Healthy Testing Habits

Anyone who has focused on improving their health has learned that health begins with good habits: taking care of one’s teeth, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and so on. Quick fixes like diet pills and one jog around the block might provide temporary improvement, but for permanent results, healthy habits are the way to go.

It occurred to me recently that this is true for software quality as well! It’s not enough to splurge on the latest test case management system or adopt the newest test framework; real software quality is the result of healthy testing habits! Below are six healthy testing habits you’ll want your team to adopt.

Habit 1: Check your overnight tests and fix any failures

Many software testers create automated tests that are designed to run overnight. But how many testers take the time to check and fix any failing tests? Too often our nightly test runs become repositories of mediocrity; if most of the tests pass, then we assume everything is OK and dismiss the flaky tests. With a test suite like that, how will you be alerted to actual problems?

Make a commitment to having zero flaky tests. Check your overnight test runs in the morning and rerun any failures. If you notice that you are getting false failures in specific tests, fix those tests so they won’t be flaky. Then you will have overnight tests that your team can truly rely upon.

Habit 2: Run unit and integration tests with every build

Hopefully the developers on your team have created unit tests for their code! When unit tests are run with every code commit, they provide incredibly fast feedback. Integration tests are also extremely helpful because they can alert the team to potential lost connections to the database or to another team’s API.

Set up your build system so that every build will run your unit and integration tests and fail if any tests fail. You’ll be pleased to see how well this practice keeps bugs from escaping to production.

Habit 3: Set up regular security checks

Security problems can pop up at unexpected times. Recently it’s become more common for malicious users to find and exploit package vulnerabilities. One way to avoid having vulnerable packages or other security holes in your code is to scan your code periodically. There are many automated scanning tools- both free and paid- available for this purpose. You can set your automated scanning tools to run once a week and alert you to any possible vulnerabilities. And don’t forget that you can also set up your own security automation to check for things like access control and security misconfiguration.

Habit 4: Run load tests before releasing

Do you know how your application behaves under load? Hopefully you have run load tests on your application at some point. But remember that every time there is a change to your application’s behavior- for example, adding a new API or altering a database query- the performance of your application may change. A healthy load testing habit involves load testing your application before you release any changes. If there is a significant slowdown in your app’s performance you’ll want to investigate that and make whatever changes are needed.

Habit 5: Ping your APIs at regular intervals.

Just because your API was working correctly last night, and the last time you deployed your software, doesn’t mean that it’s working correctly right now. All kinds of things can cause your API to be unresponsive. Perhaps someone in IT accidentally changed a firewall rule. Maybe a third-party API that your API relies upon has gone down. When things like this happen, you’ll want to find out about it before your customers do.

A great healthy habit is to set up a ping check on your APIs. You can set up a specific health endpoint that returns positive or negative results, or you can use an existing GET request. Whichever method you use, you’ll want to set your check to run every few minutes and alert you if something is wrong.

Habit 6: Set up monitors and alerts

How many problems has your team encountered with your application that could have been prevented if you were alerted to them ahead of time? Perhaps you ran into an issue where a server had reached maximum CPU and stopped responding to requests. Or maybe a database was filled to capacity and started rejecting all additions of new data. Setting up monitoring and alerting means that you can be notified of a problem before it becomes a disaster and affects your customers.

It’s important to make sure that you aren’t alerting too often, though! If you and your team get too many alerts, you’ll begin to suffer from “alert fatigue” and stop paying attention to them entirely. Work with your team to determine exactly what you should alert on and make sure that you and your team take turns responding to the alerts, so no one person bears all the responsibility.

It’s easy to see how healthy testing habits like these can greatly contribute to software quality! They aren’t as exciting as buying a new testing tool, but they are cheaper and more effective.

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