Testers have access to tools that can build automated test suites by recording user flows effortlessly. Are these tools worth it over coding automated tests? Read more to learn the pros and cons of each approach.
Organizations that build software know the importance of testing to provide a high-quality and stable customer experience. Test automation is a must-have with the expectations of rapid development and delivery in today’s software development environment. Without an easily reproducible way to validate that your systems work as intended, you’ll find yourself fighting fires constantly, making it impossible to keep pace with your competitors.
For a long time, building and maintaining a suite of automated tests required capacity on par with software development. Test automation fell into the realm of QA engineers with similar skills to software developers but running as a separate team, involving additional management and focus. For some organizations like small startups with scarce resources, that extra organizational overhead meant test automation getting placed on the back burner.
However, you don’t need coding skills to get started with test automation these days. Thanks to the emergence of test recording tools, anyone can create automated scenarios that can repeatedly run on demand to check their applications. These tools can help organizations without the resources for coding automated tests to set up a test suite at a fraction of the cost and effort.
A test recording tool is a standalone application or browser extension that records all actions occurring in another application or webpage for future playback. The primary use case for these tools is to reproduce typical user flows in your applications and rerun them later, ideally as the team updates the application’s codebase. These recordings will help verify that your application or website is still functional and avoids the mind-numbing repetitive work of constantly going through these flows manually.
A crucial benefit of test recording tools is they will use your existing application or website so that you can keep track of the same interactions as your customers. These tools can record clicking on different elements, typing in text to fill out forms, uploading files, and much more. You can easily record almost anything your customers can perform on your app. In addition to recording, you can also set assertions—specific points during the test execution where you can verify the results of an action. For instance, an assertion can check that a success message appears when submitting a form on a website.
Once you have one or more tests recorded, you can use these tools to replay them in the exact order on the latest version of your site or application. If the test goes through all recorded steps and any assertions are still correct, you’ll have a passing test. If something changes in the application or an expected assertion fails, the test recording tool will alert you about it so you can check any changes in the user flow. You can catch problems before they land in the hands of your customers.
The benefits of test recording tools are immediately evident once you learn how they work. Here are a few of their advantages.
As mentioned earlier, test recording tools don’t require any software development or programming ability to start. These tools are an attractive option for small teams without the time or team members to create automated tests. Instead of waiting for the chance to automate tests, anyone on the team can do it starting today.
When automating more extended UI tests or end-to-end user flows, test recording tools help you save time by tracking what you interacted with during the recording process. That means all you need to do is click and type, and the tool will handle the tedious exercise of identifying the specific elements and actions taken.
Many test recording tools have additional functionality built in that expands their usefulness. For instance, some tools can run cross browser tests at the click of a button or include the ability the run performance tests or other forms of testing from the same interface. It’s a time- and money-saver since you won’t need to stitch together multiple tools.
While test recording tools provide plenty of benefits, they may also have a few drawbacks you need to be aware of when choosing these tools.
Test recording works great at the beginning of your test automation journey when you have an uncomplicated application with a few scenarios to validate. As the application grows, your tests must adapt to the changes for your test suite to function efficiently. Changes in the underlying application can make minor modifications in your tests a challenge, and you’ll often find yourself redoing them from scratch.
For standard user flows in an application, like clicking a button or filling out a form, test recording tools have all you need to get a reproducible result. But if your application requires something that the tool doesn’t have available, you’ll have to handle it through coding (if your tool allows it). It leads you to fight against the tool instead of having it work for you, defeating the purpose of using a test recording tool in the first place.
Some test recording tools are proprietary and only allow usage in specific systems or environments. If you also decide to use another testing tool, there’s a good chance you can’t easily export your existing tests. These tools can also be prohibitively expensive for small teams. These licensing restrictions and limitations make it tough to use your recorded tests outside of that ecosystem if needed or require costly licenses for additional seats or usage, like running in CI environments.
The popularity of no-code or low-code tools has extended into the software testing world, with many options available. The following list contains five solid choices to consider if you’re looking for a test recording tool for your organization.
