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Understanding Equivalence Class Partitioning in Software Testing

Dhruvi Sachapara
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Dhruvi Sachapara
  • Apr 22, 2024
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    12 min read
Understanding Equivalence Class Partitioning in Software Testing
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The practice of analyzing a software application in any sector to find errors and make sure the program is created the way the customer wants it to be is known as software testing. This is a powerful black-box testing technique that aids in the creation of effective and focused test cases.

The ECP divides the input domain of a software program into sets of data called equivalence classes. All the values within a class are expected to be handled similarly by the program. By testing representative values from each class, we can achieve good test coverage with a reduced number of test cases compared to exhaustive testing.

What is an Equivalence class?

An equivalence class is a collection of input values that the software application is supposed to handle uniformly. These values share a common characteristic that determines how the program will process them.

Examples to illustrate the concept of ECP

  • Age Validation:
    • Valid Class: Ages between 18 and 65 (assuming adult eligibility).
    • Invalid Class: Ages less than 18 or greater than 65.
  • Username Field:
    • Valid Class: Alphanumeric characters (a-z, A-Z, 0-9) and underscores (_).
    • Invalid Class: Special characters, empty username, username exceeding a certain length, and empty space before, in-between, and after the username.

Equivalence partitioning process

Similar to how we approach any testing or QA process, we follow a structured and organized pathflow that guides us to reach our testing destination without any distraction. ECP also has an organized path to follow.

Steps involved in creating perfect classes

  1. Analyze requirements and Specifications
    Identify all input fields, their data types, and the expected behavior for different input values.
  2. Identify equivalence classes
    The most necessary part of equivalence partitioning testing is to divide valid and invalid inputs into separate classes based on their characteristics and expected program behavior.
  3. Define boundary values
    Identify minimum, maximum, and any other critical values within each class (e.g., edge cases).

Identifying input values that belong to the same class

Consider an integer input field with a range of -10 to 10. Here's how we might identify the classes:

  • Valid Class 1: Positive integers (1 to 10)
  • Valid Class 2: Zero (0)
  • Valid Class 3: Negative integers (-1 to -10)
  • Invalid Class: Values outside the range (less than -10 or greater than 10)

Merging ECP in Boundary Value Analysis

BVA focuses on testing values at the edges (boundaries) of the classes. ECP and BVA can be used together effectively. By selecting test cases from each class and including their boundary values, we can achieve a comprehensive coverage.

Benefits of Equivalence Class Partitioning Technique

Now that we have a brief idea of what equivalent class partitioning is and its significance in the world of quality testing, let's look at the various benefits of ECP to get an idea of why so many testers around the world are using the ECP technique.

  • Reduced Testing Effort
    ECP helps us focus on critical areas, reducing the overall number of test cases.
  • Improved Test Coverage
    ECP ensures a wide range of valid and invalid inputs are covered during testing.
  • Targeted Testing
    ECP helps identify critical areas, like boundary values, for targeted testing.
  • Systematic Approach
    ECP promotes a structured and organized way of designing test cases.

Practical examples of ECP

We have completed the theoretical part of the blog, now we will explore the practical part of the blog, starting with practical examples where we use ECP. We’ll look into various real-life scenarios, ranging from online shopping to discount codes as well.

Online Shopping

ECP shines when testing functionalities like adding items to a shopping cart and managing quantities.

The Classes:
Field Valid Class Invalid Class
Quantity Positive integers (1-10) Negative quantity
Quantity Zero quantity Non-numeric characters (abc)
Quantity Quantity exceeding stock limit
Test Cases:
Test Case ID Description Expected Result
TC_01 Add a valid quantity (e.g., 2) of a product to the cart Product added to cart with correct quantity reflected
TC_02 Try adding a negative quantity of a product Error message indicating invalid quantity
TC_03 Add zero quantity of a product Product not added to cart (or message indicating zero quantity)
TC_04 Try adding a large quantity exceeding available stock Error message indicating insufficient stock or quantity adjusted to available limit
TC_05 Enter non-numeric characters (e.g., "ten") in the quantity field Error message indicating invalid quantity format

Discount Code

ECP helps ensure discount codes are applied correctly based on their format and eligibility.

