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Software Performance Testing | Types, Tools & Best Practices

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Myra Nizami
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Looking into software performance testing?  We explain what software performance testing is, the different types, how it works, and the benefits it can have.

What is software performance testing?

Software performance testing is the process of evaluating how a system works under a given set of conditions. Types of software performance tests include:

  • Load testing
  • Stress testing
  • Endurance testing
  • Spike testing

Performance testing is used to evaluate responsiveness and stability, core elements of any system. Generally, teams will conduct many types of performance tests, looking at individual parts of the system as well as overall performance and stability.

While teams may differ on what performance indicators they prioritize, there are some measures that should always be included in performance testing, such as:

  • Response times from browsers, pages, and networks
  • Server request speed
  • Concurrent user volumes
  • How many errors occur, and what kind of errors

Why does software performance testing matter?

The common goal of any system is to ensure that users are getting the best service levels possible and to deliver a positive user experience. Ideally, those go hand in hand. The better the system performs, the more benefit users gain from it. 

Performance testing helps keep that momentum going and ensures you’re meeting service level objectives (SLOs). Application performance is key to a positive user experience, and a comprehensive testing process enables a more proactive response to reliability rather than a reactive one. 

Types of software performance testing

Ideally, software performance testing should happen during the development process, before changes go out to users, and during deployment, when the changes are becoming available to users. Performance testing for different components can occur during the development phase to spot any issues and run general tests for reliability. Performance testing becomes even more crucial during the deployment phase as teams begin to have real user activity levels to make more meaningful tests. They can replicate and scale real scenarios to understand how the system will handle load in actual usage.

There are four common performance tests, each one looking at a different performance metric or time scale. Let’s look at each test in more detail to understand what it does and why they are essential. 

Load Tests

Load testing is a simulation used to understand the number of users that may use an application or system at any given point before resources are depleted. Using data on usage and user load, teams can simulate different scenarios to understand any bottlenecks or performance issues. Testing out other user loads, including the max number of people accessing the app at a given point, helps teams understand where improvements need to be made to handle a larger number of users. 

Load tests can measure different elements depending on the type of app, such as:

  • Concurrent users
  • Transaction load
  • Function or feature usage

Stress Tests

Stress testing is a performance test to understand how the system behaves when encountering peak activity. That means steadily increasing the number of users and looking at what happens to the system. For example, what is the max amount of stress the system can take before it breaks? The idea is to go beyond normal working parameters and run through very extreme scenarios of traffic loads to see how reliability and stability changes. This is different from normal load testing, which looks at the expected amount of usage instead of the extremes of possibility.

Endurance testing

Endurance testing, also known as soak testing, involves increasing the number of concurrent users over an extended period of time to monitor how the system performs. Essentially, it looks at how the system performs with intensity over time rather than at a specific time period. For example, does the intensity lead to the system breaking down more often? How do performance levels measure up when there is intense activity happening over a long period of time? Endurance testing looks at system performance metrics over time and measures them against other tests to understand software performance. 

Spike Tests

Spike tests determine how the system operates if activity levels go over the average amount for a very short period. With spike testing, the idea is to look at both the number of users and what kind of actions they are undertaking. Spike tests look at how the system performs when there’s a sudden spike in activity and how it manages an abrupt change in workload.

What are the most common problems observed in performance testing?

Undertaking performance tests help teams understand what needs to improve for the system to operate its best. Usually, the problems discovered will include:

  • Speed issues, including excessive loading times 
  • Slow response times
  • Limited scalability (e.g., the system cannot handle users over a certain number as it impacts performance)
  • Bottlenecks that slow down performance

How do I conduct software performance testing?

The testing methodology will differ based on the system itself and its unique needs. However, generic frameworks are available to help teams get started with performance testing and make it a priority.

Choose the right testing environment

A testing environment is a server that lets you run the tests you have identified through user simulations. Think about your hardware, software, and network configurations when evaluating different testing environments and what serves your news best. You’ll want something that can replicate the conditions in which your code will actually run. Otherwise, the tests and real usage can give different results.

Define success

Before undertaking any tests, bring together the team to understand what success looks like in your context. What are you aiming for by conducting these tests, and what benefit will that have on the users? Think about the feedback you’ve received, other products on the market, and internal metrics that you can identify. Ultimately, the goal is to have happy user experiences. If you’re testing things that users won’t ever encounter, you’ll probably want to put that effort elsewhere. Likewise, don’t define success as “perfect”, as users won’t notice any improvements past a certain point.

Design tests that work for you

Getting software performance testing right is about using the data you have and building out scenarios for each of the different measures. Once you have the testing environment set up, think about the test design that works best for you based on usage levels. Meaningful testing is about being as close as possible to real use cases, so it will likely take some tweaking to get the data you need.

Identify tools

There are many tools available for software performance testing, so it’s really about what works for your team. Some of the popular options include WebLOAD, LoadNinja, HeadSpin, and ReadyAPI Performance, but there are many others available as well.

Consider automation

To ensure reliability, consider automating software performance testing. Automation ensures that key metrics such as speed, response times, reliability, and scalability are consistently being tested, and incidents are flagged early on. Rather than relying solely on manual testing, automation can be used to create a robust testing process that consistently runs. 

How can Blameless help?

Performance testing is most successful when processes are automated, and teams use the right performance testing tools to optimize. With Blameless, every stage of incident response is made simple and consistent to create a streamlined incident management process. Teams identify issues right away and run retrospectives after to understand where improvements can be made. Using Blameless, teams can structure service level objectives (SLOs) and gain deeper visibility on reliability insights, thereby accelerating development velocity.

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About Myra Nizami

Myra is a writer and researcher with a Bachelor's degree from Cornell University and a Master's degree from Kings College London. Myra has been writing for SMEs and large businesses since 2013. When not writing, she enjoys traveling, discovering new restaurants, and reading.

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