Although testing can determine the correctness of software under the assumption of some specific hypotheses (see hierarchy of testing difficulty below), testing cannot identify all the defects within software.2 Instead, it furnishes a criticism or comparison that compares the state and behavior of the product against test oracles—principles or mechanisms by which someone might recognize a problem. These oracles may include (but are not limited to) specifications, contracts,3 comparable products, past versions of the same product, inferences about intended or expected purpose, user or customer expectations, relevant standards, applicable laws, or other criteria.
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A primary purpose of testing is to detect software failures so that defects may be discovered and corrected. Testing cannot establish that a product functions properly under all conditions, but only that it does not function properly under specific conditions.4 The scope of software testing often includes examination of code as well as execution of that code in various environments and conditions as well as examining the aspects of code: does it do what it is supposed to do and do what it needs to do. In the current culture of software development, a testing organization may be separate from the development team. There are various roles for testing team members. Information derived from software testing may be used to correct the process by which software is developed.5:41–43
Every software product has a target audience. For example, the audience for video game software is completely different from banking software. Therefore, when an organization develops or otherwise invests in a software product, it can assess whether the software product will be acceptable to its end users, its target audience, its purchasers and other stakeholders. Software testing aids the process of attempting to make this assessment.
A fundamental problem with software testing is that testing under all combinations of inputs and preconditions (initial state) is not feasible, even with a simple product.4:17–187 This means that the number of defects in a software product can be very large and defects that occur infrequently are difficult to find in testing. More significantly, non-functional dimensions of quality (how it is supposed to be versus what it is supposed to do)—usability, scalability, performance, compatibility, reliability—can be highly subjective; something that constitutes sufficient value to one person may be intolerable to another.
Software developers can’t test everything, but they can use combinatorial test design to identify the minimum number of tests needed to get the coverage they want. Combinatorial test design enables users to get greater test coverage with fewer tests. Whether they are looking for speed or test depth, they can use combinatorial test design methods to build structured variation into their test cases