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Differences in Automating Web and Desktop Application Testing

Anna Thorsen

Anna Thorsen

For any enterprise, whether large or small, you’ll have business processes that run across web and desktop applications. But how do the two application types differ, and what do you need to bear in mind when automating them?

With transactions taking place between a mesh of technologies, it opens businesses to threats, especially when updating and changing desktop applications. This makes easy-to-use test automation crucial to business success.

In this post, we outline the differences between desktop automation and web automation, and highlight what to look for in an automated testing tool that works across both application types.

What are desktop applications and web applications?

Desktop applications are installed, configured and used on desktop operating systems like macOS, Linux or Windows. Microsoft Office applications like word or excel are examples of desktop applications.

They run on one machine. However, they normally need ample hardware resources to function, unlike web applications, and don’t require an internet connection for operation.

Unlike a desktop app, a web app is an application software running on a web server. They’re accessed through a web browser like Chrome, Microsoft Edge or Firefox and require an internet connection to access.

Related reading: What is the Difference Between Mobile and Desktop Testing?

What are the differences between web and desktop application testing?

There are two ways to look at desktop application testing.

  • Organization A tests its own desktop application to ensure it is functional for an end-user. An example would be SAP testing their own software functionality before releasing to customers.
  • Organization B uses desktop applications, like SAP, and need to test the processes that involve this application. Whenever a new version is released, you need to retest to make sure that your processes work as normal when reinstalling.

Web application testing is a bit trickier as you don’t have control over the application you’re working in, unless, of course, your business is the proprietor of the website application. Testing can be applied to different browsers and operating systems. Typically, an organization should look for an application testing tool that supports the advanced automation of desktop applications and web applications.

Discover How to Automate Desktop UI Tests and Processes

Key differences between desktop and web automation


Web apps are accessible to any user and are hosted on a web server. Desktop apps run on personal computers and workstations which can be accessed from a single machine, unless you’re working from a virtual machine, or a CRM or ERP which require a database or internet connection to work.

Scope of test cases

Web applications are huge in nature and can encompass countless test cases. Small desktop applications like a notepad or paint, for example, will have smaller test cases. But large scale desktop CRM applications can have just as big a scope of test cases as a web application.

Deployment and upgrade of applications

A big difference between web and desktop application testing is the reflection of changes. When an update occurs on the web, it is immediately reflected to all users. On desktop, the update is not reflected until a user installs an update.

At this stage, tests need to be updated and modified in case a process has been affected in an application update. Finding an automation tool that is easy to use for automation deployment and upgrading of applications is crucial to speedy development.

Why companies automate web and desktop applications with no-code solutions

Many testing teams manually test their desktop applications because of the lack of easy-to-use automation platforms on the market. To manually test these processes is incredibly time-consuming and risky, and automated desktop testing can be challenging to build.

Additionally, almost all organizations have processes which are dependent on desktop and web applications to run. And while you can use open-source tools like Selenium to automate testing in web applications, you have to manually code cross-application testing with code-based automation.

With no-code desktop automation, you remove the complexity of having to code test cases in multiple desktop applications. Users can easily automate across web and desktop, whether in desktop apps developed in WPF and other technologies, in virtual desktop environments, or legacy systems.

Leapwork is easy to access and easy to use, with a functional UI automation framework that helps business users and technical tests build and maintain test cases with visual building blocks.

You can learn more in this upcoming desktop automation webinar where we showcase how to test business-critical desktop applications at speed.

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