Database Testing

Why test the database?

The database persists data that your application (and organization) depends on. The data thus persisted is most often of mission-critical nature and a key asset for the organization. Also, many of today's data-enabled applications implement a fair amount of their functionality and business logic in the database itself. For an enterprise class application, the data in the database would be accessed and updated (insert/modify/delete) simultaneously by a large number of users (think thousands to millions depending on the scale of your application's usage).

The above statements highlight a few areas where database testing is needed. One, to validate the quality of data being persisted. Two, if we plan to test the application code, it is imperative that we also test the code in the database which implements the business functionality and three, we should plan for non-functional database testing to support the usage of the database in a real-world deployment scenario.

Let us briefly look at the above mentioned database test areas.

1. Data quality testing

Testing the quality of the data may be approached in three ways - data validity testing, data integrity testing and data format testing.

a) Data validity testing - is done to verify the validity of the data that is stored in the database. When data is entered via the front end application, check if the data is correctly updated in the back-end database. Apart from the positive checks, look for other behavior such as data truncation, verify how null/empty field values are handled, verify how special characters or code snippets are handled in the database. Check that the right columns in the right tables are being updated. Data validity testing normally involves use of SQL queries to validate the data.

b) Data integrity testing - involves testing referential integrity and application of constraints (foreign/primary key). When a data field is subject to modification (insert, update or delete), the database should be verified for appropriate changes to related entities such as primary key/foreign key relationships and that referential integrity of the data is maintained

c) Data format testing - involves verifying the size and type of fields that store data in the database with those that accept data in the application. This can help identify mismatches between the type or size of data that is accepted by the front-end vs what the database can store. Example: the application may accept text data but try to store in a numeric or date field in the database or else the application may accept data of greater length than the max length for the corresponding field in the database. This may not throw errors during routine application usage but may store incorrect or erroneous data in the database which could have repercussions elsewhere or at a later stage
2. Database code testing - involves testing the code in the database which implements business logic and functionality. Examples of such code include, stored procedures, views (read-only/updateable) and event driven items such as triggers. Each stored procedure is tested distinctly for its functionality. When a stored procedure implements multiple functions, each function is tested separately. Stored procedure testing would look at testing the arguments that are passed to the stored procedure in terms of the number, type and order of arguments plus the return value. Both positive and negative tests can be devised to test stored procedures. Views both read only and updateable are tested either as stored queries that dynamically retrieve values from the database and/or allow updates to the database. In case where updates are allowed, data validity and integrity testing is done. Event driven items are tested by verifying the events that could trigger actions and the actions themselves for functional correctness

3. Non-functional database testing

In most real-world mission critical deployments, to ensure database scalability, security, availability and recover-ability with minimal/no-loss of data, it is important to test the following non-functional areas

a) Database performance testing (load/stress/longevity/scalability)
b) Database security testing
c) Database replication testing
d) Database fail-over testing
e) Database recovery testing

This sums up in brief, the subject of database testing.

Scrum, an Agile development methodology

What is Scrum and what is the relationship between Scrum and Agile?

Scrum is an iterative and incremental Agile development methodology. Scrum may be viewed as an agile framework for developing software. Unlike many other software development methodologies, scrum does not provide a complete template or detailed description of what to do during software development. Scrum prescribes desired outcomes and leaves it to the agile scrum team to best determine how to solve the problems they encounter. Scrum may be used for both software development and software maintenance projects.

The term "scrum" is borrowed from an analogy put forth in a 1986 study by Takeuchi and Nonaka wherein they described a new holistic approach that would increase speed and flexibility in new product development. In that study, Takeuchi and Nonaka compare high-performing, cross-functional teams to the scrum formation used by rugby teams.

Principles of Scrum

These principles have been borrowed from the Agile Manifesto
Scrum values -
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Completed functionality over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, the items on the left matter more in an agile development methodology such as scrum.

Scrum relies on self-organizing and cross-functional teams known as scrum teams. The scrum team is self-organizing in that there is no overall team leader or manager who allocates tasks or specifies how a problem is to be solved. Those are issues that are decided by the scrum team as a whole. The scrum team is cross-functional in that there is representation from all functional groups (developers, testers, technical writers, etc.) so that everyone necessary to produce working and shippable software is involved.

Definitions of key terms used in Scrum
  • Product owner - represents the business, customers or users and guides the team toward building the right product.
  • ScrumMaster - ensures that the team is functional and productive. The ScrumMaster may be viewed as the coach for the scrum team, helping scrum team members use the scrum framework
  • Scrum team - cross-functional and self-organizing team that gets the work done
  • Sprint planning - an event/meeting wherein the scrum team meets with the product owner to choose work (set of tasks/features/requirements) to deliver during a sprint
  • Daily scrum - an event/meeting wherein the scrum team meets every day during the duration of a sprint to share about progress made, plans and obstacles if any
  • Sprint reviews - an event wherein the scrum team demonstrates to the product owner what it has accomplished during the sprint being reviewed
  • Sprint retrospectives - an event wherein the scrum team looks at the recent sprint that has completed for ways to improve product development
  • Product backlog - it is a dynamic and prioritized list of requirements for the project. The product backlog will have the features and requirements for a product development effort. It is dynamic in that requirements may be added or removed to the list
  • Sprint backlog - it is a negotiated subset of the product backlog that the scrum team commits to accomplish during the time frame of a sprint. The items in the sprint backlog are further broken down into detailed tasks. The scrum team works together collaboratively to complete the items in the sprint backlog
  • Burndown chart - represents the work remaining for the sprint and the overall project
  • Potentially Shippable - it means that the work output delivered at the end of a sprint is in a form/state of completion that it may be released to a customer if required
The Scrum process in brief 
  • The product owner creates the product backlog with requirements for the product that is to be developed
  • The scrum team meets for the sprint planning meeting and picks up a set of high priority requirements from the product backlog to work on during the sprint. This forms the sprint backlog
  • The duration of the sprint is normally between 2-4 weeks. During this time, the scrum team meets daily to assess progress and impediments if any
  • No new requirements are added to the sprint backlog once the sprint starts
  • The scrum master keeps the team focused on the objectives for the sprint
  • During the sprint, the cross-functional scrum team works together to deliver to its commitments
  • Towards the end of the sprint, a potentially shippable unit of work has been produced
  • The sprint ends with a sprint review and retrospective
  • The iterative cycle continues. As the next sprint begins, the scrum team chooses another set of requirements from the product backlog to work on during the new sprint
  • The cycle repeats until the project is completed i.e. either the items in the product backlog have been delivered or the time line for release is reached or budget exhausted. Either way, when the project ends, Scrum would ensure that the higher priority and important requirements have been addressed
I have been working with scrum teams for a while now after having completed a scrum master certification program. Our groups transitioned to scrum from a traditional software development approach. Scrum is a simple framework that is easy to understand but poses a certain amount of challenge to implement. This is especially true in organizations that have been used to more heavy-weight traditional software development methodologies. It requires understanding and commitment from all levels of the organization to push for change and adopt scrum.