The Classes:
Field Valid Class Invalid Class
Discount Code Alphanumeric characters (uppercase and lowercase) Special characters (@, $, #, etc.)
Discount Code Valid code format (e.g., "SUMMER10") Incorrect code format
Discount Code Case-sensitive code (if applicable) Code entered with incorrect case (e.g., "summer10" for a case-sensitive code)
Discount Code Code within its validity period Expired code
Test Cases:
Field Valid Class Invalid Class
Discount Code Alphanumeric characters (uppercase and lowercase) Special characters (@, $, #, etc.)
Discount Code Valid code format (e.g., "SUMMER10") Incorrect code format
Discount Code Case-sensitive code (if applicable) Code entered with incorrect case (e.g., "summer10" for a case-sensitive code)
Discount Code Code within its validity period Expired code

Date input

Date formats are used in almost every domain, whether it's an educational site or a shopping site. ECP makes the testing process of these date formats much simpler.

The Classes:
Field Valid Class Invalid Class
Discount Code Alphanumeric characters (uppercase and lowercase) Special characters (@, $, #, etc.)
Discount Code Valid code format (e.g., "SUMMER10") Incorrect code format
Discount Code Case-sensitive code (if applicable) Code entered with incorrect case (e.g., "summer10" for a case-sensitive code)
Discount Code Code within its validity period Expired code
Test Cases:
Field Valid Class Invalid Class
Discount Code Alphanumeric characters (uppercase and lowercase) Special characters (@, $, #, etc.)
Discount Code Valid code format (e.g., "SUMMER10") Incorrect code format
Discount Code Case-sensitive code (if applicable) Code entered with incorrect case (e.g., "summer10" for a case-sensitive code)
Discount Code Code within its validity period Expired code

Avoid common mistakes while considering ECP

By lowering redundancy and boosting coverage, Equivalence Partitioning is an effective testing approach that facilitates the testing process. Like any approach, though, if it isn't used effectively, mistakes might happen. For testing to be effective, it is essential to comprehend these typical errors. Here’s an overview:

  • Lack of prioritization
    Not all classes are equally critical. Failing to prioritize them based on risk and importance can lead to inefficient testing and delayed bug detection.
    Let’s consider an example
    of a banking application where users can transfer funds. Classes could include different types of account balances (e.g., positive balance, zero balance, negative balance).
    In this scenario, transactions involving accounts with negative balances might pose higher risks due to potential overdraft issues. Failing to prioritize this class could result in delayed bug detection.
  • Blindly relying on ECP alone
    While ECP is an effective technique, it should not be used in isolation. Combining it with other testing techniques, such as boundary value analysis and decision table testing, enhances test coverage and defect detection.
    Taking an example of a healthcare application, suppose ECP identifies classes for patient age groups (e.g., infants, children, and adults). However, relying solely on ECP might overlook critical scenarios such as specific medical conditions that require tailored testing approaches.
  • Inadequate handling of complex conditions
    When dealing with complex systems or input conditions, testers may struggle to properly partition the classes. It’s essential to break down complex scenarios into manageable partitions to ensure solid and complete testing that can handle complex systems.
    Imagine
    testing a flight booking system where availability depends on various factors such as destination, date, and passenger type (e.g., adult, senior, or child).Partitioning solely based on passenger type may overlook complex scenarios, such as peak travel season or blackout dates!
  • Overlapping classes
    When defining partitioning classes, ensure they are distinct and non-overlapping. Overlapping classes can result in redundant tests, undermining the efficiency of ECP.
    Consider an example of an E-commerce platform. Classes for product pricing might include regular prices, discounted prices, and clearance prices.If the definitions of these classes overlap—for example, a discounted price that falls within the range of clearance prices—testing might duplicate efforts, leading to inefficiencies.
  • Neglecting boundary values
    One of the most common mistakes is overlooking boundary values while partitioning classes. Boundaries often harbor bugs, so failing to include them can lead to inadequate or incomplete test coverage.
    Let’s take an example of testing a password validation feature in a web application. Classes for password length might include short passwords, medium-length passwords, and long passwords. Neglecting boundary values such as minimum and maximum password lengths could result in missed defects related to input validation.

