Automated Functional Testing: Why And How To Do It

TestFortExpert by TestFortExpert
Created: 04/3/2012 | Updated: 08/16/2023

Automated Functional Testing: Why And How To Do It

We won’t go as far as saying that some testing types are more important than others, but functional testing definitely stands out among other QA activities simply because of how vital it is. Without properly working functionality, even the most brilliant UX or universal compatibility of a software product are not going to be worth much. Join us as we’re taking a closer look at functional testing automation and its place in modern QA.

What is functional testing?

Functional testing is a type of testing designed to validate a software product according to the specifications and requirements outlined in the documentation. In other words, functional testing is meant to check the functionality of the product to make sure it’s all there and working as expected. Functional testing is an integral part of quality assurance and is often the first type of testing performed on a new or recently updated product.

Different types of functional testing

While functional testing is an important type of testing in its own right, it is also frequently used as an umbrella term for several types of software testing that have to do with the product’s functionality that may not necessarily be listed among its features. Functional automated testing involves different activities within the development cycle that can be performed on a website, web application, mobile application, and many other types of software. These are the main types of functional testing:

  • Sanity testing, which happens before the release of a new software build, following bug fixes or other changes to the code, and focuses on a particular feature of a product instead of the overall solution.
  • Smoke testing – this type of testing involves checking only the most essential functionality of the product and takes place after a new build is completed; a passed smoke test means the product is ready for further testing.
  • Unit testing -a type of testing that deals with the smallest fragments of software, or units, to see if they work as expected; this type of testing ensures a strong foundation for more complex testing activities.
  • System testing – a type of testing that checks the system as a whole instead of focusing on its individual components. System testing is also referred to as end-to-end testing and is the final stage before user acceptance testing.
  • Integration testing – a type of testing related to unit testing but designed to test the way different software units interact with each other and the system as a whole. It’s especially important when using software units developed by different teams.
  • Performance and load testing – this type of testing is needed to ensure that the solution can successfully operate not just in the testing environment, but also in real-life conditions with unpredictable load spikes. Performance and load testing often need to be automated because testing without automation can take too many resources.
  • Regression testing — a way to verify the functionality and performance of a software solution following a change to the code. It’s intended to make sure that the solution works as intended and was not negatively affected by the changes.

Functional testing vs. automated testing

Functional and automated testing are not some polar opposites like manual testing and automated testing. Functional testing can be both automated, where it overlaps with automation testing, and manual, where it can be viewed as its antipode. However, both functional and automated testing have the shared goal of ensuring the quality of a software product, and can deliver even more impressive results when used simultaneously. This is why automated functional testing is such a growing trend among software companies.

Why go for automated functional testing

The decision to automate functional testing should never be taken on a whim, even when you have an experienced automation developer at hand. In order for the whole team and project stakeholders to become fully invested, they need to properly understand the benefits of doing it. Here are just some of the reasons why automated functional testing should be considered:

  • Better coverage. Automating functional tests saves the team time they can spend on exploring the remaining parts of the application and covering them in their tests.
  • Continuous testing. With a well-designed automated testing routine, you don’t have to rely solely on the outcome of manually testing the solution and can test the application over an extended period of time.
  • Streamlined feedback. If necessary, you can set up your automation tool to deliver feedback after every iteration, keeping you up to date with the state of the app.

It’s important to understand that 100% automated functional testing isn’t just unachievable — it is also unnecessary. There are certain types and areas of testing that can only be performed manually. For example, while it’s possible to automate UI testing, certain interactive elements can only be tested with manual input. Similarly, teams usually automate regression testing, while acceptance testing can only be done manually. So there is no need to try and cover everything just for the sake of it.

