Have you ever wondered how software development companies set up their test environments? Moreover, how they manage all these different environments?
Setting up test environments introduces many new struggles, like how to manage all these environments. It’s often difficult to create an exact replica of your production environment. Besides that, manually creating those environments requires a lot of time and effort from the testing engineer. Does this sound familiar?
In this post, we’ll first explore what the difference is between a test and a staging environment. Next, we’ll dive deeper into solutions for creating identical environments using Docker and Docker Compose.
First up, what is a test environment?
Test Environment Definition
A test environment is a server that allows you to run the test cases you have defined. The test environment includes more than just setting up a server to run tests on. It also involves hardware and network configuration.
In other words, a test environment enables you to create identical environments every time you need to test your product. It’s the most important tool for a testing engineer in order to have confidence in the testing results.
What Is a Test Bed?
A test bed is a test environment that has been prepared with test data. The test data helps you verify test cases that require a certain data setup.
For example, let’s say you want to test whether a specific function creates invoices for sales data that is present in a specific database. Since we need to prepare the database with data, this test environment is considered a test bed. In fact, the difference between a test environment and test bed is quite small, but it’s important to know the nuance between both terms.
Now, let’s find out why we actually need test environments.
Importance of Test Environment
What’s the importance of a test environment? You can have a great test case definition and be a highly skilled testing engineer. But to truly harness the power of your test cases and testing engineer, having a well-designed test environment is critical.
A test environment provides accurate feedback about the quality and behavior of the application under test. In other words, a test environment provides you with the necessary setup to run your test cases.
A test environment further helps you by providing a dedicated environment for you to isolate the code and verify the behavior of the application. This ensures that no other activities that can influence the output of the tests are running on the server.
Moreover, a test environment can act as an exact copy of the production environment. This is the most crucial element for you to be confident about the testing results. The testing engineer needs to be 100-percent sure that the application behaves in the same way in the test environment as in the production environment.
Key Elements for Creating a Test Environment
As I said in the introduction, creating the right test environment requires many elements. Here’s a list of requirements you’ll have to complete when creating test environments:
- Create test data and insert to test environment (test bed)
- Set up database
- Configure the environment
- Select the right hardware and operating system (e.g. evaluate the difference between running application on Windows 8.1 and Windows 10)
- Configure the network (e.g. cross-origin resource sharing)
The most important step is to document all actions. This is key for other users to be able to replicate the environment. Additionally, detailed documentation enables the testing engineer to set up different test environments, such as staging and production environments.
OK, you just learned about the key elements for creating a test environment. The next section will guide you through the different types of test environments software companies often deploy.
What’s the Difference Between a Test and Staging Environment?
It’s a common practice to have both a testing and staging environment. Let’s learn why we need both testing and staging environments. And how they differ from each other.
What Is a Test Environment?
A testing engineer uses test environments to test a very specific part of an application. It often involves a different configuration and data setup. Therefore, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all setup.
This is exactly why test environments are not identical. They often need a different setup for testing different parts of the code. In addition, it’s important to understand that the testing engineer creates dozens of test environments as the code evolves.
In short, when using a test environment, the code dictates the environment’s setup.
What Is a Staging Environment?
On the other side, we often find a staging environment.
A staging environment replicates the production environment that will host the live version of your application. It’s crucial that your staging environment is an exact replica of your production environment. Often, this can be achieved by having very detailed documentation. It should describe all the needs and correct configuration for your production environment.
While a test environment is focused on testing individual components, the staging environment is focused on testing the whole application. Basically, the staging environment is a safe playground in which you can test the whole application.
This makes a staging environment ideal for running end-to-end tests or performance testing. End-to-end tests confirm that the whole application works as expected by testing all the integrations.
Besides that, since the staging environment replicates the production environment. It’s a safe area for testing the limits of your environment and application by using performance testing.
In short, in a staging environment, you test the whole application under the real conditions it would experience in a production environment.
How to Organize Multiple Environments for Testing
The easiest way to manage your test environments is through automation. By having build and deployment automation in place, you can successfully manage environments.
Continuous integration (CI) tools like Jenkins are a great fit for this purpose. Jenkins is a free, open-source automation server written in Java and is one of the most popular CI tools in the software industry. The tool not only helps to automate this deployment process, but it also assists in running test suites.
Another approach for managing your test environments is to have detailed documentation that describes, for example, how to create an exact replica of your production environment. However, this more manual approach is prone to human mistakes.
Let’s learn how we can add automation to our test environments.
How to Add Automation to a Test Environment
According to Israel Colomer, who talks about managing test environments on DZone, the best way to simplify the process of creating identical environments is by using Docker.
Colomer says: “One of the key benefits of Docker is the reproducibility of environments. This means that all environments created with the same configuration will behave the same way, no matter where they are created, no matter how many times they are recreated.”
And to take this a step further, Docker Compose allows you to spin up multiple Docker containers at once. For example, Compose allows you to spin up your database, application, and caching service all at once with a simple deployment script.
I agree with Colomer that Docker is a great way of managing your test environments. In the end, reproducibility is one of the key benefits of using Docker. Currently, this is the most simple way to achieve automation and solve the struggles associated with configuring test environments.
Wrapping Up Test Environments
The main thing you should remember is that there is definitely a need for having both test and staging environments. A test environment is dictated by the component you want to test. Alternatively, the staging environment focuses on providing an exact replica of your production environment.
Many companies have experienced difficulties in setting up and managing test environments. At the time of writing, the best way to automate this process is by implementing a deployment pipeline using a continuous integration (CI) tool like Jenkins.
Moreover, Docker goes in hand-in-hand with CI tools to help automate the creation of test environments. Docker is an ideal solution as it allows the testing engineer to spin up identical environments each time.
And if you want to learn more about automating your test environments, check out this resource on automated testing solutions.
This post was written by Michiel Mulders. Michiel is a passionate blockchain developer who loves writing technical content. Besides that, he loves learning about marketing, UX psychology, and entrepreneurship. When he’s not writing, he’s probably enjoying a Belgian beer!
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