Telerik Test Studio is a robust test recording tool for web and desktop applications. Test Studio goes beyond simple test recording by offering API, performance and load testing capabilities. It also provides plenty of useful functionality for the long-term maintainability of your tests, like an element repository to keep track of elements used by your tests. For management, it has excellent reporting capabilities through its Executive Dashboard.
Katalon Studio is a test recording tool covering almost anything for testing modern applications, from websites to APIs to mobile and desktop applications. It provides an extensive list of templates to kick-start standard testing flows for beginners. It also offers multiple paths to expand as your QA processes evolve, such as linking to continuous integration and continuous delivery services.
Selenium IDE is a test recording tool based on Selenium, the most widely used test automation framework for web applications. It’s an open-source tool that’s free to use, so there’s no need to purchase expensive licenses. Since it’s a browser extension, you can quickly get up and running in minutes. And with Selenium’s widespread use, it’s easy to export your test scripts or find help if you need someone to modify them.
Ranorex Studio focuses on test recording for web, desktop and mobile applications. It allows you to use real devices and emulators when testing mobile applications, increasing your coverage at a fraction of the cost. For organizations with QA departments, it can integrate with popular test management tools such as Jira and TestRail. Also, there’s plenty of advanced functionality, like automatically managing UI elements, PDF validation, and more.
Test recording tools are an appealing solution to writing code in a few situations. Here are a few cases where a test recording tool is ideal:
Test recording tools allow anyone to build and execute automated tests without having to possess computer programming knowledge. When your organization needs test automation but lacks people who can code, these tools will help you get started sooner. There’s no need to learn software development fundamentals or hire specialized QA engineers to handle the job.
Many customers won’t need to do anything more than type text, click buttons, or navigate through different screens and pages on a website. Modern test recording tools have these basics covered, so you won’t need anything else if these typical usage patterns are all you need to validate.
The long-term maintenance of your automated test suite is essential for its effectiveness. Test recording tools shine with getting your tests up and running quickly, but many tools aren’t stellar for keeping your tests working when the application changes often. If the application under test is relatively stable, these tools can provide lasting benefits for your test automation practices.
Despite the ease of use with test recording tools, some circumstances might lead you to consider coding your tests instead:
Test recording tools are a life-saver if your organization doesn’t have anyone available to code tests. If you have a dedicated testing team with engineers who know how to code, it’s better to skip the recorders and use coding from the start. It’s slower at the beginning but will save your organization time and money in the long haul by avoiding the shortcomings of test recording tools.
While test recording tools do a great job recording test flows, the test scripts generated by most of these tools are far from optimized. These generated scripts usually contain unnecessary code that makes it difficult to understand or modify even for experienced QA engineers. Sometimes, these nonessential segments make test execution much slower. Coding your tests allows your team to build what they need without the accumulated cruft.
Some test recording tools connect and send information about your recorded tests and test runs to other tools and services. However, some teams use specialized software or in-house applications as part of their workflow. Most test recording tools won’t allow integration outside predefined services or applications, so you may need to build your tests outside these tools if you need custom integrations.
Tools for building test automation have come a long way in the past couple of years. Previously, you needed software development know-how to create an automated test suite. Nowadays, you can find plenty of test recording tools that allow anyone to develop repeatable and reproducible flows of any application without touching a single line of code.
Test recording tools are an excellent solution to begin your test automation journey, especially if you or your organization don’t have the ability to create automated tests through code. For many, it’s worth exploring this route. However, these tools have their fair share of limitations, so it’s not a silver bullet either. This article hopefully gives you the information to decide what works best for you and your applications.
Next up, you may want to consider how to create a codeless automated test plan.
Dennis Martinez is a freelance automation tester and DevOps engineer living in Osaka, Japan. He has over 19 years of professional experience working at startups in New York City, San Francisco, and Tokyo. Dennis also maintains Dev Tester, writing about automated testing and test automation to help you become a better tester. You can also find him on LinkedIn and his website.
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