How to choose the perfect automated functional testing tool

Whether you’re looking to automate your first-ever functional testing project or are simply looking for ways to make the process more efficient and time-saving, the selection of tools can have the most dramatic impact on the success of your project. Here are a few things to take into account:

  1. Project goals. Here you and your team need to think about what exactly you want to automate and what you want to accomplish in the end, as there are lots of specialized tools for particular types of projects.
  2. The team’s technical skills. If you’re planning to complete the project using only available resources, you should have a complete idea of what your team is capable of: whether they can use coding to automate tests and whether they already have some experience with certain tools.
  3. Project budget. The options here are simple: whether you can pay for a licensed tool or need open-source solutions. Both options are valid, and it’s usually possible to run the whole project using open-source tools, but at the end of the day, the choice depends on what you want to achieve.
  4. Capabilities and limitations of the tool. Some tools may only support certain languages or environments, and there needs to be a match between the tool’s limitations and the characteristics of the project.
  5. Integration opportunities. Unless you are launching a small-scale project, you may need to use two or more tools in addition to the systems your team already employs on a regular basis. This is why you also need to plan for potential integrations.

Make sure to check out our guide on automation testing tools to find out more about the most popular solutions and how to find the right tool for your next project and whether tools like Selenium, Appium, and Ranorex are a good choice for implementing automated testing techniques.

Seven tips for functional testing automation

How to do functional test automation: 7 must-know tips & best practices

Having already talked about different aspects of functional automation testing, we are now going to look at how it’s actually done. Here are the seven tips for making the most of your functional testing automation project.

1. Exploit discrete locators instead of indexes

Many functional test cases involve activities like this: “click the seventh element in the list.” For such elements, it is worth the intention to find or make unique identifiers, in place of manipulating aspects according to index. The test will continue an unpredictable path if the order of the list varies or the order of the links modify. Maintaining such unexpected tests can be pretty hard.

2. Check aftermath, don’t make plain clicking

In many automated test tools, there are features that allow you to record automatically and then play back a set of actions. Such features are handy when creating tests, but the results of these record/playback tactics will result in a low quality. To clarify, let’s underline that such kinds of tests do not examine the application’s state after handling elements in the application.

Such functions as selecting, clicking, typing, and others, mean the state of the application will be changed. Proper results will be checked in good tests after manipulating elements in the application. Have the test verify that the resulting page is right, if the automated test follows a link. Have the test verify that the content of the report is right, if the test produces a report.

3. Don’t make pauses — better wait

Some period of time may be needed by application before results are obtainable for the test to examine. Such a situation is especially common with AJAX calls. Sometimes it seems nice to pause the test or sleep for a few seconds until checking a result, but this is definitely a bad practice. Keep in mind that the test will generate a mistaken failure if the application takes a huge period of time to return. And the test stands idle while it could be moving on, if the application returns pretty fast.

It is better to have the test wait for a particular aspect of the application to appear. This makes the test less prone to mistaken failures and more powerful, since the test is actually awaiting for and verifying the state of the application upon producing the aspect that test expects for.

4. Avoid using conditionals

Sometimes, the behavior of the environments in software testing services can be unpredictable. It seems wise to use a conditional in a test for such cases. But there is a number of problems with this method. One problem is the same as the problem that appears after using indexes in place of specific locators: so if the application under testing is exposed to changes, the automated test may occur completely unexpectedly, causing false failures (or worse, false positives) and making maintenance very hard. The test would never display that a bug had been entered if you encounter another problem. It is a problem when one branch of the conditional statement could (erroneously) vanish altogether.

5. Sort order must be examined with regular expressions

The correct order of the application’s appearing aspects is often significant to the user. It’s a good idea to use automated testing to make sure that the order of things is correct: whether it is text on the page itself, columns in tables, or elements in a list.

Let’s suppose there is a kit of things. These things should come in sight in an order called “first,” “second” and “third.” You can create automated tests that use some sort of permanent expression to check the order. Here is an example of exploiting a simplistic kind of permanent expression. Its name is “glob.” Such expression is available in automated test tools, and in particular in Selenium:

| getText | glob: first * second *three |
| click | sort_thing |
| getText | glob:three*two* first |


This is what the test’s first step examines, that the text “first “ is running before the text “two” and the text “two” is followed by the text “third.” The “*” character points that the test will permit any characters at all between “first,” “second,” and “third.” The test’s second step clicks somewhat to sort “first,” “second,” and “third” in reverse order. After this, the test’s third step examines that the sorting was definitely proper.

