11 Best Practices in Performing Production Tests

Testing is an important part of developing new software. If you don’t thoroughly test your software, there’s a chance that you’ll deploy a software riddled with bugs, defects, and poor functionality, all of which will hurt your user experience. Traditional software development involves unit, integration, and acceptance testing. However, if you’ve implemented an agile software development strategy, production testing is the next logical step.

Agile development is an ongoing process in which the software code is continually refined and developed well into production. This means testing should be done in production as well. Production testing is different than all other forms of testing in that the software is tested in a live environment, which focuses on specific areas of functionality. The success of agile development depends heavily on production testing, making it something to consider implementing for any software that you create using a traditional development strategy.

Why The Need For Production Testing?

You can only run so many tests during the development of a software. Nothing will quite compare to the challenges of a live environment (such as actual user traffic), making it difficult to test for such an environment when it hasn’t been deployed yet. If you’ve implemented an agile development strategy, you will be introducing new code changes periodically, which you’ll want to test in a live environment.

Advantages It Provides

These are the four major advantages of implementing production testing as part of your agile software development process:

  1. Real-Time Monitoring of Performance
    Running tests during the development stages of your software or prior to deployment requires the use of predefined test cases. Production testing will monitor the performance of your software in real-time scenarios. Since the user will continue to change data, you won’t have to test against predefined test cases.
  2. Detection of Defect Bugs
    As thoroughly as you might test your software during development, you may not identify all existing defect bugs. These bugs may only become apparent under certain conditions that are more easily created in a live environment. And as you push code changes, new defects may be revealed that you will need to address.
  3. Better Resilience and Quicker Recovery
    By continuing to test through production, your software will be more resilient and capable of recovering from expected or unexpected events without losing data or functionality.
  4. Reduced Risk of Deploying Too Often
    Every change requires a new deployment. By monitoring your software in a live environment, you can identify issues and address them quickly without having to deploy too often, which can hurt the user experience if users constantly have to download updates.

Categories of Testing In The Production Environment

Production testing includes two main categories: performance monitoring and comparative testing, neither of which can be accurately conducted by traditional testing throughout the development stage or prior to deployment.

Performance Monitoring

Not only does performance monitoring allow you to identify issues before they seriously affect the user experience, but it also allows you to gain a better understanding of how application resources are used. This is important because you’ll want to make sure your application is capable of scaling to meet unexpected demand. You’ll also be able to keep track of how responsive your application is to user database queries. Identifying a lack of responsiveness in certain features is not only essential to maintaining the user experience, but it can also indicate that a feature is on the verge of failing.

Comparative Testing

You can only perform comparative testing once your software has gone live. Comparative testing refers to the testing of physical products in the real world. There are two main types of comparative tests that you can run during production testing: A/B testing and canary testing. A/B testing involves testing two different versions of the same feature to determine which feature you want to release. Canary testing involves releasing new code to a small section of users to monitor when negative issues come up.

Quality Assurance Tactics

Production testing is all about quality assurance. The more effectively you are able to test software in production, the better the quality of the software is likely to be. Here are some of the common software tests you should run during the various stages of production.

Strategies At The Deployment Stage

The deployment stage is when the software is prepared for release. These production tests are often run during the deployment stage in an agile software development strategy:

1. Blue Green Deployment
Blue green deployment is a strategy in which two identical production environments are set up — a blue environment and a green environment. Only one of these environments is live. Let’s say that blue is live and green is non-live. When preparing your new software, deployment takes place in the green environment. Once the software has been fully tested in the green environment, the router is switched from blue to green so that the green environment becomes live and the blue environment switches to non-live. This way, all incoming requests are redirected to the green environment.Blue green deployment helps to get rid of down time during the deployment of a software as well as reduce the risks associated with deployment (if something goes wrong with the new version during testing in the non-live environment, you can just switch back to the previous version that’s in the live environment).

2. Canary Testing

Canary testing gets its name from the coal miner’s canary. Back in the day, coal miners would bring a canary down into the mines with them. Canaries need more oxygen than miners do. This means that if a canary passed out in the mines, it would warn miners that the oxygen levels were dangerously low.

Canary testing is similar in a sense. When performing a canary test, you deploy your software to a small subset of users. You then monitor the use of your software to determine if your users are experiencing any negative issues. These users are, basically, your canaries. They allow you to identify problems with your software in a real world environment before you release it to a larger audience.

