If you’re new to automated testing for web applications, choosing the right tool can be hard because there are so many to choose from. And if you’re new to test automation, they all sound like they do the same thing—but they don’t.
Modern test automation tools mostly fall into three categories:
To choose the best automation testing tool for your software team, you need to understand the differences between the three categories of automation tools.
Once you understand the overall landscape, we’ll explain what you should look for when choosing a tool (spoiler alert: it’s all about minimizing test maintenance).
In this article, we’ll explain what each type of automation testing tool can do, listing at least three examples in each type. Then, we’ll share an in-depth list of the best no-code testing tools—starting with our tool, Rainforest QA—because they’re the easiest tools to start using and offer many advantages over the other two types.
Since about 2007, when the first coding framework for automating browsers was launched, dozens of tools have been created to help software teams release new features faster and with fewer bugs.
We break those tools into three categories: open-source test automation frameworks, test management tools, and no-code QA solutions.
Open-source frameworks for automated testing are essentially coding languages that help you automate actions in a browser. Like other programming languages, they’re free to use, but actually doing test automation with them requires hiring someone with programming skills: either a full-stack developer or a dedicated QA engineer who can create, run, and maintain the tests.
And as your test automation strategy becomes more mature, you almost always have to hire more programmers to maintain the test suite.
The three most popular open-source test automation frameworks are:
If you’re a developer, it’s possible to do a small amount of test automation using only one of these coding frameworks and no other tools. And many developers do incorporate some of these tools into their development workflows, especially for unit testing (making sure each line of code behaves as expected).
Here’s how that would look in practice:
You’re working on an application and it’s running on your own computer. You open a file, write a bunch of Selenium code to test the app, execute it, and you can see the computer open a browser, click around, and give you results.
But these frameworks don’t scale well on their own. What if you want to run multiple tests at once? After about 10 or 20 tests, your computer will slow to a crawl. In order to run dozens or hundreds of tests efficiently, collaborate with a team of testers, and incorporate debugging into your workflow, you’ll need a variety of tools from the next category.
The next category of tools are essentially infrastructure tools that help teams that are using Selenium, Cypress, or Appium run and manage tests efficiently as a team.
There are dozens of tools in this category alone, but they roughly fall into three categories.
#1: Browser Grids/Test Grids: A test grid is a place where you can efficiently run your tests in the cloud—instead of on your local machine. Testing grids allow you to test how your application behaves on all of the different operating systems (Windows, Mac, linux, etc.) and browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.)—without buying dozens of machines and downloading different operating systems onto each one. In QA terms, this is called cross-browser testing or cross-platform testing. A few popular examples are:
#2: Test Case Management Tools: Each feature or user path that you create a test for is called a test case. To keep your collection of test cases organized, especially when working with a team of testers, you need test case management tools. These tools help you organize and manage all your tests, manage and store test data, collect test results and report on trends, and automatically create support tickets for the bugs you find. They are helpful when doing automated testing and manual testing. A few popular examples are:
#3: Team Collaboration Tools: When working with a testing team, you need tools that allow you to assign tasks to team members, track progress on those tasks, and facilitate efficient communication. Many of the tools in other categories have some team collaboration tools built-in, but QA teams will also use third-party tools. Some popular ones are:
While it’s free to use the open-source coding frameworks, you’re probably already realizing that doing test automation with Selenium or Cypress can get very expensive very quickly when you factor in the cost of the developer’s time and the other tools you need to run and manage the tests.
The best results come from empowering anyone who cares about quality—regardless of their technical skills—to participate in test automation. That’s why there’s been an explosion of all-in-one tools in the last two or three years that offer some variation of low-code or no-code automated testing.
Some popular no-code automated testing solutions include:
However, with the exception of our solution, Rainforest QA, the vast majority of tools available are just variations on an easier way to auto-generate Selenium code. They all test the front end code of the application, whereas Rainforest QA tests the visual layer.
Rainforest is the only test automation solution that interacts with the application just like an end user would.
We’ve written more about why we think this is a better approach to UI testing here.
Plus, thanks to this testing approach, Rainforest tests don’t suffer from the brittleness—or likelihood to break—that code-based tests can experience when there are minor, behind-the-scenes code changes that don’t affect the user experience.
To understand why brittleness is such a big problem in test automation, let’s look at what really separates all of these tools from each other.
The biggest question to ask when evaluating all of the automated testing tools available is: “How much time will I (or my team) have to spend fixing broken tests?”
And the second question is: “Will anyone on my team be able to maintain the tests, or will we have to allocate developer resources to test maintenance?”
Automated testing only works if the test results are reliable. In other words, if a test fails, teams need to feel confident that there is actually a bug in the software, not just a bug in the test.
But bugs in the tests are common. The paradox of automated testing is that whenever you make changes to the application you’re trying to test—new features, bug fixes, etc.—you run the risk of introducing bugs into the test itself, which causes it to return false or meaningless failures.
So no matter what tool you use, you will have to spend time maintaining the tests. This is another reason why technical tools that only developers or QA engineers can use are a bad fit for most software teams, and is a big reason why there are so many no-code tools available.
All of the no-code tools attempt to decrease this maintenance workload in a few different ways.
