Every business runs on software, and all software needs to be vetted before it is released to users. Beta testing and other crowd-sourcing methods have their uses, but they aren’t available for every step of the process.

Automated testing is vital to developing good tools, resources, and products. For that, you need test automation frameworks.

Insufficiently tested software releases lead to unhappy customers. Conversely, comprehensive testing is expensive.

Frameworks supply resources and a streamlined process to test designers. This cuts labor costs, overall time investments in testing and other resources tied to deploying any software or computerized service. Much like a programming language saves programmers time by circumventing work in machine code, an automation framework helps testers by skipping some of the raw programming steps in the process.

In this article, we will discuss the types of frameworks and the benefits of each.

software testing cycle development

What is a Test Automation Framework?

A set of guidelines or standards that can help create quality assurance tests is commonly referred to as a test automation framework. The principle is that following a framework will improve the efficiency of both designing and executing automated tests that generate meaningful results.

These solutions provide the primary features of automated testing out of the box. Test platforms include a selection of features and the ability to script customized, repeatable tests. Often, automated testing solutions will work with existing technologies, APIs, and plug-ins, developing a robust feature set. This creates an environment through which testers can run and analyze their automated testing.

Types of Testing Frameworks

The journey from knowing what a framework begins by understanding the different mainstream formats and their advantages and disadvantages.

Module Based

A module-based framework breaks the overall test into smaller pieces. Each of those pieces is entirely independent of the others. This allows the test to assess different segments of the process in question to find areas of opportunity for improvement. The independent modular test results are then recombined for an overall quality assurance rating.

Modular testing has some definite advantages. The largest is the ability to reuse code. Each tested component might need to be assessed individually, but that does not require it to have unique scripts or parameters to run those tests. Any common actions among different modules can be operated with the same scripts. This saves time in both developing and performing the tests.

Conversely, modular testing comes with an inherent disadvantage. The framework is one that requires data sets to be embedded into the individual tests. If a function needs to be tested across a wide range of inputs, a modular framework will prove cumbersome.

Library Architecture Testing

A library test automation framework architecture takes the concept of modular testing and tries to organize it more efficiently. Rather than testing the different components of the code in question, a library architecture framework groups similar functions. That enables a single module to test multiple interactions within the overall software and compare the results.

Library architecture might better be understood through an example. Consider a service that requires a user to log in. That action might appear at a number of different points within the service, so the library architecture finds and catalogs every such occurrence to test them with a single module. Interactions that require a user input variable data (such as financial statements for balancing a ledger) might be grouped in a different module.

This architecture adds layers of efficiency to traditional modular testing, but it still requires the same data embedding. In that, library shares the fundamental weakness of modular frameworks.

Data-Driven Frameworks

A data-driven framework takes a substantially different approach to test design. The fundamental difference is that input data is stored separately from testing scripts. This eliminates the embedded-data issue that exists with modular frameworks. It also makes data-driven frameworks ideal for rapid-fire tests that simply rotate input data.

An additional advantage of this design philosophy is that it can simultaneously compare expectation values with actual test results. It can then tabulate that comparison across a range of parameters. This makes data-driven frameworks an obvious choice for tests that need such variable data, but there is a con. These tests require a higher understanding of the systems involved during the design stage. That can lead to non-trivial increases in test-design costs.

Keyword Driven Frameworks

Keyword-driven frameworks take the data-driven philosophy and run with it. In addition to storing data tables separately, they also save blocks of code on separate files. Entire scripts and more can be listed in external tables to be drawn as needed.

A keyword-driven framework streamlines test design. Since any given test function can be quickly identified and accessed by its keyword (hence the name), variable test scenarios can be mapped and executed in short order. Many keywords can be taken from open sources and grafted into the desired test. It’s a preferred methodology for testers who are not necessarily experts within the application field that is under scrutiny (e.g., a computer science specialist testing a fast food kiosk).

The drawback is that they can quickly complicate the testing system. An abundance of keywords can sometimes damage efficiency; this is an important trap to avoid.

Hybrid Testing

With the fundamental frameworks explained, it’s possible to cover the real bread and butter of automated testing frameworks: hybrid testing.

As the name implies, this includes any framework that combines any of the fundamental principles already covered. A keyword framework can potentially be used to rapidly build modular tests. Such a combination is ideal for anticipating user-friendliness and intuitive design. There is no real limit on how a hybrid automation framework can be combined. Real-world applications include hybridization more often than not.

diagram of types of test automation frameworks

Testing Automation Framework Software


Selenium can be described as a framework for a framework.
Many of the most modern and specialized frameworks draw design elements from Selenium. They are also often made to work in concert with Selenium.