3. A / B Testing

A / B testing compares two different features to determine which will work best. It’s an incredibly effective way to compare usability, performance, responsiveness, and resource usage. If you’re developing major new features for your software, consider performing A/B testing by releasing a beta test, meaning that only a small subset of users are provided with access so that you can obtain feedback on their experience.

4. Automated Rollback Strategy

Things can sometimes go wrong when deploying a new version of your software, and in some cases it may just be better to roll back to the previous version of your software and address whatever error occurred in the new version. To prevent errors in new versions from damaging your user experience, implement an automated rollback strategy. There are many automation tools out there that will automatically support rollbacks to previous software versions if an error is detected upon the deployment of a new software.

Strategies At The Production Phase

Once your software officially goes live, it’s in the production stage. In agile development, the production phase continues while your software is live as you continually deploy new versions. There are several tests you may want to run during the production phase of your software:

5. Synthetic User Testing
Synthetic user testing involves predicting user behavior to understand the user experience. You can collect valuable information, such as uptime, performance over low-traffic periods, issues caused by third-party scripts, and more. However, all of this is based on simulated actions and not real users. Synthetic testing makes assumptions on how users will use your app and draw conclusions about the app’s performance.

6. Lightweight User Acceptance Testing
User acceptance testing is traditionally executed right before software deployment. It’s the last phase of the testing process where users test the application to make sure it will be able to handle tasks in real-world scenarios. It’s also referred to as beta testing, application testing, or end-user testing.

With agile software development, lightweight user acceptance testing will need to be done before adding features or making changes to software that’s in production. You’ll be performing user acceptance testing on the changes you’ve made or the new features that were built and not on the entire application that’s already been deployed.

7. Infrastructure Integration Testing
Integration testing is important because it helps ensure that the software will be properly integrated with the hardware it’s meant to run on and the other applications it will interact with. Integration testing tends to be more challenging when it comes to traditional software development strategies since a test environment has to be built to mirror the hardware and software configuration the software will run in.

An agile development strategy is a little easier since a comprehensive build of the software is required for adequate integration testing. Continuous integration testing is important as it ensures that changes and additions to your software will work correctly with existing builds of your application.

8. Visual Testing
The look of your app can affect the user experience, which is why should run a visual test to make sure it appears to your users as you intended. Visual errors happen a lot more than you might realize as a result of visual bugs. Not only do they make your app look unfinished and unprofessional, they can hinder the functionality of the app as well. Because manual visual testing will take way too long, automated visual testing is the best option. An automated visual testing tool will compare visual elements across a number of different screen combinations to identify visual defects.

9. Disaster Recovery Testing
A disaster recovery strategy is a must to ensure that you can recover in the event that your software experiences a severe problem. Such a strategy can include frequent backups with the ability to launch a new version in a different location should your existing application fail or the ability to failover to a backup system in real-time. What’s essential to your ability to recover from a disaster is knowing when things are going wrong. Disaster recovery tests include liveness checks, which can help you identify issues that could lead to serious failure. For example, a liveness check can determine if a deadlock exists, which is when an app is running but is incapable of making progress. When this occurs, the affected container will be restarted.

Post-Production Monitoring Strategies

Testing the software isn’t the only way to maintain quality assurance in post-production. Monitoring the performance of your software in post-production can help you identify issues as well. You can use these strategies for monitoring your app in post-production:

10. Application Performance in Real Time
There are many tools that allow you to monitor your software in real time. These tools provide a complete picture of your application by combining important metrics that allow you to not only find and fix issues quickly, but also to optimize the performance of your app. With such a tool, you’ll be able to see how every change or addition that you make to your application affects its performance.

11. Alerts Policies
Use an automation tool that’s capable of alerting the appropriate individuals when issues are identified in your software so that you can have one of your engineers investigate and address the issue as soon as possible. Without automated alerts, bugs and other defects may go unnoticed for long periods of time despite having been identified by other automated monitoring tools.

Testing Early and Testing Often

Creating new software applications for your customers can greatly improve their experience. However, the success of your software depends greatly on its overall quality, which is why thorough testing is so important — not just during the development process, but also during production. Make sure that whether or not you use an agile software development strategy, you test your software early and you test it often.

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