We’ll now dive into the top 10 no-code automated testing tools for web apps, starting with our product, Rainforest QA, explaining the benefits it offers over Selenium and why we believe it’s the best no-code automation tool for many teams.
Rainforest QA is a truly no-code solution for automated testing for agile and post-agile teams. In its cloud-based platform, you can use the intuitive visual editor to build tests with a click or drag-and-select of the mouse.
Unlike all of the other no-code tools in this list, Rainforest QA is not a way to generate Selenium code. It takes a completely different approach to testing web applications with its proprietary automation.
Rainforest QA uses pixel matching to identify the target element in each step of an automated test.
Each step of the test interacts with or evaluates a visual element in the final user interface (UI) of the app, exactly as users would see it. (Unlike code-based tests, which interact with the underlying code.)
Here are some of the features that our customers love about Rainforest.
Because Rainforest tests the visual layer of the application, its tests are less susceptible to breaking due to minor code changes that don’t affect the UI—unlike tests created in Selenium or any of the Selenium-based options.
Let’s say you want to test whether your “Try for Free” button is working after you’ve made some other changes to your web application. In Rainforest, you’d create a test that includes a step to click on the “Try for Free” button. You’d tell the test where to click by click-and-dragging a selection box around the button.
When you run the test, Rainforest’s automation will look all over the page for pixels that match your image selection. If those pixels exist anywhere on the page, the test will find them and will be able proceed, even if the underlying code changed.
In contrast, if you were using Selenium to test this button, you could run into a variety of situations where the test could fail even though the UI was flawless.
For example, if the CSS class of the button changed from "try for free button" to "tryforfreebtn2," a Selenium test could break, but a Rainforest test would not as long as the pixels of the button on the page did not change.
A Rainforest test would fail only if the actual visual appearance of the button changed. For example, if the button was accidentally hidden due to a bug in a recent code push, the test would (and should)fail.
To be fair, Rainforest QA tests are not totally immune from “false positives”—or, test failures for which there’s no actual bug—in that a minor UI change, such as a button slightly changing shape, may break a test. But most Rainforest users find that test maintenance is less of a headache than with tools like Selenium because:
Rainforest QA is an all-in-one test automation solution, which means it has built-in tools to allow users to create, run, and manage an infinite number of automated tests all at once, meaning you don’t need to pay for things like a testing grid, test case management tools, and team collaboration tools just to manage your automated testing.
Rainforest QA includes:
With Rainforest QA, you can run as many tests as you want, in parallel. Rather than capping the number of concurrent tests you can run on a given pricing tier, we offer usage-based pricing. So you can scale testing up or down as needed, without having to make an expensive upgrade to any of your testing infrastructure tools.
Rainforest automatically records a video of every test it runs (whether the test passes or fails). When a test fails, you can review the video to identify exactly where it failed.
In Selenium, developers can add code that captures screenshots of tests when they fail, but there are no video replays. If a test fails, it’s much harder to know when, why, or how it failed, and you end up having to spend a lot of time figuring out exactly what caused the failure. So debugging and prioritizing test failures can take a lot of time.
Because Rainforest tests run on virtual machines (including Windows, MacOS, mobile devices), you can design tests that leave the browser and go into other apps.
For example, here’s a video walkthrough of creating a test that saves a file to the desktop from one location, then uploads the file to Google Drive. If you ever need to validate downloads or test file uploads, this is a really useful feature.
Rainforest has a built-in library full of auto-generated test data, including random emails, passwords, addresses, virtual credit cards, and more. Plus, with virtual email inboxes, you can test emails.
This is great for doing regression testing on your login sequence, for example, as we show in this video. You can set this up manually in some of the other tools but you’ll need to either use the same email address and password every time (which, at the very least, isn’t a well-designed test), or you’ll have to manually set up a random email generator on your own.
You can try out Rainforest for free with our 14-day risk-free trial and see how easy it is to create and run automated tests.
The rest of the no-code automation tools we’ll share can be divided into two categories: low-code and record-replay.
These web application testing and API testing options don’t require the user to write code or test scripts from scratch, but they tend to follow a logic that works best for people with a coding background. Since they all ultimately generate Selenium code, they’ll all eventually require a user to know Selenium to fix complex errors.
Record-replay software testing tools are very easy to use because you simply navigate through your app while the tool records your clicks. It can then play back your path on its own to test the app. The drawback with record-replay is that there are some checks that you might want to perform that you don’t explicitly create an action for.
For example, when you log in to your app you might want to verify that you’re on your home screen. You verify that you're there by looking at it, but you don’t actually click anywhere. Since the record-replay options just translate your clicks into Selenium code, they have to use some other method to test that an element is visible. And they still come with all of the potential flakiness of testing the source code, rather than the visual layer.
Rainforest QA makes it easy for anyone to get started with automated testing. You don’t need to learn a new programming language, you don’t need to buy additional services from other vendors to run or manage your tests, and anyone on your team can create, run, maintain, debug, and interpret tests.
It’s a scalable, all-in-one solution that’s appropriate for small teams that are just dipping their toes into automated testing as well as QA-mature teams running 500+ software tests on a regular basis.
You can try Rainforest QA yourself by starting a free 14 day trial.
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