Its original purpose was testing web applications, but over the years it has grown considerably. Selenium supports C#, Python, Java, PHP, Ruby and virtually any other language and protocol needed for web applications.
Selenium comprises one of the largest communities and support networks in automation testing. Even tests that aren’t designed initially on Selenium will often draw upon this framework for at least some elements.


Serenity BDD (also known as Thucydides) is a Java-based framework that is designed to take advantage of behavior-driven development tools. Compatible with JBehave and Cucumber, Serenity makes it easier to create acceptance and regression testing. Serenity works on top of behavior-driven development tools and the Selenium WebDriver, essentially creating a secure access framework that can be used to create robust and complex products. Functionality in Serenity includes state management, WebDriver management, Jira integration, screenshot access, and parallel testing.

Through this built-in functionality, Serenity can make the process of performance testing much faster. It comes with a selection of detailed reporting options out-of-the-box, and a unique method of annotation called @Step. @Step is designed to make it easier to both maintain and reuse your tests, therefore streamlining and improving your test processes. Recent additions to Serenity have brought in RESTful API testing, which works through integration with REST assured. As an all-around testing platform, Serenity is one of the most feature complete.

Robot Framework

Robot is a keyword-driven framework that excels in generating easy, useful and manageable testing reports and logs. The extensive, pre-existing libraries streamline most test designing.

This enables Robot Framework to empower test designers with less specialty and more general knowledge. It drives down costs for the entire process — especially when it comes to presenting test results to non-experts.

It functions best when the range of test applications is broad. It can handle website testing, FTP, Android, and many other ecosystems. For diverse testing and absolute freedom in development, it’s one of the best.

Well suited to environments where testers may not have substantial development or programming skills.


RedwoodHQ is an Open Source test automation framework that works with any tool.

It uses a web-based interface that is designed to run tests on an application with multiple testers. Tests can be scripted in C#, Python, or Java/Groovy, and web-based applications can be tested through APIs, Selenium, and their web IDE. Creating test scripts can be completed on a drag-and-drop basis, and keyword-friendly searches make it easier for testers to develop their test cases and actions.

Though it may not be suitable for more in-depth testing, RedwoodHQ is a superb starting place and an excellent choice for those who operate in a primarily tester-driven environment. For developers, this performance testing tool may prove to be too shallow. That being said, it is a complete automation tool suite and has many necessary features built in.


Gauge aims to be a universal testing framework. Gauge is built around being lightweight. It uses a plugin architecture that can be work with every major language, ecosystem, and IDE in existence today.

It is primarily a data-driven architecture, but the emphasis on simplicity is its real strength. Gauge tests can be written in a business language and still function. This makes it an ideal framework for projects that span workgroups. It is also a favorite for business experts who might be less advanced in scripting and coding. It is genuinely difficult to find a system that cannot be tested with Gauge.


Breaking from the previous two frameworks, Appium is specialized. It has one purpose: testing mobile apps.

That does not mean to imply that it has a limited range of testing options. It works natively with iOS, Android and other mobile operating systems. It supports simulators and emulators, and it is a darling for test designers who are also app developers. Perhaps the most notable perk of Appium is that it enables testing environments that do not require any changes to the original app code. That means apps are tested in their ready-to-ship state and produces test results that are as reliable as possible.

Citrus Integration Testing

Another specialized framework, Citrus appeals to those who prefer tried and true. Citrus is designed to test messaging protocol. It contains support for HTTP, REST, SOAP and JMS.

When applications need to communicate across platforms or protocols, there isn’t a more robust choice. It integrates well with other staple frameworks (like Selenium) and streamlines tests that compare user interfaces with back-end processes (such as verifying that the send button works when clicked). This enables an increased number of checks in a single test and an increase in test confidence.

Apache JMeter

JMeter is made for load testing. It works with static and dynamic resources, and these tests are critical to all web applications.

It can simulate loads on servers, server groups, objects and networks to ensure integrity on every level of the network. Like Citrus, it works across communication protocols and platforms for a universal look at communication. Unlike Citrus, it’s emphasis is not in basic functionality but in assessing high-stress activity.

A favorite function among testers is JMeter’s ability to perform offline tests and replay test results. It enables far more scrutiny without keeping servers and networks busy during important traffic hours.


A light and straightforward open source Ruby library for automating tests, Watir can be used for cross-browser testing and data-driven testing.

It also can be integrated with Cucumber, Test/Unit, and RSpec, and is open source. This is a solid product for organizations that want to automate their web testing specifically, as well as organizations that work in a Ruby environment.

Finding The Right Testing Frameworks and Methodologies

By now it is clear that there is no single framework that is perfect for every test scenario.

The open-source frameworks listed above are also only a fraction of the total available. For their purpose, they are the best of the best, and if your test falls under their strengths, you are all set. They also cover the majority of mainstream testing needs. If you have an obscure niche, then additional research is necessary. Regardless, learning about test automation frameworks is only a single step in the journey.