6. Want to make reusable random data? Use JavaScript!

Below there is a concrete example of a brilliant practice for specific kinds of test data, particularly using Fitnesse and Selenium. As you can see, the test needs to enter a Taxpayer Identification Number that is unique, then verify that TIN has in fact been entered into the application:

| type; | tin | javascript{RN =Math.floor(Math.random()*9999999);while (String(RN).length < 8 ) { RN=RN+’0′;}} |
| $TIN= | getValue | tin |
| click | link=Save |
| type; | search | $TIN |


JavaScript will be evaluated by Selenium in-line. The test’s first line types into a cell whose id value is “tin,”, an unexpected 9-digit number produced on the fly by using JavaScript as an argument to the type() action. Then the 9-digit number from the “tin” field in a variable called “$TIN” is stored by the second line, which uses a feature of FitNesse. Then a 9-digit number is typed into a field whose id value is “search.” This is a useful and elegant way within the test itself to process test data required to be unique. The same attitude should be available in any reasonable framework or test tool.

7. Stop repeating yourself

As it was already mentioned, looking forward to when an element in the application will appear is a useful habit. Fairly often, there is a case that once the element appears, the test will want to work with that element. It is a pretty good habit to abstract widely spread actions into their own approaches or modules, then to call those actions from the tests as required. Next, an example of abstracting the wait-for-and-click action is mentioned. The used syntax is FitNesse and Selenium:

!| scenario | Wait for and click | elementLocator |
| waitForElementPresent | @elementLocator |
| click | @elementLocator |
We need only put down from a test itself:
| open | |
| Wait for and click | link=Hello from Foo! |


Only one line of typing is saved in this example. Pay attention to the fact that if “Wait for and click” is performed dozens or hundreds of times in a test suite, this is a significant enhancement in readability and maintenance. Here are some other examples of actions to be abstracted to their own modules: might be selecting all the elements of a list, logging in, etc.

Possible challenges of functional automation testing

Like any testing or development activity, functional automation testing has several potential challenges companies can encounter. Here are the most common challenges your organization may face when doing automated functional testing:

  • Insufficient technical knowledge. Automation testing is a challenge for teams or individuals without relevant experience. This issue can be overcome by allocating time for training and getting familiar with the project.
  • Incomplete requirements. When starting to automate functional tests, teams often encounter the problem of lacking requirements and proper documentation, which leads to spending extra time formulating the guidelines.
  • High initial costs. Even though automation is known to save money in the long run by automating repetitive tasks, many test automation projects start out as expensive. Doing automated testing takes setting up the automated functional testing process, especially when paid tools or additional hiring decisions are involved, which means automated functional testing requires extra resources.

Final thoughts: Improve your software quality by automating functional testing

Functional test automation is by no means a universal problem solver or a one-size-fits-all solution. Test maintenance takes time and effort, automated test scripts are not always powerful, and don’t deal well with certain types of testing like usability or user interface testing, which usually cannot be automated. Moreover, functional automated testing doesn’t always search for bugs effectively – these are the biggest complaints about it.

But well-designed automated tests are totally different. They are not difficult to maintain; they are strong in that they verify the state of the application being tested for aspects significant to the user and to the application itself, and well-designed automated tests can definitely find bugs and speed up the testing process while saving time and money for the whole team. So there is definitely a place for automated functional testing in Agile or any other methodology — but only as long as it’s used properly, and the decision to automate your functional tests will benefit your test cycle in one way or another.

Additionally, functional automation testing services can be a great alternative to performing quality assurance within the means of your own company. If you don’t already have a team experienced in automated functional testing and need to start the project quickly, a reliable tech partner can help you get the results sooner than you expect.

Frequently asked questions

What is automated functional testing?

Automated functional testing is a technique designed to verify the functionality of the application using automated testing methods. It’s usually done with the help of off-the-shelf automation testing tools or custom automated functional test frameworks.

What is the difference between functional and automated testing?

Functional testing and automated testing are not polar opposites or mutually exclusive terms. Both of them have a place in the software development and testing life cycle, and can even focus on the same aspects of a software solution. However, automation testing has a much broader scope and can therefore give a more complete idea of the app’s quality.

Which tool is best for functional automated testing?

Automated functional testing software is readily available, both on open-source and paid basis, to make the testing process more efficient and easier for the team. Some of the most popular functional test automation tools include Selenium, SoapUI, ReadyAPI, and TestComplete.


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