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Regression Testing: The Ultimate Guide for QA Professionals

The ultimate guide to Regression Testing shares strategies, challenges, tools, and tips for fool proof Regression Testing.

Regression Testing: The Ultimate Guide for QA Professionals

As digital environments become more complex, it's increasingly vital for organizations to ensure that any new software release doesn't inadvertently introduce defects or break existing functionality. Enter regression testing!

In this article, we’ll discuss the essentials of regression testing, its increasing significance, and a strategic roadmap for effective implementation including some tool recommendations.

Here’s the table of contents to help you navigate the content:

1) What is Regression Testing?

Regression testing, at its core, is about rechecking previously tested code to ensure that recent changes haven't disrupted existing functionality. This form of testing is paramount when software undergoes modifications, such as when new features are added, existing features are modified, or bugs are fixed. Its primary goal is to catch unintended side effects that these changes might cause in the parts of the software that should remain unchanged.

As applications grow in complexity, regression testing becomes even more important, since any change to the application's code might have an impact on other areas of the code that developers might think were 'safe'. 

2) Why invest in Regression Testing?

From the definition above, it seems pretty obvious why you would want to invest in regression testing - to make sure things continue to work as expected after any changes to an application’s code. 

But if we look a little deeper, we can group the benefits of good regression testing in 3 big buckets:

1. Assurance in User Experience: We all know that user expectations are at an all-time high. For customer facing applications, a single glitch (no matter how minor), can significantly impact user satisfaction and retention. Proper regression testing ensures a consistent and glitch-free experience, fostering user trust and loyalty.

2. Cost-Efficiency: While investing in regression testing might seem like an additional cost, it is far cheaper than the expenses associated with post-release patches, especially when considering the potential loss in user trust and possible reputational damage.

3. Swift Releases: In environments that favor continuous delivery or rapid release cycles, regression testing provides the safety net that teams need. With the assurance that changes haven't disrupted existing functionalities, teams can confidently roll out updates and new features faster.

3) How to Set Up a Regression Testing Strategy: Tactics and Tools

Crafting an effective regression testing strategy is fundamental to ensuring software quality as it evolves. Here's a concise guide to get you started: 

1. Assess Your Application: Start by understanding the architecture and components of your application. Knowing which areas are more prone to change, which have higher business impact, and which are more vulnerable will guide the testing emphasis.

2. Prioritize Test Cases: It's unfeasible to always test everything. Based on your assessment, identify critical functionalities that, if broken, would have the most significant impact and recognize areas with frequent changes as they're more susceptible to new defects.

3. Test Data Management: Ensure you have a reliable method for sourcing test data, be it real (anonymized) or synthetic. As mentioned later in this article, balancing data quality, realism, and privacy is vital.

4. Decide on a Testing Mix: Based on application size and release frequency, decide on a mix of full regression tests and partial (or targeted) tests. For instance, hotfixes might only need targeted testing, while major releases warrant full regression.

5. Automate Strategically: Manual testing can be tedious and inconsistent. Identify repetitive and high-priority test cases for automation to achieve speed and precision. 

6. Continuous Integration: Integrate your regression tests into a Continuous Integration (CI) environment. This ensures that tests are run automatically whenever there are code changes, promoting quick feedback to the development team.

7. Review and Revise: Regularly review and update your regression test suite. As the software evolves, some tests may become obsolete while new ones will need inclusion.

In order to implement these approaches, you’ll need specific tools to make it happen (the testing landscape is filled with all sorts of tools, and the list below is not an exhaustive list, just a quick summary of some well known alternatives):

  • Test Management: These tools will help in organizing and tracking test cases. As your testing suite increases in size, these tools will become even more valuable to help your manage your regression testing;
  • Test Automation: Running manual regression tests is just not manageable, especially when you’re talking about large applications. Some popular choices to consider for automating application tests are Selenium and Playwright for web applications and Appium for mobile apps;
  • CI/CD Integration: Tools like Jenkins or Travis CI can help integrate regression tests into your development pipeline, to leverage the power of automation and make it a seamless process;
  • Data Management: Depending on the data approach, you might need different types of tools to generate, store and apply your test data. 

