System Testing Guide: What It Is and What It Verifies

Updated February 3, 2023

Illustration of a person typing on their computer next to a flowchart outlining the four main stages of testing.

Software developers can order a system testing process to increase the quality of their products and better ensure that future customers have a positive experience when using a program. It's important for a tester to understand how system testing works so they can identify areas of improvement in a program and provide actionable reports to companies. By learning about this topic, you can discover strategies to help you succeed in your testing endeavors.

In this article, we explain what system testing is, what it verifies in a program's code, the different types of system testing and how to perform your own test, along with tools you can use and the benefits of system testing.

What is system testing?

System testing is a software development process for assessing whether a completed program can function correctly and fulfill a client's specifications. It typically involves a series of evaluations to observe how a program's code runs on a computer's hardware system and to check if different software features are operable. To reduce the possibility that a developer's knowledge might influence the process, designated software testers often conduct these evaluations in a separate environment.

Here are some key industry terms to learn:

  • System requirements: This describes the hardware and software specifications a program needs to run successfully. For example, some programs require certain computer processing capabilities to operate.

  • Feature: This term refers to a digital tool in a program, such as a button that takes a user to a new window. Testers run evaluations on program features.

  • Function: This details the protocols for how a feature works, like a step-by-step installation method.

  • Coding language: A coding language is the words and grammatical structures that a developer writes for a software program to create features. System testers see only the program itself in a usable format.

  • Test case: This refers to a list of tasks for assessing a program's features or functions. Testers often create multiple test cases for a program that address individual aspects, like whether a customer can log in correctly.

Related: Software Testing Methodologies: A Complete Guide

What does system testing verify?

System testing verifies that a software's coding language can translate into a usable program. It's a type of black box testing, meaning a tester can only view a program from a customer's perspective in a similar environment.

They can verify whether the intended outputs of a coding language match what they observe when they operate the program. Testers can also locate errors in a program's performance that may occur after its coding language interacts with a computer's hardware.

Read more: What Is Black Box Testing? (Plus Types and Strategies)

Types of system testing

There are about 50 types of system tests to select. Here are some common types of system testing a company may order:

Installation testing

Installation testing involves assessing if a customer can install a software program on a hardware device successfully. It often includes observing a program's installation procedure, including its ability to identify available hard drive space and provide effective instruction.

Testers often conduct installation testing using different error-based scenarios to ensure a program can notify a customer if it requires an additional prerequisite. For example, if a tester evaluates software that requires an advanced graphics processing unit (GPU), they can install it on a computer that has an outdated model with fewer capabilities.

Related: 111 Types of Testing in Software

Functionality testing

Functionality testing involves reviewing if a program's features operate correctly. It may include a comprehensive evaluation of one aspect, such as a login button, or a more general overview.

Testers can perform a predetermined series of tasks in a program to observe how it responds. For example, if they identify a missing requirement during a functionality test, they can record a suggested modification for developers to address in the future.

Read more: A Guide to Functional Testing (With Types and Steps)

Usability testing

Usability testing involves examining a program's features to better ensure a customer can access them easily and enjoys their experience. It often includes an assessment of both a program's functionality and its aesthetic appearance, as these elements may factor into a customer's overall opinion.

For example, a tester might evaluate a program's navigational features, including its search function and how it arranges information on the screen. Afterward, they might assess a program's response time by recording how long it takes to load individual components.

Read more: Usability Testing: Types, Benefits and How To Do It

Stability testing

Stability testing involves measuring a software's response to an increase in processed data. Testers usually include this process to determine if a program can remain operational when multiple users access it through a network.

For example, a printer's software may need to accommodate the printing requests of multiple people in an office building. A tester might send several requests to a printer's software and measure its response so they can offer a developer their observations and suggestions.

Recovery testing

Recovery testing involves investigating how a program responds to software and hardware disruptions. Testers typically include this process to observe if a program can regain functionality after losing data or receiving incorrect code.

For example, if a tester plans to observe whether a software's code can restore itself to a previous state, they may deliberately cause a program to crash during a task. They may also test whether a program can recover items previously in storage, like file folders.

Security testing

Security testing involves checking if the developers included protocols in a program to ensure only some people can access certain features. Testers often use this process to better ensure a program can protect a user's privacy and prevent outside individuals from finding certain information. For example, if a tester evaluates the effectiveness of an authentication procedure, they may input identification materials to assess how the program's coding language responds.

Read more: What Is Security Testing? (With Types and Related Jobs)

Compatibility testing

Compatibility testing involves observing whether a software program can operate in changing environments. Testers may include this process to better ensure a program can function using different hardware devices or alongside other applications.

For example, a tester might perform the same program tasks on two different computer operating systems to observe how each system integrates the coding language. If a program has an online component, a tester can observe its operability on different website browsers.

