How can you make continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) cycles faster? Ask most developers that question, and you'll probably hear answers that involve speeding up code compilation or automating deployment as much as possible.
Here's another, better way to improve the speed of CI/CD: Embrace and optimize continuous testing. Although testing is only one part of the CI/CD process, it has a tendency to become the longest part, by far. By supercharging your software testing routines, you can supercharge the overall CI/CD process.
Keep reading for a look at why faster continuous testing is the key to faster CI/CD, as well as tips on how to make the continuous testing process as smooth and fast as possible.
What Is Continuous Testing?
Continuous testing is the process of running software tests each time you prepare a new release of an application. In other words, continuous testing is what happens when you make testing a part of the CI/CD lifecycle.
If you use continuous integration to add new features to your application on an ongoing basis and continuous deployment to deploy new application releases frequently, you should also leverage continuous testing to ensure that each new release is properly vetted before customers begin using it. Otherwise, you risk deploying application releases that have usability, performance, security, or other bugs.
How Continuous Testing Impacts CI/CD Velocity
Continuous testing is only one phase of the CI/CD process. Other key phases include integration, which involves adding new code to an existing codebase and compiling the updated application, and deployment, which means delivering an updated application release to end users.
However, compared to integration and deployment, continuous testing is often the most time-consuming part of each CI/CD cycle. The reason why is simple enough: Integrating and deploying code are straightforward processes. You can perform them using automated tools that typically don't need to be updated for each new release. Once you have CI and CD solutions in place, you can continuously pass new code through them. You might occasionally run into delays caused by the inability to build buggy code, but that's about it.
Continuous testing, however, is more fraught because test automation scripts frequently need to be updated for each application release. For example, you might introduce additional features or interface elements to your application that you need to test, requiring a new or updated automation script. Or, your existing automation scripts might fail due to issues like changes in the selectors of elements within the application, which means, again, that you have to update scripts. And even when all of your scripts are updated, it may take a long time to run the tests because you have to set up the devices to run them on.
All of this work can take a tremendous amount of time. Indeed, 60% of organizations reported that it takes at least several days, and in some cases several weeks, to update scripts for new application releases, according to Kobiton's "State of Software Test Automation in 2022" report. Compare that to the integration and deployment parts of the CI/CD process, which developers typically complete in under an hour, and it becomes clear just how much testing can slow down the rest of the CI/CD process. By extension, testing challenges make it harder for organizations to give end users the features they want as quickly as possible.
Best Practices for Streamlining Continuous Testing
If you want to make the CI/CD process faster, then, you need to find ways to ensure that continuous testing is as smooth as possible. Here are some tips:
- Automatically update scripts: Many relatively simple problems with automation scripts, such as incorrect element selectors, can be fixed automatically using continuous testing platforms. Automatic script updates significantly reduce the time required to prepare for a new round of tests, which leads in turn to faster CI/CD.
- Automated script generation: If you have to generate new scripts to test new features in an application, consider leveraging tools that can produce automation scripts based on manual tests. This approach allows teams to create automation scripts much faster because they can manually run the tests they want to perform, then translate those manual actions into automated tests that they can execute across multiple devices.
- Leverage cloud testing: By running tests on devices based in the cloud, you can execute automated tests as quickly as possible, without having to obtain or set up devices locally.
- Test holistically: There are many different types of software tests that you can run, ranging from usability and accessibility tests, to performance and load tests and beyond. To make testing as seamless as possible, strive to manage and execute all tests via a single routine, rather than treating each category of test as its own process.
- Shift testing left: Shifting testing left means involving developers in the testing process. The more developers know about testing and test automation, the better prepared they will be to write code that doesn't break existing automation scripts, as well as to help sort through testing problems when they do occur.
Each of these strategies helps to minimize the manual time and effort that engineers have to devote to software testing and to maximize the rate at which tests can be performed.
Conclusion: From CI/CD to CI/CT/CD
Continuous testing isn't often at the center of conversations around CI/CD, but it should be. Again, a slow testing process can easily become the weakest link in your overall CI/CD routine and lead to significant delays in the speed at which you deploy new versions of your software.
Avoid these delays by streamlining your approach to continuous testing. While some amount of friction and occasional hiccups are unavoidable, the right continuous testing strategies make it possible to measure how long testing takes in minutes, not days or weeks. That should be the goal of every team that wants to make the most of CI/CD — or CI/CT/CD, as the process should perhaps be called in order to place greater emphasis on the key role that continuous testing plays in CI/CD success.
Frank Moyer is the CTO of Kobiton.