What is The Difference Between Functional Testing and Automated Testing?

While functional testing and automated testing serve different purposes in the software development cycle, they both aim to ensure the production of high-quality software. As automation becomes increasingly prevalent, distinguishing between these two testing approaches is crucial. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the key differences between these two methodologies and how they work in tandem to produce high-quality software.

In today’s fast-paced world of software development, we constantly strive for better and better quality. To achieve that, we heavily rely on both functional testing (manual testing) and automated software testing. These two software testing methods serve as the backbone to ensure that applications run flawlessly.

The truth is that both functional testing and test automation have their place. While test automation offers speed, consistency, and can be integrated into continuous testing pipelines, functional testing ensures that the software meets user expectations and adheres to requirements.

Main differences Between Functional and Automated Testing

Functional testing primarily focuses on the software’s behavior according to its requirements, while automated testing emphasizes the methodologies, tools, and scripts used to execute these tests.

At its heart, functional testing is about ensuring that a piece of software behaves according to its specified requirements. Imagine you’ve created a digital calculator. If you press the ‘5’ button, followed by ‘+’, then ‘3’, and finally ‘=’, the calculator should display ‘8’. That’s the function you expect, and functional testing would be all about ensuring that such expected behaviors work correctly.

On the other hand, automated testing is more about the “how” rather than the “what”. It refers to using tools, scripts, or software to perform tests on a product automatically, without much human intervention. Now, why would someone want to do that? Think about the calculator again. If every time you made a slight change to its software, you had to manually press all the buttons and check all the functions, it would be quite tedious, right? An automated testing tool can do these checks for you, repeatedly and consistently.

Functional testing can be done manually or through automation (checking).

When people say they’re doing automated functional testing, they’re using tools to automatically check that the software functions as expected. It’s a blend of both worlds – ensuring functionality while saving time and effort.

Interested in non-functional testing? You can find more useful data in this article about the differences between functional and non-functional testing focuses.

What’s The Ideal Test Strategy?

An ideal test strategy merges both functional and automated testing approaches. This combines the depth and nuance of manual testing with the speed and efficiency of automation.

By leveraging testing tools, frameworks, and best practices, we can ensure that our software is both functionally robust and ready for the challenges of the real world.

As we unravel the distinctions between them, we’ll sprinkle in various facets of the testing domain, from unit testing to test automation tools, ensuring a comprehensive understanding.

Imagine designing an application to manage finances. A functional test would look at features like balance checks, fund transfers, and bill payments. We would employ various test cases to validate that when you input data, the expected outcome surfaces without a hitch.

Manual testing, where software testers meticulously execute each test case, brings a human touch to the process. They navigate through user interfaces, employ different input data, and keep an eye out for discrepancies. It’s a hands-on approach, but it has its limitations, especially when testing large systems.

Delving into Automated Testing

Automated testing has become an indispensable tool for many software development teams. Instead of having software testers manually go through each scenario, we write test scripts that do the heavy lifting.

These test scripts, often crafted using specialized testing tools, can simulate user actions, mimic manual effort, and validate results. From unit tests (unit testing) that validate individual code components to integration tests that ensure modules work in harmony, automated testing covers it all.

Compared with functional testing, automated tests save us time, especially when regression testing is needed. If you’re unfamiliar, regression testing ensures that new code changes haven’t disturbed existing functionalities. By employing automated tools for testing and a test automation framework, we can swiftly run regression tests after every update, ensuring software integrity.

You can learn more about how to automate regression testing in this article.

Advantages of Automated Testing

The benefits of automated testing are vast. It reduces the chance of human error, offers consistent test coverage, and speeds up the development process. Additionally, once test scripts are written, we can use them across multiple operating systems, ensuring our software’s compatibility on diverse platforms.

Moreover, automated testing provides a significant boost to continuous testing. In our development pipelines, as soon as a piece of code is committed, automated tests kick into action, analyzing the changes.

With tools for test automation, tests can run seamlessly in the background, allowing us to focus on other crucial aspects of development.

Check out this episode of Quality Sense Podcast about The Role of Test Automation in Calendly’s Test Strategy, with Federico Toledo and Erika Chestnut, Head of QA and Calendly!

