Web Application Testing: The Basics of Web App Test Automation

Lucia Cavero-Baptista

Automation Expert

As more traditional front and back-office applications are migrating from desktop to web-based interfaces, testing the functionality of web applications is becoming highly critical. For that reason, learning what and how to automate is a crucial component of successful web app testing.

IT landscapes across organizations are becoming increasingly simplified as more applications and services are migrated into a single technology - web-based. However, this also comes with some risks:

If you want to deliver a great end-user experience, web applications and websites must work across multiple browsers, browser versions, operating systems, and devices, including mobile.

With all the possible combinations, the number of usage scenarios to be tested explodes.

One provider of hosted environments for automated web testing, Sauce Labs, has identified more than 2,000 devices and more than 800 browser-OS combinations – and those are just the most commonly used.

What is web app testing?

Web testing, or web application testing, is a software practice that ensures quality by testing that the functionality of a given web application is working as intended or as per the requirements. Web testing allows you to find bugs at any given time, prior to a release, or on a day-to-day basis. 

Testing is a highly important part of software development. Whenever there’s a change in the code, no matter how small, bugs can appear somewhere else in the system. The cost of fixing these bugs also rises with time, so having effective web testing in place will ensure you’re time and money in the development of your application.

Average cost of a software bug

How to test web applications?

Creating a top-notch web application requires a lot of testing which, if performed manually, can be tedious and time-consuming. For this reason, many QA teams rely on automation to create fast, efficient, and reliable test cases for their web applications. 

Test automation offloads these routine and repetitive testing tasks from humans to machines. The tests compare actual outcomes with predicted outcomes. This approach can help find bugs in specific operations and simple-use cases (e.g. logging in, creating a new account, doing password resets). 

By automating web application tests, testers are able to save time and effort on monotonous tasks because automated tests can be run continuously or scheduled at intervals. By offloading testers from these time-consuming tasks, they can focus on exploratory testing or other tests that require a human perspective.

Test automation is the use of software (separate from the software under test) to control the execution of tests. It lets software robots perform repetitive tasks and emulate end-user interaction with the system under test, in order to increase the range, depth, and reliability of one’s quality assurance efforts.

Still, we shouldn’t think of automation as a plug-and-play system that requires no human intervention. Effective automation requires testers to have a thorough knowledge of the software under test, as well as an “automation first” mindset. 

Related reading: The complete guide to web automation

What can you automate?

There are different test cases you can automate depending on your business objectives.

Nowadays, more and more components of the life cycle are being automated, but you should choose those that best suit the capabilities of your testing team.

These are the types of tests that you can automate for web applications:

Types of tests web automation

Functional Testing

Functional testing is used to ensure that functionality, specified as part of the software requirements, works as intended from the end user’s perspective. It is common knowledge that the test process that uncovers the most bugs is letting the end-user use the software.

A single end-user can make the whole system crash in minutes, even after unit, integration, and performance tests have passed. This usually happens because the user does something the developers did not expect.

Automating tests, as specified by the requirements, will ensure that the web application is working as intended. However, functional test automation cannot fully replace the human perspective. That’s why you should always supplement your automated test cases with exploratory testing to provide a positive user experience.

If you want to dig deeper into automated functional UI testing, download our whitepaper: Functional UI Testing: An Introduction to Codeless Test Automation

Regression testing

Regression testing can be described as “repeated functional testing”. It is used to make sure that a software’s functionality continues to work after parts of it have been modified with new code or configuration. For instance, when new features are built, regression testing ensures that old features of the software continue to work as intended.

Automated regression testing uses computer-based tools and techniques to test software that has been changed or updated. An automated process allows for the development of automated systems that re-run all regression tests at specified intervals, such as daily or weekly, and report any failure.

When regression testing is automated, you can quickly and reliably run through simple scenarios and check a variety of changes to get fast feedback. This, in turn, frees up time for testers to focus on product improvement or conduct manual exploration into more unusual cases that require special attention.

To become an expert in automated regression testing, download our whitepaper: How to do Regression Testing (Faster) in Agile Teams

Cross-browser testing

Cross-browser testing ensures that your web application is performing as expected across different browsers, both on desktop and mobile. 

This is important because browsers tend to be updated fairly frequently, meaning that by the time you are ready to deploy your application, it might not work as intended in your target browsers. 

Not only that, users might be using the latest browser version but in an old operating system. Therefore, automating crow-browser testing ensures the continuous compatibility between your web application and the specified versions of operating systems, browsers and devices. 

To learn more about cross-browser testing, read our blog post: How to automate web testing across browsers and devices

Performance testing

Performance testing, such as stress and load testing, ensures that a web application can endure extended periods of activity or peak user loads. Reaching the necessary stress conditions or load level wouldn’t be feasible if done manually, therefore automation is key in proving that your application can perform in any situation.

Related reading: How to do Application Performance Monitoring: Best Practices

Web app test automation best practices

Before you start automating your web application tests, make sure you draft a test automation strategy to keep you on track. Things to keep in mind before you start automation are:

  1. What are the specific requirements of your web application?
  2. What do you need to automate?
  3. Which test automation tool best suits your requirements and goals?
  4. How much maintenance will automation require?

Always start small and, once you’re comfortable, start scaling your automation efforts. No one wants to end up with hundreds of automated test cases that are impossible to maintain.

Make sure you don’t fall into the 'test automation paradox', where test automation was supposed to enable efficient software development and free up resources, but it actually brings with it an array of new costly tasks and never-ending maintenance. 

Successful web application testing requires effective test automation processes, clear communication within the team, an efficient strategy, and an automation tool that doesn’t impair testers, but enables them. 

Download the Extended Guide to Web Automation