. Use feature flags for testing in production

You can reduce the overhead expenses associated with testing by using feature flags. If you implement feature flags correctly, you can get rid of test and staging environments in some cases. The same apps that your customers access will display differently depending on the feature flag rules. These rules can be based on attributes such as location, access device, or even smaller details such as a unique user ID.

With feature flags, you can show new features to key stakeholders in your organisation before they are released to users. Features can be exposed in production, but without exposing them to end users, thereby reducing risk. Testing in production saves you money and resources that you would otherwise put into isolated testing sessions in the environment.

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About the author

Michaela Kojnoková

Agile Test Engineer

Po štúdiu informatiky na ŽU a TUKE som sa najviac ponorila do oblasti automatizácie testovania. Okrem toho sa venujem tvorbe webov, databázam, dátovej analytike, umelej inteligencii a strojovému učeniu. Mám rada cestovanie, šport a najviac si užívam čas strávený v prírode s mojimi blízkymi. LinkedIn

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