Test automation is one of the biggest buzzwords in quality assurance right now, and for good reason. Properly designed software test automation allows companies to quickly and inexpensively test their software’s code and find vulnerabilities before they become a problem.

Like a lot of buzzwords, though, there can be confusion about what the phrase actually means. Many companies know that test automation will save them time and money, but not how software test automation does this or when it should be applied. To help you understand software automated testing better, we’ve compiled a quick breakdown of the pros, cons and basics of software test automation.

What is Software Test Automation?

Software test automation is the process of writing and using coded scripts to test your software. Essentially, you are writing a program that will perform the same tests you would perform on your  software, or have someone else perform on your software manually. However, unlike having a software tester manually look over your software, an automated script can perform the same task much faster. This is especially useful when testing your software requires performing data-driven testing, or regression testing requiring the same test to be run multiple times with a slightly different data input each time.

The Pros of Automated Software Testing

The biggest benefit of automated software testing is that it can free up the time your software developers and testers need to spend on repetitive tasks, meaning they can use their time to focus on more important things. Automating your software testing means that no one has to be there to manually run the same test over and over, whether for regression testing or data-driven testing. Instead, you have the starting time investment of writing the testing script, and then the script can handle running the actual tests.

For data-driven tests especially, it offers the ability to simply feed the necessary values from a spreadsheet, database table, random generator, what have you. This makes tests that you’d never run manually, like, say, testing data values using every zip code in the county / state / country, feasible. It greatly expands the types of tests you can perform, with a corresponding increase in final quality.

The Cons of Automated Software Testing

Here’s the thing about automated software testing scripts: they can only test for what you tell them to. If you only tell them to test that a certain button is functioning properly, it will only tell you whether or not that button is functioning properly—not if that button is the right color or appears in the right place.

If your software is particularly complicated, prone to constant change, or involves multiple interlocking or referenced parts of other software, automated testing can also fail. Your test may know to look for the “Shopping Cart” button but not the “Add to Cart” button if you change the button’s name, and all your tests will come back negatively despite the button working. Or, if you ask the testing script to check for multiple problems at once, a slight change of coding in one part of the test may send back a negative even if the other sections work fine.

Software testing automation also does not fix the code for your developers. They will still have to do all the work of finding and fixing bugs once the automated test finds them.

When to Use Software Test Automation

Using software test automation works best when the code you are trying to test is simple and static, not constantly updating or changing. Since automated testing scripts can’t test new ideas they’re not written to test, it doesn’t do well to try and use automated testing on software that is still under development. If your software is already released and is stable, and you only need to check over your code when an update is made or maintenance performed, that’s the best situation in which to use automated software testing.

Software test automation is an important part of the testing tool kit.  The larger your application, the faster your turn around, the more complex the interactions–the more you need it.