4) Challenges in Setting Up Regression Testing

Setting up your Regression Testing is definitely not a picnic and QA teams usually face 3 main challenges:

Scale

As applications evolve, the number of test cases multiplies, making it a challenge to manage and execute them efficiently. To address the complexities of scale, QA teams should should consider 3 tactics:

  • Embracing Modular Testing: Break tests into modular, independent units. This not only simplifies management but also makes it easier to identify and rectify defects.
  • Focusing on Test Prioritization: Rank tests based on criteria like business impact and change frequency. Execute high-priority tests first to ensure crucial functionalities are always validated.
  • Using Test Management Tools: These tools will help organize, manage, and track vast numbers of test cases systematically.

Complexity

No application lives in a vacuum. With the exponentially growing combination of devices, browsers, operating systems, and application interdependencies, ensuring comprehensive testing can be daunting. To address the challenges of complexity QA teams should look into:

  • Cross-browser Testing: Ensuring that tests cover different browsers and platforms to validate application behavior across environments.
  • Automated Testing Tools: Employing tools like Selenium (for web applications) and Appium (for mobile apps) to simulate user interactions across multiple browsers and devices without manual intervention. 

Time

Executing a thorough regression test will be time-consuming. If not managed properly, longer test runs will undoubtedly lead to release delays. Unfortunately time is the hardest element to control, but some approaches can help:

  • Test Automation: While it requires an initial investment, automated testing drastically reduces test execution time in the long run.
  • Parallel Execution: Running multiple tests simultaneously to speed up the testing process. Test execution platforms like Element34, allow for parallel execution and are built for scalability from day one, significantly cutting down test durations and ensuring continuous support as the test runs increase.
  • Continuous Integration: Integrating regression tests into a CI environment using tools like Jenkins ensures tests are run automatically with every code change, providing rapid feedback and saving valuable time.

5) Approaches to Regression Testing

There are several Regression Testing strategies that cater to different needs:

  • Retest All: This approach involves running all existing test cases. While comprehensive, it can be time-consuming and may not always be necessary. 
  • Selective Testing: Concentrating only on the parts of the application that were modified. This is efficient but can overlook unforeseen system-wide effects.
  • Test Suite Minimization: By reducing the test suite, this approach looks to save time but demands a precise understanding to ensure no critical test is overlooked.
  • Hybrid: A combination approach tailored to specific project needs.

Each approach has its merits and QA teams need to evaluate the best approach based on the project scope and risk factors. 

Let’s look at a couple of examples of how the above approaches could be applied. Facebook, which rolls out updates frequently, likely uses a hybrid approach. While core functionalities are tested regularly, not every minor UI tweak goes through exhaustive testing. This tailored strategy allows them to maintain a balance between thorough testing and swift releases. If we look at Amazon, given the scale and the stakes of Prime Day, Amazon will probably prioritize tests related to search functionality, payment processing, and checkout flows since these core functions, when disrupted, can lead to significant revenue loss.

6) Shifting Left with Regression Testing

The term "shift left" in the context of software development and testing refers to the practice of integrating testing earlier in the life cycle of software development, rather than waiting for the later stages. The goal is to catch and address issues in the development process as early as possible, which in turn reduces costs and accelerates delivery times. 

By shifting left developers rectify defects sooner, reducing back-and-forth, and QA teams streamline processes, optimizing resources. Overall this results in speedier, more frequent, and cleaner releases.

Here’s how Regression Testing comes to play in the “shift left” approach:

  • Early Validation: By integrating regression testing earlier in the development process, teams can validate that new code changes have not adversely impacted existing functionalities. This proactive validation can prevent potential defects from progressing further down the development pipeline.
  • Continuous Feedback: "Shift left" encourages continuous feedback loops. When regression testing is done in tandem with new feature development, developers receive immediate feedback. This feedback mechanism allows for quicker iterations and refinements, ensuring that the final product is of higher quality.
  • Collaborative Environment: Regression testing, when integrated early, fosters a collaborative environment between developers and testers. This synergy ensures that both teams are aligned in their objectives, leading to better communication, understanding, and overall product quality.

7) Harnessing the Power of Parallel Testing

Parallel testing involves running multiple tests or test cases simultaneously across different machines or virtual environments. Instead of waiting for one test to complete before starting the next, several tests are executed at the same time, drastically reducing the total testing time. 

