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Twenty years ago, one of the biggest software testing practices was all about testing websites or web apps for desktops and laptops. Today, the rise of the mobile ecosystem has gained the focus on app testing against mobile gadgets like smartphones, tablets and wearables. Though they may share some general testing methods, the approaches to and tools used for mobile app testing vs. web app testing still differ vastly.

The Differences Between a Web App and a Mobile App

The first step to creating an efficient testing strategy is to draw the line between web and mobile apps – what they are and how they are built.

Web Applications

Web applications refer to computer programs that run in a web browser. Commonly built with the help of HTML5, CSS and JavaScript, web applications offer more interactivity than websites and can be accessed via a desktop or laptop. The classic examples of web applications include webmail, online stores and web banking.

Mobile Applications

A mobile application is a program that was built to be used on mobile devices (smartphones, tablets and various wearables). Mobile apps are not as straightforward as desktop web apps and fall into three varieties: mobile web, native and hybrid apps.

Mobile web applications

A mobile web application is a program that can be accessed via a mobile browser, meaning that you don’t have to download them to your device to start using them. Like web apps, mobile web applications are usually built using JavaScript, CSS and HTML5; however, there is no standard software kit. Contrary to other mobile applications, web apps for mobile use are easier to build and test, but they’re usually much more primitive in terms of functionality.

Native applications

Fast and more advanced when it comes to features, native mobile applications run on the device itself, so you have to download them before using them. Since they are platform-specific, native mobile apps are built using specific languages and integrated development environments (IDEs). For example, Android native applications are developed using Java or Kotlin and Android Studio or Eclipse IDE. At the same time, to build an app for an Apple device, you’ll need to use Objective-C or Swift and the XCode IDE. Native apps are secure, integrate with the hardware perfectly and have the best UI/UX experience.

Hybrid applications

Hybrid apps combine the characteristics of native and mobile web apps. Built with the help of the “standard web” stack (JavaScript, CSS and HTML5), they are then wrapped in a native environment, so you can use the same code for different platforms. While running on your mobile browser, hybrid applications are downloadable and have access to your camera, GPS, contact list, etc. Though such applications are easier to build and maintain, they are slower and offer less advanced functionality than their native counterparts.

Types of Mobile App Testing vs. Web App Testing

Whether it comes to testing web or mobile applications, the aim is to ensure that an app is user-friendly and functions properly under different circumstances, even if it’s already in production. Furthermore, both application testing varieties include common types:

  • functional testing
  • usability testing
  • compatibility testing
  • performance testing
  • recovery testing
  • localization testing
  • certification testing
  • change-related testing

At the same time, the divergence between mobile app testing and web app testing is more discernible in terms of user interaction, Internet connection and compatibility.

User Interaction

From the viewpoint of interaction with users, most desktop browser-based applications are limited to a mouse and a keyboard, and all the operations can be performed by clicking or hitting a particular key. Mobile apps, on the other hand, offer a wider scope of options in this respect. While all the tapping, swiping, pulling and pinching is not as challenging to test, there are voice assistants and move commanders to be included in your testing checklist.

Internet Connection

The majority of web applications don’t function offline, and the same rule applies to mobile web applications. To this end, when dealing with this type of apps, you should test if they perform well under different speeds of the Internet connection. When it comes to native and some hybrid mobile apps, it is critical to verify if an app works properly in the offline mode, how it reacts to interrupted connection and how it functions with 3/4/5 G or WI-FI.

Compatibility

Web applications should be tested against different browsers, which also applies to their mobile web and hybrid counterparts. From the device compatibility viewpoint, web-based applications are usually more simple to test due to the functionality of a desktop. With mobile apps, the testing procedure is much more complicated because of the wide variety of mobile devices, which expand their functionality at an exponential rate. That is why, when checking mobile applications for compatibility, it is critical to pay attention to the technical characteristics of each mobile device and how they affect the behavior of your app. The most important of these characteristics are:

Capacity limitations

Note that RAM and SSD are absolutely different for web and mobile. While some mobile devices can ship 3-4GB of RAM, the capacity of even the best smartphone falls behind that of an average desktop. To this effect, if your app isn’t properly optimized for mobile use, it will function much slower than its desktop fellow. Furthermore, since mobile apps are updated more frequently than their web counterparts, it is critical to test how your app affects memory and whether it resumes proper work after a number of updates and installations.

Battery life

Desktop computers don’t have problems like this, but a smartphone battery that’s running low has become an actual nightmare for thousands of people. Even when you’re using a laptop, having a dead computer is not as bad as having a dead mobile phone. An application that drains battery life will be deleted soon. So, it is paramount for your QA team to check the performance of a mobile application on a fully-charged and a low-charged device.

Screen size

While desktops are limited to a few screen dimensions, mobile devices offer much greater variety in this respect. It is important to examine specific mobile screen dimensions and make sure that all the app fields are visible and easy to access.

Different Tools for Mobile vs. Web App Testing

The reasons for choosing the right tool for test automation are rather obvious: a higher level of test coverage and parallel testing, better reliability and faster test execution.

Now let’s take a look at what tools are widely used for mobile app testing vs. web app testing.

Tools for Web App Testing

To be able to work without a glitch under continuous, high load and growing market expectations, web apps need to undergo a plethora of tests to ensure compliance with the UI standards, compatibility and usability.

Certainly, there’re a lot more commercial and open-source tools, but Selenium is still the most popular open-source tool for automated testing against web apps and websites.

Selenium

Selenium is a powerful open-source automated testing framework consists of Selenium IDE, Selenium WebDriver and Selenium Grid. Selenium supports multiple programming languages for script creation, allows users to record and re-run saved scripts and works well on different browsers and operating systems. While it’s not particularly self-sufficient, Selenium can be easily integrated with other tools for test management, image-based testing, performing load tests and efficient functioning in an agile working environment.

