Why test clones mess with your test quality – And how to avoid them

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.

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