The Role of Different Testing Techniques

While this article emphasizes the differences between functional (manual testing) and automated testing, it’s worth noting that they are parts of a broader software testing landscape. Both techniques can be applied to various testing types, whether it’s performance, security, or usability testing.

We also have different types of automated testing, as shown in the Agile Test Automation Pyramid, introduced by Mike Cohn, emphasizing the importance of a strong foundation with unit testing, which tests individual ‘units’ of software like functions or methods.

Unit testing involves checking individual components of the application in isolation. Unit tests ensure that each piece, be it a function or a class, performs as intended. For these, we often employ mock data and set specific test parameters to emulate real-world scenarios.

API testing and integration testing are also important to focus on.

While a unit test focuses on an individual unit, integration tests check the collaboration between different units. API tests, on the other hand, ensure that application programming interfaces work seamlessly, connecting our application to other services or databases.

Let’s not forget about system testing, where we test the application as a complete unit, ensuring all integrated pieces function harmoniously. This is followed by user acceptance testing, where actual users test the software, sharing feedback before the final release.

Testing Tools and Frameworks

There are numerous tools available that cater to both functional and automated testing. While functional testing tools aid in creating detailed test cases and bug tracking, automated testing tools focus on simplifying script creation and execution.

Navigating through the world of testing tools might seem daunting, but thankfully, we have a plethora of testing tools at our disposal. From test case management tools like qTest that assist in designing and managing test cases to automated testing tools like Testim that simplify test script creation, the choices are vast.

For those looking to automate testing without the need of automated test scripts, low-code functional test automation tools like mabl or Testim are readily available, often equipped with record and playback functionality. If you are interested in evaluating low-code test tools, take a look at this article and this benchmark of different tools in the market.

For more complex applications, especially those running on the cloud or requiring multiple integrations, test automation frameworks come to our rescue. They provide a structured approach to testing, making it easier to maintain and execute automated tests.

Both functional and automated testing methods have specialized tools. For example, certain tools excel in both functional testing and visual regression testing, emphasizing the convergence of these two testing approaches. This enables not just functionality but also visual consistency across different user interfaces, especially critical when applications need to render well on mobile devices.

For more details on automated visual regression testing read this article.

API tests cater to different needs. Given the interconnected nature of modern applications, ensuring APIs communicate efficiently becomes crucial. For this, we employ specialized API testing tools, checking the data flow and ensuring integration points are robust and error-free.

When discussing the intricacies of automated testing tools, it’s vital to note the role of test data. Real-world scenarios can be unpredictable, and that’s why we use test data to simulate diverse scenarios, from standard operations to edge cases.

Tools for test automation often come equipped with functionalities to manage and use this data efficiently.

Continuous Testing: The Road to Quality

Continuous testing highlights the symbiotic relationship between functional and automated testing. As code evolves, having a mix of manual insights and automated checks ensures software quality at all stages.

One of the revolutions in the software development process is the adoption of continuous testing. As we develop and integrate new code, running all the tests ensures nothing breaks. Continuous testing enables tests to run in parallel with development, highlighting issues instantaneously and enabling rapid feedback.

Integration testing and system tests play a significant role in this cycle.

While integration tests focus on ensuring various components interact seamlessly, system tests check the application’s overall health. Add to this mix, performance tests, smoke tests, and acceptance tests, and you have a holistic view of your software’s readiness at any given point.

Furthermore, in the spirit of continuous improvement, we always look for ways to refine our test cases and scripts. Test maintenance is an ongoing process. Whether it’s updating test parameters, adapting to new software development iterations, or revisiting test inputs, we’re always on the move, ensuring our tests remain relevant and efficient.

Read more about the 3 keys to a successful continuous testing implementation.

In a Nutshell

Software testing is a vast domain, with every project representing a unique journey. Throughout this article, we discussed the differences between functional testing (from a manual testing perspective) and automated testing, different testing tool capabilities, and the invaluable value of continuous testing.

While functional and automated testing have their distinctions, it’s evident that both are indispensable in the overarching goal of software excellence.

How do you balance functional testing and automated testing in your project? Leave your comments below!

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