Misunderstandings that can lead to ineffective testing

Let's now examine four common misconceptions that may result in poor or inefficient testing, which will eventually harm the project and the testers.

  1. Neglecting domain knowledge
    Effective ECP requires a deep understanding of the system under test and its domain. Without adequate domain knowledge, testers may misclassify equivalence classes or miss critical scenarios.
  2. Failing to update the classes
    Systems evolve over time, and so should the classes. Failing to update them to reflect changes in requirements or functionality can result in outdated and ineffective testing.
  3. Lack of collaboration
    Testing is a cooperative process with many different parties involved. Inadequate collaboration or misunderstandings between business analysts, developers, and testers can lead to incorrect assumptions and subpar testing strategies.
  4. Equivalence classes = Test cases
    Assuming that defining equivalence classes is equivalent to creating test cases is a common misconception. Equivalence classes serve as a basis for test case generation but don't encompass all testing scenarios.

Best practices for equivalence class partitioning testing

It’s time for the final section of the blog, “Best Practices” for Using the ECP. We’ll dive deep into the best tips for ECP, how to perform the practice, and what will be the outcome of these tips or their impact on the testing process. After that, we will look at what other techniques we can fuse with ECP.

Best practices for equivalence class partitioning testing

Understand the System Under Test (SUT)

Before applying ECP, thoroughly understand the system's requirements, functionalities, and user expectations. This understanding forms the basis for identifying relevant input conditions and equivalence classes.

Steps to perform this practice
  1. Requirements Review: Meticulously examine the System Under Test's (SUT) requirements documents, including functional specifications, user stories, and acceptance criteria.
  2. Functionality Deep Dive: Gain a thorough understanding of the SUT's functionalities and how different components interact. This can involve code reviews, system flowcharts, and discussions with developers.
  3. User Expectations: Consider user expectations and how they might interact with the system. Understanding common use cases will help identify relevant input conditions.
What is the impact?
  1. Increased Test Efficiency: A deep understanding of the SUT's functionality leads to the identification of relevant input conditions and the creation of focused classes, avoiding unnecessary testing efforts.
  2. Improved Test Coverage: By grasping user expectations and system interactions, you ensure the classes capture real-world use cases and potential edge behaviors.

Identify the classes wisely

Identify the classes based on input conditions that exhibit similar behavior from the system. Aim for maximum coverage while keeping the number of classes manageable. Consider factors like data types, ranges, and constraints.

Steps to perform this practice
  1. Input Conditions: Focus on the input conditions that the SUT receives. These could be user inputs, data from external sources, or internal system triggers.
  2. Similar Behavior: Group input conditions that are expected to evoke similar behavior from the SUT into classes.
  3. Manage Complexity: Aim for a balance between comprehensive coverage and manageable testing efforts. Create enough classes to capture all significant scenarios without getting bogged down in an excessive number of tests.
  4. Consideration Factors: When defining classes, consider factors like data types (integers, strings, and booleans), valid ranges (positive and negative numbers, specific date formats), and defined constraints (minimum and maximum lengths).
What is the impact?
  1. Enhanced Test Effectiveness: Grouping input conditions with similar behavior leads to the creation of test cases that effectively target specific functionalities, maximizing defect detection within each class.
  2. Optimized Testing Resources: Focusing on a manageable number of classes with broad coverage avoids test case explosion and allows for efficient use of testing resources.

Include boundary values

Don't overlook boundary values—they often harbor defects. Include boundary values within partition classes to ensure comprehensive coverage and detect boundary-related issues effectively.

