Wednesday, October 26, 2005

White Box Testing

Definition of White Box Testing - A software testing technique whereby explicit knowledge of the internal workings of the item being tested are used to select the test data.

Unlike black box testing, white box testing uses specific knowledge of programming code to examine outputs. The test is accurate only if the tester knows what the program is supposed to do. He or she can then see if the program diverges from its intended goal. White box testing does not account for errors caused by omission, and all visible code must also be readable.

Contrary to black-box testing, software is viewed as a white-box, or glass-box in white-box testing, as the structure and flow of the software under test are visible to the tester.

Testing plans are made according to the details of the software implementation, such as programming language, logic, and styles. Test cases are derived from the program structure. White-box testing is also called glass-box testing, logic-driven testing or design-based testing.

There are many techniques available in white-box testing, because the problem of intractability is eased by specific knowledge and attention on the structure of the software under test. The intention of exhausting some aspect of the software is still strong in white-box testing, and some degree of exhaustion can be achieved, such as executing each line of code at least once (statement coverage), traverse every branch statements (branch coverage), or cover all the possible combinations of true and false condition predicates (Multiple condition coverage).

Control-flow testing, loop testing, and data-flow testing, all maps the corresponding flow structure of the software into a directed graph. Test cases are carefully selected based on the criterion that all the nodes or paths are covered or traversed at least once. By doing so we may discover unnecessary "dead" code -- code that is of no use, or never get executed at all, which can not be discovered by functional testing.

In mutation testing, the original program code is perturbed and many mutated programs are created, each contains one fault. Each faulty version of the program is called a mutant. Test data are selected based on the effectiveness of failing the mutants. The more mutants a test case can kill, the better the test case is considered. The problem with mutation testing is that it is too computationally expensive to use. The boundary between black-box approach and white-box approach is not clear-cut. Many testing strategies mentioned above, may not be safely classified into black-box testing or white-box testing. It is also true for transaction-flow testing, syntax testing, finite-state testing, and many other testing strategies not discussed in this text. One reason is that all the above techniques will need some knowledge of the specification of the software under test. Another reason is that the idea of specification itself is broad -- it may contain any requirement including the structure, programming language, and programming style as part of the specification content.

We may be reluctant to consider random testing as a testing technique. The test case selection is simple and straightforward: they are randomly chosen. Study indicates that random testing is more cost effective for many programs. Some very subtle errors can be discovered with low cost. And it is also not inferior in coverage than other carefully designed testing techniques. One can also obtain reliability estimate using random testing results based on operational profiles. Effectively combining random testing with other testing techniques may yield more powerful and cost-effective testing strategies.

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