Author: Maximilian Junker

Typically, you have your test suite structured in a hierarchic way to keep it organized. The way you structure your system test suite has a considerable impact on how effective and efficient you can use your tests. A good structure of a system test suite supports:

  • maintaining tests when requirements change
  • determine which part of your functionality has been tested, and to which degree (coverage)
  • finding and reusing related tests while creating new tests
  • selecting a set of test cases to execute (test plan)
  • finding the root cause of a defect (debugging)
In my opinion, the first two points are the most important ones, as they touch the core of what system tests should do, namely to ensure that the system fulfills its requirements. Of course each project is different and no matter which structure I choose, I always run into the "tyranny of the dominant decomposition" (i.e. there is no such thing as THE best way to build a hierarchy) in the end. Nevertheless, I have seen a couple of anti-patterns in the past, which only very rarely make sense.

I recently reviewed a manual test suite of one of our customers. One of the first things I check very early in a review is the number of clones (i.e. duplicated parts of a test suite, usually created by copy and paste). In this recent case, I discovered that nearly 70% of the test suite is duplicated. That means, when I take some arbitrary test step, the chance is 70% that the test step is a 1:1 copy of another step. At the top of the post is a tree map that visualizes the amount of clones I found. Each rectangle represents a test, the more red a rectangle is, the bigger the amount of cloning. In my experience, cloning in test suites is the biggest problem with regard to maintainability of a test suite. Cloning causes considerable costs as the effectiveness of the test suite decreases and the effort for maintenance rockets. In this post I take a closer look on cloning in test suites. I show you an example to illustrate how clones can look like and explain where clones come from. Later, I give you good reasons why you should care about clones in tests and discusss strategies you can employ to avoid or at least deal with clones.