What is Canary Testing? A Beginner’s Guide

By Simran Arora on Jun 14 2022 | Be the first to comment

Software development has changed a lot over the years due to the Continuous integration practice. However, the CI infrastructure is distinct from the production infrastructure when it comes to application testing. And with synthetic users in application testing strategies, you can only go so far. Some bugs in a software development code only become noticeable when the code enters the production level. However, detecting a bug during the production stage will not help you much with resolutions. Nevertheless, with canary testing, you can move out a software update to a slight group of users to allow them to check the version and supply feedback. Let’s dig deeper into this.

What’s Canary Testing? [Definition]

Canary testing is also known as a canary release and canary deployment. These terms are used differently in the continuous delivery of software update systems to reduce the risk of code failure. Canary tests are small and tiniest tests that don’t take much time to run and produce results.

These tests will automatically verify if every code in your production is ready for deployment or not. It is recommended to run this test before running other time-consuming tests like load testing. It would not only save time with canary testing, but when the canary test fails, you will have to fix the code in the environment first. So, in short sentences, canary testing stands for deploying new software code to a small group of users.

These codes can be simply codes or new features or functions of the original version of the software. With canary testing, you can easily resolve the code and software bugs based on the feedback of your small group of users. We asked you to perform canary testing first before conducting any other test because it will help you to prevent any faulty software code from spreading to a massive userbase.

If you can restrict the number of affected users of the software, then you can easily detect and resolve any software-related error. But there are small differences between canary deployment and canary release that can confuse anyone. Let us see in the next section.

What Are the Contrasts Between Canary Deployment and Canary Release?

The canary release refers to the early development of the software. In the open-source software development industry, developers often use splitting stable and development branches. Many developers prefer to use odd numbers to divide the stable from the non-stable version. You will also see that many companies prefer to release canary versions of the software first so that if a user downloads that version and provides feedback, it will be quite helpful. You will find Google, Mozilla, etc., companies in the list that provide a canary release to the users.

However, in canary deployment, the developers install the update on their app and then share that app with a small group of users. Some users from the group will try out the canary version, and others will still use the old version. We call the old version control and the canary version variation in this method. Later, when you collect the feedback from the users who were using the canary version, you can decide whether to spread the release to other users or not.

How Does Canary Testing Work? 

There are various tools you can try in software testing, and most of the time, developers perform a test right after they finish coding a feature. An automated test can detect any kind of bugs in the system. When the code produces results after being tested automatically, the developers will deploy the code to a testing environment where the software testers can identify any hidden issues within it. Once a developer finds a bug, he will attempt to resolve it shortly.

The new code is then implemented in the end users’ environment. Every massive organization uses this technique to test a software code before making a big announcement. And this approach has both benefits and disadvantages. 

What Are the Benefits of Canary Testing?

You can only identify the benefits of canary testing when comparing it with something else. People often compare canary with A/B test as well as blue-green testing. So, let’s find out if the canary test has any advantage over them.

Canary Vs. A/B Testing

When it comes to implementation, canary tests and A/B tests look similar. In A/B testing, they divide the userbase into A and B parts. The developers then test the new and old versions of the software. The results are the feedbacks of these users, which are then examined later to observe the results against the intentions. With A/B testing, you can identify how well a feature is working, and with canary testing, you can reduce the risk of the users disliking your new feature. 

Blue-Green Deployment

With Blue-Green Deployment, you can minimize downtime and disruption for the end-users. The changes in this deployment are done in an isolated environment where the developers move the users from the old production environment until this test is finished. But in canary testing, the number of end-users is limited. 

So, in that case, you can say that canary testing is better than A/B testing and Blue-Green Deployment because it comes with the following benefits:

  • It is an innovative technique to check new features of the software and roll them out.

  • No downtime.

  • Allows you to roll back the new changes if there is any negative result. 

  • A high configuration level helps you determine the amount of traffic sent to the new release.

  • Enables multiple teams to test separate micro-services simultaneously in the production environment. 

  • You don’t have to find additional resources to test an additional environment. 

  • You can monitor the nature of the new release gradually. 

  • You can deploy multiple versions in the production environment. 

However, the benefits are not the only things related to canary deployment. There are several weaknesses as well.

Pitfalls of Canary Testing

Here is the flip side of canary testing worth considering:

  • Canary testing is a lot more frustrating because the bugs in the early stages are difficult to fix.

  • You will require additional infrastructure to implement canary testing, which means extra costs.

  • Canary deployment has the same intricacies as the blue-green deployments, so it can’t be done manually.

  • Setting up a proper canary testing environment takes a lot of time.

After reading the pros and cons of this testing process, you can easily decide if the method is right for you or not.

Conclusion: Is Canary Testing Right for You?

Canary testing might not be right for you if you work in the medical or aerospace industries because these industries don’t typically let you work with continuous deployments. You cannot also implement canary tests if the software is installed on the users’ computer and you cannot access it remotely.

Some people try out canary testing even without giving it a thought because they think it is the right approach to risk mitigation. But you will also have to perform other tests along with canary tests to ensure that your consumers are acquiring an optimistic experience from your product. Without a positive software experience, you cannot succeed in any kind of software development, and for that, canary testing might not be a good option.

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