Why You Should Stress Test Web Apps During Development

By Joshua Gross, 13 May, 2022

When you create a web app, you're creating a digital product that aims to solve the problems of your target audience. You've likely thought long and hard about the features and functions you want your app to have and have tirelessly worked with a development team to create the perfect app.

While you've likely tested how your app will perform under many different potential scenarios, it's also vital to test unusual or abnormal circumstances to find the limits of your app.

This is where stress testing comes in. When you perform a stress test, you are purposefully treating your app as if you are a malicious user determined to break it. By approaching testing in this way, you can gain valuable insight into potential issues with your app that you would never have discovered during more testing that only looks at expected or common scenarios.

What is Stress Testing?

Stress testing is the process of testing software to see how stable it is in the case of abnormal or unusual scenarios. You can perform this testing to determine the exact point when the system will break and the error handling for the number of server requests, users, and more.

When you stress test your web app, the app is completely bombarded with an extra heavy load for a specific time. This onslaught is done to figure out how well the app handles errors and at what point it breaks.

Obviously, when you create a web app, you are hoping that your users will be well-intentioned rather than malicious. However, you have to create your app with the expectation that someone with nothing better to do will exploit any weak points. Regardless of whether or not this is likely to actually occur, by testing your web app as if you were a mal-intentioned user, you can learn the limits of your app and act accordingly. This process can help you be prepared for circumstances that you might never anticipate and ensure that there aren't security threats or losses of data.

Why Is It a Good Idea to Stress Test Web Apps During Development?

No matter how bombproof your web app is, there is always the potential for web software to break. As a general rule, if users can break your software or abuse it, they eventually will.

When software crashes, some of the main problems include potential security concerns and the possible loss of data during the shutdown. There are a lot of issues that might not ever make themselves known under normal load conditions, so stress testing allows teams to understand the issues that might crop up under peak load circumstances. They will then also evaluate which systems can keep functioning during these extreme loads or while some of their software is compromised.

To perform a stress test, loads that exceed reasonable estimates are simulated by specialists to test how well the web app does under stress. This can give you valuable information about how to prepare for extreme and unusual circumstances.

There is a lot of valuable information that stress testing can help you uncover, including:

  • Priority problems
  • Interlock problems
  • Synchronization and timing bugs
  • Memory leaks
  • Resource loss bugs
  • Data loss and corruption

The primary goal of stress testing is to ensure that the system will be able to recover smoothly after failure. This type of testing analyzes both user behavior and the system to determine precisely why the system crashed. By being able to collect errors and data during testing, you can take action to ensure recoverability in the case of a system crash.

When you perform stress testing, you can optimize your system to prevent breakdown.

In short, stress testing allows you to test your web app as if a malicious user were at the helm. This lets you understand which parts of your app will require hard limits to prevent breakdown.

For example, how many times can a user request a password reset email? In a typical scenario, a user would only need to do this once to reaccess your app. However, what if the user continuously requested a password reset repeatedly for three hours straight?

As another example, let's say that users can create new "characters" in your web app. A typical user might create one, five, or maybe ten characters. What if someone created 3,000 characters, though, or 3,000,000? Would it crash your database?

By performing stress testing, you can understand the hard limits you should set within your app to ensure that crashes and problems are avoided as much as possible. While stress testing is purposefully experimenting with unusual or even nearly impossible scenarios, it allows you to learn the limits of your app and optimize your app to avoid breakdowns.

What's the Difference Between Stress Testing and Load Testing?

It's worth noting that in the world of software testing, you'll often hear both the terms stress testing and load testing. While there are certainly similarities between these two different types of tests, they actually test for different types of conditions.

Load testing is a testing process that lets you measure your systems' behavior and its responses under peak load conditions. It does this by simulating high demand on the web application to verify the system's performance under high but expected load conditions.

On the other hand, stress testing is performed to find a system's breaking point. One of the primary purposes of this type of testing is to determine how the system will behave (and if it will behave as expected) if the load goes beyond the expected limit.

In stress testing, the stability of the systems is checked, and error handling is verified. It also involves checking for memory leaks, security threats, and more. This testing uses more than the maximum possible number of requests and users.

While stress testing is checking the stability of the system, load testing is checking the reliability of the system. Under load testing, error handling and security threats aren't necessarily tested. Load testing also only uses the maximum number of users and requests rather than exceeding the maximum number.