To execute Selenium WebDriver scripts, you need to ensure that you have the initial configuration done. The WebDriver consists of three separate parts, take Chrome as an example, the browser itself (“i.e. Chrome“), the language bindings provided (“the Driver”) and an executable ChromeDriver downloaded from the Chromium project which acts as a bridge between “chrome” and the “driver”. All of them is discussed here.

Tools for Mobile App Testing

While the tooling world for web app testing looks quite simple, as Selenium is widely used by web developers and testers, the tools used for mobile app testing is not as straightforward.

  • First of all, not all web application QA tools are applicable to mobile app testing.
  • Secondly, when choosing a tool or framework for your mobile app, consider if it is cross-platform or designed for a particular OS.
  • Finally, not every mobile app testing tool is best for all application types: native, web mobile and hybrid.

But don’t let the number of tools and frameworks scare you away from mobile app test automation. We’ve gathered the best of them right here.

Appium

If you need a black-box mobile app testing tool, look no further than Appium. Based on Selenium, it is an open-source tool for testing hybrid, web and native Android and iOS mobile applications. Offering the Selenium set of features, Appium runs tests on real devices, emulators and simulators.

It allows you to create test cases on a variety of programming languages, including Java, C#, Python, PHP, etc., using the same API. Still, you’ll need to create separate iOS and Android scripts to run UI tests. Like Selenium, Appium is a flexible tool and can be easily integrated with other frameworks. Learn all tips and tricks about Appium here.

Espresso

Espresso is a UI quality assurance framework designed by Google for white box testing. Since it was created to test Android native applications, Espresso tests can be written in Java and Kotlin, the programming languages used to develop Android applications.

Due to the simple API, it easily adapts to your needs without the complexity of multi-threaded testing. But the most outstanding feature of Espresso is that it provides automatic synchronization between tests and applications (the test doesn’t continue until the application is ready).

XCUITest / XCTest

For iOS functional and UI testing, XCUITest and XCTest are getting their popularity among iOS developers. The reason being, they run tests inside the XCode IDE and testers can write tests in either Objective-C and Swift.

XCUITest and XCTest can execute iOS tests much faster than other cross-platform frameworks. Their tests are usually more reliable and trustable. However, it is because they are native to iOS development and testing that keeps away many mobile developers that are more looking into the flexibility of the used tools.

Calabash

Although the team behind it has stopped developing it, Calabash was once an open-source automated QA tool for running functional and acceptance tests of native and hybrid applications.

Users can run simultaneous tests against multiple devices in parallel with Calabash, and it provides an API for testing native applications on touch screen devices. The only minor setback is that the test scripts have to be written in Ruby only.

Selenium Appium Espresso XCUITest
XCTest
Calabash
Platform type Desktop browsers Both Android & iOS Android iOS Both Android & iOS
App type Web Native, web and hybrid Native, web and hybrid Native, web and hybrid Native and hybrid
Areas to test Functional, regression Functional, regression, UI UI UI Functional, UI acceptance
Scripting language Java, C#, Perl, Python, JavaScript, Ruby, PHP Java, C#, Python, PHP, Ruby, JavaScript Java, Kotlin Swift, Objective-C Ruby
CI Popular CI tools (e.g., Jenkins, Teamcity) Popular CI tools (e.g., Jenkins, Teamcity) Popular CI tools (e.g., Jenkins, Teamcity) Popular CI tools (e.g., Jenkins, Teamcity) Popular CI tools (e.g., Jenkins, Teamcity)
License type Open-source Open-source Open-source Open-source Open-source

Which Testing Tool to Choose?

As now you can see, while it might be quite straightforward to choose a tool for web app testing, it can be complicated for mobile app testing. Here we’ve only talked about Appium, Espresso, XCUITest / XCTest and Calabash, but there are many other great open-source frameworks available for automating mobile app testing, e.g. Robot Framework, Detox, Xamarin.UITest, EarlGrey for iOS, etc.

Before making the decision, answer these questions:

  1. What platforms, browsers and app types do you need to cover?
  2. What areas do you need to test? (The tools listed in this article are designed mainly for functional and compatibility testing and do not cover performance and security testing.)
  3. Who will run the tests? (If testing will be done by developers or QA experts, you can opt for a tool that requires some programming skills. However, in case non-technical team members will be involved, you should consider tools with the record/playback function.)
  4. What scripting languages are you comfortable working with? (Tools don’t usually cover all possible programming languages.)
  5. Are you applying the continuous testing methodology to your project? (Some tools are not agile-friendly.)
  6. How will you track and analyze the results? (Since Selenium doesn’t offer the test management function, you’ll need to integrate it with other tools to receive detailed reports.)
  7. Do you prefer free or paid options?

Conclusion

On top of the most common testing types, there’re a few things that are often overlooked but unique to mobile app testing, e.g. battery, internet connection, etc. The main goal of testing an app — web or mobile — is to ensure its usability and proper functioning under different circumstances.

Test automation tools reduce and optimize your testing efforts while making the entire quality assurance process thorough and budget-friendly. Provided that you choose a suitable tool, that is.

While Selenium coupled with a bunch of integrated tools can cover web application testing, there’re a lot more choices on tools when it comes to mobile app testing. Appium, Espresso, XCUITest/XCTest and Calabash are indisputable open-source frameworks with pros and cons. Still, you need to take into account your app type, platform and other criteria before choosing one of them as your mobile app testing tool.

To make an informed decision, it’s critical to analyze your project needs, team skillset and budget. Only after that, you can choose the optimal testing tool for your app.

Victoria Bezsmolna

Tech Writer