7 Test Automation Frameworks & How to Pick Which to Use

The app development market is gigantic, and its growth shows no sign of slowing down. As of 2022, the market size of the app industry is 206.73 billion dollars, and the forecast for 2030 is a staggering figure of 565.40 billion dollars. Of course, many software organizations want a piece of that pie, competing for the attention (and wallets) of users and customers who grew accustomed to ever more sophisticated apps released at an accelerated pace.

When the competition is just a few clicks away, organizations that want to beat their competitors must ship code as fast as possible. However, that can and will result in quality issues if the organization doesn’t pay attention to software testing.

Since every change to a codebase could result in a regression—i.e., breaking something that worked up until that point—it’s crucial that the whole application is tested after every change, no matter how small that change appears to be. Doing so manually is economically unviable, thus highlighting the importance of automated testing and test automation tools.

In this post, you’ll learn what a test automation framework is. We’ll walk you through the benefits of using a framework and the different types of test automation frameworks available. Before our closing thoughts, we'll list seven frameworks so you can get to know the offering landscape regarding this tool. Let’s begin.

What Is a Test Automation Framework?

A test automation framework is a structure to support and guide your test automation efforts. It helps you get started quickly while giving you a set of guidelines to follow.

There are no rules regarding frameworks; they can assume various shapes and sizes. However, a test automation framework typically comes with tried-and-true solutions to common test automation challenges, such as:

  • a set of patterns, including coding standards, to organize and manage test scripts
  • a well-defined workflow that QA professionals, testers, and developers can follow
  • a shared vocabulary around testing and quality

Trying to conduct your tests manually would be too expensive and time-consuming. By using a test automation framework, you don't have to start from scratch. Fortunately, there are many intelligent people who have already done the hard work to solve testing problems in safe, efficient, and cost-effective ways. They then packaged their solutions and published them, using a variety of programming languages so that we can benefit from their work.

Benefits of Using a Test Automation Framework

Now that you know what a test automation framework is, we'll explain the "why." What are the benefits?

This section will be as technologically and process-agnostic as possible. The benefits we’ll cover here apply regardless of your choice of programming languages, development frameworks, or even development style. Java or Python, BDD or ATDD, web or mobile development, it’s all the same.

These are the benefits you can expect.

  • Reduced time to market: With the use of a test automation framework, teams can test much faster than they would manually, which means shipping features much faster.
  • Increased quality: An automated suite of tests acts as a safety net, catching defects before they make it to production and improving quality and user experience.
  • Team efficiency: With a defined workflow and shared vocabulary, teams are much more efficient in their testing strategies.
  • Lower costs: An automation framework lowers costs by making the testing process faster and catching more defects earlier when they’re cheaper to fix.
  • Increased test coverage: With automation tools, you can have much more comprehensive tests than you would by testing only manually.
  • Fewer regressions: As a consequence of the previous item, the tests catch more bugs sooner, resulting in fewer regressions.
  • Improved onboarding: A well-defined testing strategy can make onboarding of new hires easier if they already know the organization's test automation framework.

Types of Test Automation Frameworks

Remember earlier when we said that there aren’t rules regarding test automation frameworks?

We weren’t kidding.

As you’ll see, there are many types of frameworks out there, and we’ll walk you through the main ones. For each framework type, you’ll get the following:

  • Definition
  • Main advantages
  • Main downsides

Let’s begin.

Linear Automation Framework

The linear automation framework is the simplest of test automation framework types. It allows users to create tests without having to write any code. Instead, they use a process called “record and playback,” in which they interact with the application, performing the sequence of steps they want to verify.

The framework records those steps and can then run tests by replaying them. Here are the main advantages of this type of framework:

  • No need for coding skills: That way, developers can focus on creating new features, and people who don’t necessarily know how to code can create test scripts.
  • Easy and low-friction: A linear automation framework is an easiest and quickest way to start with test automation. The learning curve is shallow, and since the resulting steps are sequential, they’re easy to understand.