Regression testing

Regression testing involves assessing a program after an update to ensure that any new code modifications are successful. Testers usually include this test at different points during a testing process to monitor whether the modification caused any unexpected errors to arise. For example, if a developer alters a program's input after one testing process, a tester can use a regression test to determine if the output creates any additional issues.

Read more: What Is Regression Testing? (With Benefits and Example)

Exploratory testing

Exploratory testing involves the ability of a tester to explore an application according to their preferences. Instead of following a specific guideline, testers can use their critical thinking skills to design test cases. Some companies include exploratory testing so that testers can better embody the perspective of a future customer or innovate new ideas for features that developers can add.

What type of system testing should I use?

Several factors can contribute to which system test you use during an evaluation process. Consider the following factors:

Type of procedure

Some system testing processes involve an automatic procedure, which requires a computer program to run the test, or a manual procedure, which requires a tester to conduct each task themselves. If a company prefers a more streamlined process, it can use more automatic tests, such as a functionality evaluation.

To have a person adopt a user's perspective to find errors, a company may select a manual test like an exploratory evaluation instead. For example, if a large company plans to release several programs simultaneously, it may prioritize automatic procedures.

Related: A Guide to Manual Testing

Budget available

A company's budget for software testing can affect the type of system evaluation a tester might use. A large budget might accommodate a varied selection of tests, including both automatic and manual procedures. It can also provide more equipment for a tester to use, like complex evaluation software. Budgeting practices can affect the number of testers hired, which often determines how many types of tests a company can order.

Time allotted

Some types of system testing require multiple steps and a longer length of time to complete, particularly evaluations that testers may repeat. For example, a developer may incorporate a tester's suggestions from functionality or stability tests, then send an updated program to the tester for a second evaluation. If a company has shorter timelines for product releases, it may prioritize system tests that involve fewer steps or adjust testing protocols to address its needs.

How to perform a system test

Here are the key steps to follow to perform a system test:

1. Prepare a system test plan

Create a comprehensive document that describes the overall objects of a testing process. It's important to create an itemized guideline so testers can better understand a project's scope. Consider including information about which types of tests you plan to use and strategies for incorporating them according to a company's protocol. Afterward, you discuss what equipment a tester may need to accomplish the steps of each system test, including hardware devices.

Here are some additional elements included in a test plan:

  • Entry and exit guidelines: The approved conditions required to both start and end a system test

  • Software information: The program's system requirements and the features you plan to test during the process

  • Assessment schedules: How much time you can expect each test to take

Related: 5 Phases of Software Testing (Plus Life Cycle)

2. Write your test cases

Create a series of test cases to use during a system evaluation process. Consider devising separate test cases for each program feature and using multiple types of system tests, depending on the aforementioned decision factors. For example, if a tester plans to test the effectiveness of a program's backup storage system, they may write a detailed scenario for a recovery test.

To develop an actionable document that many people can use, it’s helpful to use clear language and organize information logically. Consider using an identification system for test cases so you can locate them more easily in the future.

Here are some additional elements included in a test case:

  • Description: This is a one-sentence statement about a test case's purpose. In your description, try to only reflect information from the system requirements.

  • Test process: This refers to each step of a system evaluation in chronological order. It may be helpful to only write a maximum of 15 steps to streamline the experience.

  • Desired result: A desired result is the expected outcome from the test case. For example, you might document that a program installed correctly in a certain time frame.

  • Actual result: The actual result is whether the test case achieved its expected outcome. To better ensure clarity, it may be helpful to place an explanation in a separate section.

  • Comments: Comments are additional information a tester might include. For example, a tester can write suggestions for improvement.

3. Create a testing environment

A testing environment describes the physical conditions required for a systematic evaluation process, including an arrangement of predetermined hardware and software. It's important to ensure that you can run each test case in the same environment to reduce the possibility of outside influence and provide a company with accurate assessments.

To improve your user-based tests, it's also important to simulate a future customer's environment. It may be helpful to develop a detailed document so all testers can understand the specifications.

4. Perform testing protocols

Use your test plan and test cases to execute each evaluation systematically. Be mindful to review these documents so you can understand the required steps and remain efficient. Track and record any errors you discover, then write suggestions for how a developer can address them by editing the coding language. To write an effective report at the process, consider forming an organizational method that suits your needs and preferences.

Tools for system testing

Using software testing tools can allow you to assess the performance and efficiency of a software program. Here are some tools you can use for system testing:

  • Apache JMeter

  • Squish

  • Eggplant

  • SpiraTest

  • Galen Framework

Related: What Are Test Metrics for Software Testers? (With Examples)

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Benefits of system testing

There are many benefits of system testing, including the following:

  • Identifies potential issues: System testing can help you find any flaws in the program and determine areas that need improvement.

  • Ensures compliance: This process allows you to determine whether the software meets the company’s requirements and goals for the program.

  • Determines ease of use: Testers can evaluate the user experience of the program and discover ways to make the software more user-friendly.

  • Provides unbiased evaluations: Having testers try out a software gives developers objective assessments of the program.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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