December 17, 2008

Test Design

Too often, test cases are attempted without prior analysis of the program's requirements or structure. Such test design, if you can call it that, is just a haphazard series of ad-lib cases that are not documented either before or after the tests are executed. Because they were not formally designed, they cannot be precisely repeated, and no one is sure whether there was a bug or not. After the bug has been ostensibly corrected, no one is sure that the retest was identical to the test that found the bug. Ad-lib tests are useful during debugging, where their primary purpose is to help locate the bug, but adlib tests done in support of debugging, no matter how exhausting, are not substitutes for designed tests.

The test-design phase of programming should be explicitly identified. Instead of "design, code, desk check, test, and debug," the programming process should be described as: "design, test design, code, test code, program inspection, test inspection, test debugging, test execution, program debugging, testing." Giving test design an explicit place in the scheme of things provides more visibility to that amorphous half of the labor that often goes under the name "test and debug."

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