Now, here are the main disadvantages of linear automation frameworks:

  • Low reuse: You can’t typically reuse the test cases created with a linear framework. If you need the exact same step again, you’ll have to re-record it.
  • Low modularity: As a consequence of the previous step, there’s no way to achieve modularity using a linear framework.
  • High maintenance: Changes in the application’s UI tend to break these kinds of tests, resulting in high maintenance and low scalability.

Modular-Based Testing Framework

If many test cases start with the step “Go to the login page and sign in to the app,” then when the login page changes, all of those tests will break. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to “extract” the login step as an independent, reusable unit? That’s where modular testing frameworks come in handy.

With a modular-based testing framework, you break your applications (be they web applications, Android apps, or what have you) into many modules. Then, you create test scripts or test cases targeting each module individually. Finally, you assemble all of them into a larger test script that orchestrates all of the smaller ones.

Here are the advantages of modular-based testing frameworks:

  • Higher reusability: With modular tests, you can easily reuse common steps.
  • Lower test maintenance: When a module in the application changes, only the tests targeting that module break.
  • More efficiency: Reusable steps mean testers don’t spend time recreating them, resulting in more efficiency and agility when creating test cases.
  • Higher scalability as a result of all of the above.
  • Higher test coverage as a result of more efficiency and reuse.

And now, for the disadvantages:

  • Need for coding skills: This depends on the actual framework, but it’s common.
  • Hardcoded test data: With modular testing, you often embed test data into the tests themselves, making it hard to reuse the same step with a different set of data.

Library Architecture Testing Framework

You can think of the library architecture testing framework as a variation of the modular testing framework. Like its counterpart, it allows for reuse and modularity.

But instead of dividing up the app into modules, this approach consists of creating groups of testing scripts that target common tasks in the app and then collecting these groups into a library. Test scripts can then access the library to use the saved scripts whenever needed.

The advantages of library architecture testing frameworks are virtually the same ones from the modular testing framework:

  • Higher modularity
  • Higher reusability
  • Lower test maintenance

The disadvantages are also similar:

  • Altered scripts: Hard-coded data can mean you need to alter the scripts to operate with different sets of data.
  • Complexity might increase due to the introduction of the library concept.

Data-Driven Framework

The main goal of this type of framework is to enable the use of the same test script against several possible data sets. The data comes from external sources. Here are some examples:

  • Excel spreadsheets
  • CSV files
  • XML files
  • SQL scripts that query database tables

Here are the main advantages of a data-driven framework:

  • Test coverage: By separating the test logic from test data, you can quickly test a variety of scenarios just by varying the test data source.
  • Maintainability: Changes in the data don’t require editing the test scripts.

The main disadvantage of this model is the complexity that it creates. Typically, in order to enable this approach, you need an experienced software engineer who can write code that extracts and parses the test data from external files.

Keyword-Driven Framework

The keyword-driven framework is one of the most interesting options when it comes to reusability and modularity. It has several points in common with both the modular and library approaches.

The keyword-driven approach consists of storing actions a user can perform on the application in a source separate from the test code itself. Keywords uniquely identify each action.

Test scripts can then use the keywords to call the actions, achieving great flexibility and reusability.

Here are the advantages of this approach:

  • Modularity: Actions identified by keywords are small and very focused, which means you can easily compose them together.
  • Reusability: Many different test scripts can use the same action/keyword.

And here are the disadvantages:

  • Higher learning curve: Keyword-based solutions might present a steeper learning curve than most other types of frameworks.
  • Higher barrier to entry due to the effort needed to catalog all of the necessary keywords.

Hybrid Testing Framework

Each of the test automation framework types we’ve seen so far has its share of advantages and downsides. Where one type excels, another one struggles, and vice-versa. Wouldn’t it be great to have a type of framework that combined the strengths of all these other types?

That’s where the hybrid testing framework comes in handy. As its name suggests, it consists of combining other types of frameworks with the intention of creating a superior approach.

