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How to rev up your load testing in 3 steps

Keshav Vasudevan Technology Evangelist , SmartBear

In an era of digital saturation, consumers have started to increase their expectations of quality. This goes beyond functional quality, since consumers have come to expect good performance as a given in the applications they use.

Think about how frustrated you get when you wait longer than five seconds for a Netflix show to load. Or how people switch to a different news website simply because the page was taking too long to show up.

Performance testing has become an almost ubiquitous requirement to allow applications to scale their usage and growth. The impact of a poor performance-testing strategy goes beyond just user retention—fixing bugs in production has a higher cost

Increasingly, organizations are investing in a performance-testing strategy. But traditional performance-testing tools, including those for load testing and stress testing, have not evolved with the growing needs of their practitioners.

Here's where we are at with testing—and three steps toward where we need to be.

The state of load testing

Inefficient script creation

Conventional load-testing tools record user transactions by capturing protocol-based traffic, such as HTTPS. This means they record all the voluminous chatter between the server and client, resulting in a file that is long and hard to read. To use these captured transactions in a script, testers need to sift through the responses from the server, capture any dynamic values passed through (such as session IDs), and pass them along in subsequent responses in the script.

This process, called "dynamic correlation," takes several hours, days, or even weeks, depending on the type of application and protocols being used.

Many modern web applications use client-side JavaScript for executing different actions. Since these transactions do not interact with the server, testers are expected to do some manual scripting to capture these actions. All of this adds a lot of overhead in the script-creation process.

Thus, it takes too much time for testers to create test scripts and get them ready for the load test, which creates a bottleneck early in the testing process. If there were a way for testers to create usable scripts faster, it would free up their time to run more tests. The testers could then spend time analyzing and optimizing their application to perform better.

Outdated processes

As consumers have become intolerant toward applications that do not meet their feature requirements, agile, behavior-driven development, and DevOps methodologies have evolved to help development and testing teams release faster and stick to deadlines.

While functional testing tools have evolved with the growing needs of software developers, performance testing is still seen as a monolithic, centralized function. This is primarily because of how laborious it is to record and play back test scripts for load testing.

The shift-left methodology is also becoming popular, due the idea of developing a culture of involving testing early in software development. For the shift-left methodology to work, teams need lightweight and flexible tools that fit the speeds of their software development counterparts.

Inaccurate load

The ultimate goal of load testing is to ensure that your application can stand up in the wild and handle real users. Why is it then, that we're still testing with emulators as opposed to testing right in the same browser as our users?

It's no shock that even a very good replica is still a replica. There will be inconsistencies in the behavior of an emulator versus a real browser, and there will be variances from emulator to emulator. Ensuring that you're testing with the most accurate representation of a real-world load gives you the confidence you need when presenting metrics to the various stakeholders.

How to do faster load testing

As a result, load testing is not merely a necessity, but oftentimes, a frustrating requirement. If teams want to move faster, test with accuracy, and remediate issues quickly, they need to pick load-testing tools that support their workflow and requirements better.

Here’s how you can start reviving your load-testing processes to run faster without sacrificing accuracy.

1. Increase efficiency in script creation

Creating and playing back load-testing scripts should not always involve complex dynamic correlation and tedious programming. This can be done by using real browsers to drive the user transactions from the client end for doing the load test, instead of using protocol-based traffic.

2. Use real browsers for load tests

Load-testing tools use their own emulation engine to emulate a browser. But to truly understand the end-user experience when your application’s infrastructure is under load, it's important to get the most accurate representation of realistic load—that is, anything that can come as close to the real world as possible.

3. Get actionable performance metrics

Traditionally, load-testing tools give results in terms of requests and responses between servers and clients. But requests and responses are typically not the way developers debug issues, and hence there’s additional time spent by the performance tester interpreting the results and making it actionable for the developers to fix.

To move more quickly, engineering and quality teams need processes and tools that give them more actionable performance results out of the box.

Load testing is shifting toward agility

Focusing on making load testing as an entire process more efficient, accurate, and actionable will become a big priority for engineering and QA teams. For teams to incorporate load testing into their development and delivery processes, they will soon look to:

  • Make the test script-creation process efficient and scalable

  • Use real browsers for load tests and not emulators

  • Automate load testing in their existing CI/CD pipeline

With this shift, the performance-testing mindset and workflow will move away from traditional, clunky load-testing practices. Some of this may come down to team structure and responsibilities, but most changes can be made in everyday tasks and the tools used to support these tasks.

For example, teams can choose to adopt a more agile strategy or implement a DevOps culture within their organization, which would empower each person to iteratively and continuously test. This, in turn, can drive them to eliminate inefficiencies in their test process—such as reducing the time it takes to script and correlate a test run.

Get real with real-world testing

This approach will likely take longer and require each member of the team to be aligned and dedicated to improving processes. Alternatively, teams can ensure that the tools they’re using are actually increasing efficiency and effectiveness in their performance testing processes.

It is absolutely essential to find a platform that will increase productivity, leverage real browsers at scale to run load tests, and provide actionable metrics for developers and testers to use. 

Taking time to evaluate whether your existing performance testing process and the tools you’re leveraging to drive these processes is key to ensuring your teams succeed in the long run. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith to make your team more efficient and effective.

It’s important to make sure your performance testing keeps up with your business's needs. That starts with improving the efficiency of script creation and producing accurate results that are indicative of a real-world scenario.

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