Quality: The Process, Part I [Getting started]

[continued from Planning for Quality]

Getting started

As soon as program development commences, you can, and should, begin testing the software in various ways. Once you have adopted the attitude that producing a quality product is paramount, incorporating the testing process into development is the single biggest step that you can take to achieve the desired result.

At this point, it will be very useful to define some terms. The one known to most software users is “bug”, which refers to an unexpected problem with software (as opposed to a design decision or “feature”). The term comes from the early days of electronics, but discovery of the first computer bug is attributed to Grace Hopper, who, in 1945, extracted a moth from a relay that had apparently beaten it to death. She pasted it into a logbook, and now this original bug resides at the Smithsonian Institution, still attached to that same page.

In searching for bugs, there are, essentially, two different kinds of testing, known as “black box” and “glass box” (or “white box”) testing. Black box testing, as the name implies, is testing which treats the software as a black box, checking only the output based on the provided input. Glass box testing, on the other hand, is testing which makes use of special knowledge or access to the inner workings of the software.

Black box testing is the most common form of software testing, and is what most people mean when they use the word, “testing”. One simply runs the software to see if it does what it is supposed to do. If the program does something incorrect or looks wrong, then there is probably a bug, and with some luck, the developer will get a defect report and be able to fix the problem.

Glass box testing methods can significantly decrease the number of software defects and improve software quality. This is especially true in development environments in which glass box testing has not been used previously. There are a number of glass box techniques that can be utilized as development is underway to help identify and eliminate bugs before they reach the black box stage.

Another couple of terms that are commonly used with regard to testing are “internal” and “external”. Internal testing is any form of testing in which the process is conducted and controlled by the developer, without distribution of the product in any form. External testing is any form of testing in which the product is distributed, whether widely or in a limited way, for testing purposes.

[continued in Bug and feature tracking]

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