Steps to perform this practice
  1. Don't Neglect the Edges: Boundary values, which lie at the edges of defined ranges or represent minimum or maximum allowed values, are prime targets for defects.
  2. Explicit Inclusion: Ensure that boundary values are explicitly included within your chosen classes. This guarantees that the SUT's behavior at these critical points is thoroughly tested.
What is the impact?
  1. Reduced Defect Leakage: Boundary values are often breeding grounds for bugs. Explicitly including them in your ECP ensures thorough testing at critical points, minimizing the chances of defects slipping through the cracks.
  2. Improved System Reliability: By validating the SUT's behavior at the edges of its defined ranges, you contribute to a more robust system that performs consistently even under extreme input conditions.

Prioritize based on risk

Prioritize the selection and execution of the classes based on risk, complexity, and business importance. Allocate more testing efforts to critical classes and scenarios to maximize defect detection within limited resources.

Steps to perform this practice
  1. Risk Assessment: Evaluate the potential risks associated with different classes. Classes with higher risks (e.g., security vulnerabilities, critical functionalities) warrant more intensive testing.
  2. Complexity Considerations: Classes involving complex logic or intricate functionalities might require more test cases compared to simpler classes.
  3. Business Importance: Prioritize classes based on their impact on business objectives. Functionality crucial for core business operations deserves more testing focus.
  4. Resource Allocation: With limited testing resources, prioritize high-risk, complex, and business-critical classes to maximize defect detection efficiency.
What is the impact?
  1. Maximized Defect Detection: By focusing testing efforts on high-risk, complex, and business-critical classes, you significantly increase the likelihood of uncovering critical defects that could have a major impact on the system's functionality or user experience.
  2. Efficient Resource Allocation: Limited testing resources are strategically directed towards areas with the most potential for encountering issues, leading to a more productive and efficient testing process.

Review and update classes regularly

Review and update the classes regularly throughout the software development lifecycle. As requirements evolve or new features are added, ensure that the classes accurately reflect the system's current state.

Steps to perform this practice
  1. Life Cycle Integration: Don't treat ECP as a one-time activity. Integrate it throughout the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC).
  2. Evolutionary Updates: As requirements evolve, features are added, or bug fixes are implemented, revisit your classes to ensure they accurately reflect the current state of the SUT.
What is the impact?
  1. Continued Test Relevance: As the SUT evolves, outdated classes can lead to irrelevant or incomplete testing. Regularly updating them ensures your tests remain aligned with the system's current state.
  2. Reduced Regression Risks: Keeping the classes updated minimizes the risk of introducing regressions (unintended side effects from changes) during development or updates.

Clear documentation

Document partition classes with clear descriptions, including input conditions, expected behaviors, and associated risks. Clear documentation aids in test planning, execution, and maintenance.

Steps to perform this practice
  1. Detailed Descriptions: Document each class with clear and concise descriptions. Include the input conditions that fall within the class, expected system behavior, and any associated risks.
  2. Benefits of Documentation: Clear documentation serves several purposes: it aids in test case design, facilitates communication among testers and developers, and simplifies test maintenance during future updates.
What is the impact?
  1. Improved Test Planning: Clear documentation facilitates the creation of well-defined test cases that accurately target the intended input conditions within each class.
  2. Enhanced Collaboration: Detailed records enable better communication and collaboration between testers, developers, and other stakeholders by providing a shared understanding of the testing strategy.
  3. Simplified Test Maintenance: During future updates or bug fixes, clear documentation allows testers to quickly modify or update test cases associated with specific classes, ensuring continued test effectiveness.

Perform cross-checking and Validation

Cross-check classes with stakeholders, developers, and domain experts to ensure accuracy and completeness. Validate that the identified classes cover all relevant scenarios and edge cases.

Steps to perform this practice
  1. Stakeholder Involvement: Engage with stakeholders, developers, and domain experts to review your defined equivalence classes. Get their feedback on accuracy, completeness, and whether they cover all relevant scenarios, including potential edge cases.
  2. Completeness Assurance: Validate that your identified classes encompass all significant input conditions and potential behaviors of the SUT. Ensure you haven't missed any critical scenarios.
What is the impact?
  1. Increased Test Confidence: By involving stakeholders in reviewing the equivalence classes, you gain valuable insights and ensure they encompass all relevant scenarios from different perspectives. This leads to a higher level of confidence in the test coverage.
  2. Reduced Test Bias: Independent feedback from domain experts and developers helps identify potential blind spots or biases in your initial definition of classes, leading to a more comprehensive testing approach.

