Test Environment: A Definition and How-to Guide

Erik Landerholm
January 3, 2023
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Developers today are under increasing pressure to produce high-quality software, with 89% of companies now competing primarily on customer experience. Today, customers expect high-quality software that’s secure, reliable, and easy to use. When you fail to meet those expectations, adoption of your product is likely to plummet. 

To ensure software quality, developers frequently choose to set up test environments where they can safely isolate code and analyze performance. Simply put, test environments help to reduce production errors, lower development costs, and improve customer satisfaction.  

This post offers a primer on test environments covering what a test environment is, how it fits into the software development life cycle, best practices for managing a test environment, and a step-by-step guide for setting one up.  

What is a Test Environment?

A test environment is a dedicated space—usually a server or container—for running software tests. You can add a copy of an application to a test environment to inspect it for bugs and vulnerabilities. Usually, creating a test environment involves setting up a physical or virtual server and configuring it according to the specifications of the application that’s being tested.  

A dedicated test environment helps you ensure accuracy and consistency when code is analyzed. Engineers can alter code and experiment with it in the virtual environment and assess the results in real-time. For example, a developer could use a test environment to check the compatibility between different code versions and address any underlying bugs. 

Some projects may call for a single test environment while others may require multiple test environments for each access instance. Depending on your needs, you can either run tests in a fixed order or simultaneously in multiple environments.

What are the Different Environments Testing is Done in?

Many developer teams use dedicated testing environments, but you can also test your software in different kinds of environments. Let's explore what these testing environments are.

Development Environment

The development environment is where engineers write code and make changes. Preliminary testing also takes place in the development environment before advancing code to other stages. To illustrate, an engineer might set up a development environment to build an application and create a sample for additional testing and modifications. 

Staging Environment

After software has been through development and testing, it moves into a staging environment. The staging environment closely resembles live production. The main purpose of the staging environment is to provide a window of insight into how the software will perform after deployment.  

Companies often use staging environments to present final projects before moving them along for final testing and production. Staging environments also provide a chance for stakeholders to see a digital project in action, collaborate, and make adjustments.  

Production Environment

The production environment is the final stage of software development, when the software is live and running on a production server. At this point, users can access and interact with the software in real-time.  For example, all software that you use—like Slack or Teams—is currently in a live production environment.  

Even though the software is live at this point, companies often continue to test and iterate on it in the production environment. Testing in production can provide better accuracy and allow for more frequent deployments. 

Why Should You Use a Software Testing Environment?

While testing in production is possible, there are several advantages to setting up a private, dedicated testing environment.  

Support Different Tests

It’s possible to run several different types of analysis within a testing environment, depending on your needs. For example, you can set up a test environment to run integration tests, unit tests, user acceptance tests, performance tests, alpha tests, and beta tests.  

Save Money

In general, testing software earlier in the development life cycle eliminates rework, enables you to make changes more easily, and significantly reduces development costs.  

Ensure Product Quality

All too often, vulnerabilities are discovered too late in the development process and inadvertently pushed into production. With a testing environment in place, you can address underlying bugs and vulnerabilities more easily, resulting in a better quality product and fewer user complaints. 

Improve Testing Accuracy

A dedicated test environment ensures greater accuracy and consistency when you analyze code because tests can be conducted in isolation from other activities and resources that may interfere with test results.

What is a Good Test Environment? Best Practices for Managing Test Environments

There is no single way to set up and manage test environments—developers tend to use different strategies depending on their workflows and preferences. However, here are a few best practices for managing test environments that can help you keep your test environments safe, effective, and efficient.  

Document Your Test Environment

Thoroughly document the steps you take to set up test environments. Good documentation lets other team members replicate environments and ensures consistency.  

Outline Testing Goals

Outline your specific testing goals before moving code into a test environment to save time, prevent rework, and enable testing engineers to move with speed and confidence.  

Secure Your Environment

Test environments contain a wealth of data and can pose security risks. To keep risk low, it’s critical to properly secure your test environment and restrict access through effective user authentication protocols. 

Don’t Strive for Perfection

It isn't always possible to create test environments that align perfectly with production environments. Attempting to create test environments that match production perfectly will only waste time and delay development. Test environments don’t have to be an exact match of production to perform well.  

How to Create a Test Environment

Creating a test environment is a multistep process, which typically involves the following actions.  

1. Determine Your Objectives

The first step is to clearly define your objectives and outline your reasons for creating a test environment. Before moving on, make sure that a test environment is necessary for your specific use case. 

2. Select an Environment

The next step is to pick a physical or virtual environment. At this point, you must determine whether you want to use the cloud or an on-prem server.  

3. Optimize Your Network

A poorly performing network can negatively impact testing and lead to inaccurate results. It’s worth taking time to make sure that your network is optimized and secure. 

4. Plan Your Data Strategy

Test data plays a critical role in the software development process. You should have a plan in place for collecting, analyzing, and securing the data that you collect during software tests.  

5. Automate Test Environments to Improve Efficiency

Most businesses now use automation to manage their test environments. For example, Jenkins is a popular free open-source tool that enables automated testing.

Save Time with On-Demand Environments

Without a doubt, test environments are a crucial part of the software development process. However, they can take time to set up and maintain, which can slow things down and frustrate engineers.  

To save time, Release now offers on-demand environments as a service. With the help of Release, your team can instantly deploy fast, scalable, managed environments that are easy to replicate and access. Improve accuracy and reliability and free your developers to spend more time analyzing and optimizing code.  

For further reading on how to streamline development and build better applications, check out Release’s complete guide to automated software environments

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