While parallel testing offers numerous benefits, it's essential to be aware of potential challenges. These might include managing test data in a parallel environment, ensuring synchronization when necessary, and handling potential conflicts between test cases. Also, setting up a parallel execution environment (using a Selenium Grid, for example) is not an easy task (fortunately tools like SBOX by Element34 solve this).

When applied to regression testing, parallel execution ensures that even as the test suite grows, the time taken for its execution remains manageable. This capability is especially crucial for organizations that have frequent releases, ensuring that extensive test coverage doesn't become a hindrance to rapid deployments.

8) Navigating Data Complexity in Expanding Regression Test Suites

One often overlooked aspect of scaling regression testing is the challenge of data management. As regression suites grow, ensuring a consistent and relevant data feed for the tests becomes increasingly complex. Let's delve into this challenge:

  • Volume vs. Relevance: With software evolution, the sheer volume of test data increases. However, more data doesn't always equate to better testing. Ensuring that the test data remains relevant, especially when new features are added, is crucial. For instance, when testing a new search algorithm for an e-commerce platform, it's not just about having many product entries but having varied, realistic product data that users might search for.
  • Data Anonymization Challenges: If test cases are based on real-world scenarios, there's a risk of incorporating sensitive user information, leading to potential breaches of privacy regulations like GDPR or CCPA. Anonymizing this data is essential, but as the volume grows, ensuring 100% anonymization becomes an intricate task. To minimize security and compliance risks, ensuring the tests and their data don’t leave the company’s network is critical!
  • Synthetic Data Generation: An alternative to using real-world data is generating synthetic data. While this approach guarantees privacy, creating realistic, high-quality synthetic data that mirrors the intricacies and variability of real-world data is a challenge in itself (not to mention the added costs and time needed).
  • Data Maintenance: As features change or are added, the data needed for regression testing might change. Regularly updating this data to keep pace with software changes is pivotal to maintain test effectiveness.

Let’s look at the real-life example of banking applications. Consider a banking software undergoing an upgrade to its loan approval algorithm. To test this feature, the regression suite would require extensive financial data profiles. Using real customer data poses significant privacy risks. On the other hand, generating synthetic data that realistically mimics diverse financial profiles—spanning varied credit scores, income levels, debt ratios, etc.—is a complex task. This highlights the challenge of balancing data realism with privacy concerns.

As crucial as it is to expand regression testing for evolving software, it's equally imperative to have a robust strategy for managing and updating test data. Balancing data quality, realism, and privacy is the key to effective and compliant regression testing.

A Word on Element34

At Element34, we understand these complexities and offer a unique approach:

  • Our solution enables parallel test runs from day one, drastically reducing cycle times and effectively supporting your regression testing efforts even as the test suite increases in size;
  • Since our solution runs within your network and behind your firewall, it ensures security and compliance even when using realistic data. This dramatically reduces the complexity of data maintenance of your regression testing; 
  • As you grow the size of your regression tests and runs, costs of your test execution remain steady. 

In essence, Element34 empowers organizations to maximize regression testing’s potential without the looming concern of escalating costs and complexity. 

We would love to hear your specific challenges and discuss how we can assist you - Contact Us Here

FAQs

How do you determine the right balance between automated and manual regression testing?

The balance depends on various factors, including the complexity of the application, the frequency of releases, and the criticality of the functionality. Automated testing is recommended for repetitive, high-volume tests to save time and reduce human error, whereas manual testing might be more suitable for complex scenarios that require human judgment.

What are the best practices for maintaining a regression test suite as the software evolves?

Best practices include regularly reviewing and pruning obsolete tests, updating tests to reflect changes in the application, and ensuring the test suite remains relevant and efficient. It's also crucial to categorize tests based on priority and functionality to streamline testing efforts.

How can teams effectively manage test data for regression testing, especially when dealing with sensitive information? 

Managing test data involves creating realistic yet anonymized datasets that do not compromise user privacy. Techniques include data masking, synthetic data generation, and utilizing secure, isolated environments for testing to ensure data integrity and compliance with privacy regulations.

What role does continuous integration (CI) play in regression testing, and how can teams integrate it into their workflow?

CI plays a crucial role in regression testing by automatically running tests after each code commit, allowing teams to identify and fix issues early in the development cycle. To integrate CI, teams should automate their regression tests and configure their CI tools to trigger these tests as part of the build process, ensuring continuous feedback and quality assurance.

Michael Palotas
Michael Palotas
VP of Product
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