For instance, you can have a combination of the modular and data-driven approach, in which there are scripts that target specific modules of the application but obtain their test data from an excel spreadsheet. A linear test framework can give origin to small, reusable test steps that you can collect into a library.

In other words: The hybrid approach draws from all the other approaches, seeing what worked and what didn’t and combining the best pieces of each into a better approach.

Top Resources for Test Automation Frameworks 

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post, and we’re not done yet. Having explained the differences between the types of test automation frameworks, it’s time to treat you to a high-level view of some available frameworks.

1. Waldo

Waldo is a test automation framework aimed specifically at removing the pain from With Waldo’s hybrid approach, it’s possible to create reusable test flows without the need to write code. You can add your test cases to your CI pipeline, so regressions become a thing of the past.

Waldo tests can be added to folders, helping in the organization but also in modularity. It comes with a flakiness detection that helps you detect and fix fragile tests. It can also run the same tests against a variety of devices, ensuring maximum test coverage.

2. Robot Framework

Robot framework is an open-source automation framework. Written in Python, you can use it for test automation following a keyword-driven approach. You can extend Robot’s capabilities using libraries written in Java, Python, JavaScript, or other programming languages.

3. Selenium

Selenium is one of the most popular automation tools out there. Rather than just a testing framework, Selenium is a browser automation tool. You can use it to automate many tasks, but it’s usually for end-to-end testing.

Selenium comes in different editions, but the most flexible one is Selenium WebDriver. Through the use of Selenium WebDriver, it’s possible to use programming languages such as Java and JavaScript to drive browsers, creating automated flows. An additional testing tool—such as JUnit for Java—is necessary for the creation of test cases that are self-validating and self-reporting.

4. Cypress

Cypress is a popular test automation tool for web applications. It runs on JavaScript, and it’s known for being extremely fast for testing front-end applications.

5. Appium

Appium is an open-source test automation framework that targets native, hybrid, and mobile web apps. Appium is cross-platform, allowing you to target different platforms with the same code.

It’s important to keep in mind that Appium wraps another popular automation tool, Selenium, leveraging the web driver standard to also drive mobile applications. Like Selenium, Appium isn’t a test tool per se; you still need to complement it with the use of a testing framework (for things like a test runner and an assertion library).

6. OpenTest

According to its official site, “OpenTest is a free and open-source automation framework for web applications, mobile apps, and APIs.” It operates by integrating with tools such as Selenium and Appium. OpenTest also supports keyword-driven and data-driven approaches.

7. Gauge

Gauge is yet another open-source test automation framework. It specifically targets automation testing. With Gauge, you write test cases using Markdown, creating reusable test scenarios.

For the actual test execution, you wire up the test scenarios to the actual code you write using languages like Java, JavaScript, C#, and more. Gauge also supports data-driven testing.

Final Thoughts

This post was a deep dive into test automation frameworks. A test automation framework consists of a scaffold that can get you started quickly on your testing journey, and at the same time keep you grounded with a series of guidelines and conventions.

A test automation framework is a crucial part of the modern software development process. Just manual testing is no longer enough. Automated test suites that can run continuously and avoid regressions are imperative in today’s highly competitive industry.

As you’ve seen, there are many types of testing frameworks, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Frameworks that opt for a hybrid approach are clear winners here; they bring together the best of several worlds, and Waldo is a clear example of that.

Here are some of the main benefits of Waldo:

  • Reusable flows across different types of testing
  • Library approach through the use of folders
  • Creation of tests without the need for coding skills
  • Flakiness detection helps users detect and fix fragile tests
  • Using the same test scenarios across different devices, ensuring maximum test coverage
  • Sharing of tests through the use of source control branches
  • Mobile end-to-end testing

We invite you to take a look at Waldo. Start your free trial today.

This post was written by Carlos Schults. Carlos is a consultant and software engineer with experience in desktop, web, and mobile development. Though his primary language is C#, he has experience with a number of languages and platforms. His main interests include automated testing, version control, and code quality.