Combining ECP with other testing methods

After looking at various best practices for using ECP in your testing process, let’s look at what other testing methods can co-exist with ECP to give your testing efforts a massive boost.

  • Decision table testing
    Use decision tables to handle complex combinations of input conditions and actions. Combine decision tables with ECP to address scenarios where multiple inputs interact to determine system behavior.
  • State transition testing
    In systems with stateful behavior, combine ECP with state transition testing to validate transitions between different system states. Define equivalence classes for input conditions that trigger state changes and verify the system's responses accordingly.
  • Error guessing
    Supplement ECP with error-guessing techniques to explore unforeseen scenarios and error-prone areas in the system. Leverage domain knowledge and past experiences to identify potential defects beyond the scope of ECP.
  • Exploratory testing
    Incorporate exploratory testing alongside ECP to uncover hidden defects and validate the system's behavior in real-world usage scenarios. Use intuition and creativity to explore various paths and inputs beyond predefined equivalence classes.
  • Model-based testing
    Employ model-based testing techniques to generate test cases automatically based on system models. Use ECP to define input domains within the models and guide the generation of test scenarios.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Equivalence Class Partitioning (ECP) has emerged as a valuable technique in software testing. It streamlines the test case design process by grouping input conditions with similar behavior into equivalence classes. This allows testers to focus on a representative set of test cases within each class, ensuring efficient and targeted testing.

Considering to implement ECP in your software testing strategy? The team at Alphabin is here to help! Please get in touch with us if you have any concerns or need further help implementing ECP to meet your unique testing requirements. We will be pleased to help you develop a reliable and effective testing strategy.

Something you should read...

Frequently Asked Questions

Could you give me multiple equivalence class partitioning examples?
FAQ ArrowFAQ Minus Arrow

Sure, for the first equivalence class example consider a login feature that accepts a 4-digit PIN. Any 4-digit number, such as 1234, would be a valid equivalence class; non-numeric inputs, numbers with fewer or more than 4 digits, would be considered invalid classes.

Let's delve into another equivalence class scenario: a form validation for email addresses. Valid classes would include standard email formats like 'example@email.com' or 'user123@example.co.uk'. However, entries lacking the '@' symbol or with invalid domain extensions, such as 'example.com@', would fall into the invalid classes.

What are the guidelines for creating comprehensive classes?
FAQ ArrowFAQ Minus Arrow

The guidelines for creating comprehensive classes include:

  • If a range is specified, create one valid or two invalid classes.
  • If a specific value is required, create one valid class and at least one invalid class.
  • For set-based inputs, create one valid and one invalid class.
  • For boolean inputs, create one valid and one invalid class.
How do you identify the classes for ECP?
FAQ ArrowFAQ Minus Arrow

The classes are determined by looking at the system's input requirements. For example, if an input takes values between 1 and 100, then any number between 1 and 100 would be a legitimate equivalency class, whereas numbers less than 1 or larger than 100 would be two invalid classes.

What are the benefits of using ECP?
FAQ ArrowFAQ Minus Arrow

The equivalence class testing in software testing offers several advantages:

  • Increased efficiency: Focuses testing efforts on relevant scenarios, reducing unnecessary test cases.
  • Enhanced coverage: Ensures tests address a wide range of input possibilities, minimizing the risk of missed defects.
  • Improved defect detection: Targets critical areas with a higher likelihood of harboring defects.
  • Optimized resource allocation: Enables efficient utilization of testing resources.

About the author

Dhruvi Sachapara

Dhruvi Sachapara

Dhruvi Sachapara works at Alphabin as a highly qualified Quality Assurance Engineer.

She has a strong sense of problem-solving and an excellent eye for detecting problems. Her areas of expertise are JavaScript, Node.js, and React.js.

She efficiently handles a variety of projects, guaranteeing flawless software quality at every turn. Dhruvi is well known for her meticulous approach and her ability to produce consistently excellent results.

More about the author

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