When Should You Conduct a Stress Test for Your Web App?

It's ideal to stress test your web app during the development phase to understand where the app's limits lie. This way, you can avoid potential problems before they crop up once your app is launched.

When you perform stress testing during development, you can detect issues early on in the process that could end up creating much bigger performance problems down the road.

Are you wondering how long it will take for your new web app to go from idea to reality? You can learn more here about how much time it typically takes to build a web app from start to finish.

What Are the Different Types of Stress Testing?

As you might imagine, there are many moving parts when it comes to a web app breaking under abnormal and extreme conditions. It's therefore important to perform stress testing in a variety of ways to learn as much information as possible about the breaking point of the app. Let's take a look at some of the primary types of stress tests.

Application Stress Test

When you perform an application stress test, you aim to find network and data bottlenecks. By identifying these problem areas, you can optimize your app's performance.

Transactional Stress Test

This type of stress testing is used to simulate the stress on the system when multiple interconnected applications are performing at least one transaction with one another. This might be between your app and a third-party application or between multiple internal systems. The reason behind performing this type of stress testing is to help fine-tune an interrelated system and optimize that system.

Exploratory Stress Test

Exploratory stress testing is a great way to learn valuable insight into your web app. In this type of testing, unusual conditions and abnormal parameters are put in place to test how the system responds. While these circumstances are extremely rare in the real world, they can let you know where the weak points are in the system that you would otherwise not identify.

For example, you might test what would happen if there were a ton of the read/write operations happening simultaneously, or you might test what would happen if a huge number of users decided to make a purchase simultaneously.

Systemic Stress Test

Systemic stress tests allow you to identify any trouble spots regarding different applications running on the same server.

Distributed Stress Test

Finally, distributed stress testing is a type of testing that allows you to investigate why certain clients would experience service interruption and the reasoning behind this. This is performed in a distributed client-server environment.

How Can You Optimize Your Stress Testing Strategy?

Like any software testing, you can go about it in a more or less organized manner. However, to get the most out of your stress testing, it's good to have a clear plan of action ahead of time.

Test Different Kinds of Users

It's common for applications to have many different types of users. For example, you might have return customers using your app and new users just checking out what you have to offer. In this scenario, you would generally consider that your return customers have a higher value than casual browsers, meaning that you would want to prioritize return customer workflows during stress tests.

You also might determine that some types of users are riskier than others. For example, some users might be saving more sensitive information and performing tasks on the app where security is of the utmost importance. As you might imagine, a crash for this type of user could be much more devastating and problematic than a crash for a user that isn't incorporating sensitive information that must be kept secure.

Take Network Speed Into Account

You're also going to want to think about network speed when performing stress tests. If your web app is a tool that helps drivers find the cheapest gas, for example, there's a good chance that most of your users access the app through their smartphone. In general, mobile traffic has increased tremendously in the last ten years, and you'll want to be aware of what percentage of your users are on mobile devices.

The reason for this is that a server-side slowdown can have a much bigger effect on people using a device connected to the LTE network. If mobile connections are slowed down, this could impact the number of connections available to the server at any time. This could affect the maximum number of simultaneous users because it takes longer for the user to progress through a workflow.

Are you feeling a little uninspired during the design phase of your web app development? Check out these fifteen modern examples of clean web app design.

Determine the Right Scenarios to Test

When creating a plan for stress testing a web app, it's not uncommon for developers to consider the most typical user workflows. However, if you only test the most standard scenarios, you might be missing important weak points and potential spots where user workflow could be improved.

Make It a Part of the Development Process

It's common for development teams to run performance tests leading up to expected events. For example, if you have an eCommerce web app, you might run a test before the holiday season. While this is generally a good idea, you don't want to overlook the benefits of running stress tests as a part of the development process and in an ongoing way after your app has launched.

Are You Looking For The Right Team to Develop Your Web App?

Testing is an essential part of web app development, and stress testing can allow you to learn about the limits of your app in a way that normal load testing can't. When you incorporate stress testing into your development phase, you can ensure that your app runs as smoothly as possible, no matter the number of users and requests.

Have you been searching for the right team to create your next web app? If so, drop us a line and let us know about your project.