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Black Box Testing: Types, Techniques, Pros and Cons

October 12, 2023
Nickolay Bakharev

What Is Black Box Testing in Software Engineering? 

Black box testing involves evaluating the functionality of software without peering into its internal structures or workings. The term “black box” refers to a system where the internal mechanics are unknown, and testing solely focused on the output generated by a given input.

When conducting black box testing, the tester doesn’t need knowledge of the internal structure of the software; the test is conducted from a user’s perspective. This type of testing can be applied to every level of software testing, including unit testing, integration testing, acceptance testing, and security testing.

The primary advantage of black box testing lies in its focus on the user perspective, ensuring that the software meets user requirements and expectations, and cannot be attacked by external malicious parties. It is not concerned with code efficiency or structure, but rather with functionality and usability, which are paramount for the end user.

This is part of a series of a series of articles about application security testing

In this article:

Black Box vs. White Box Testing 

While black box testing focuses on the functionality without considering the internal structure of the software, white box testing involves the detailed investigation of internal logic and structure of the code.

White box testing is also referred to as “glass box”, “clear box”, or “structural testing”. It requires intricate knowledge of the internal workings of the code being tested. The tester is aware of the internal software structure and designs test cases to cover multiple paths through the software.

The primary difference between the two lies in their approach. While black box testing is input-output driven, white box testing is code driven. Both play a crucial role in software testing and are usually used in conjunction to create robust, reliable software.

Types Of Black Box Testing 

Here are the main types of black box testing:

Functional Testing

Functional testing is a type of black box testing that focuses on validating the software against functional requirements and specifications. It ensures that the software behaves as expected in response to specific inputs. Functional testing is conducted at all levels and includes techniques like unit testing, integration testing, system testing, and acceptance testing.

Non-Functional Testing

While functional testing focuses on what the software does, non-functional testing is concerned with how the software performs. It evaluates aspects like the performance, usability, reliability, and compatibility. Black-box non-functional testing checks these criteria from the end-user’s perspective. For example, a black-box performance test of a website might simulate a user session and measure the actual page load time.

Security Testing

Security testing is a type of black box testing that checks the software for any potential vulnerabilities or security risks. It aims to ensure that the software is secure from any threats and that the data and resources of the system are protected from breaches.

Black-box security testing is performed from the perspective of an external attacker, and can help identify vulnerabilities like injection attacks, denial of service attacks, and other security threats. It ensures that the software is robust enough to prevent and mitigate potential attack vectors.

Black Box Functional Testing Techniques 

Here are a few techniques commonly used to perform black box functionality testing.

Equivalence Partitioning

Equivalence partitioning, also known as equivalence class partitioning (ECP), is a black box testing technique that divides the input data of a software unit into partitions of equivalent data. The primary purpose of this technique is to reduce the number of test cases to a manageable size while still ensuring the coverage of the application.

The primary principle behind equivalence partitioning is that the system should treat all the cases in an equivalence class the same. Therefore, if a test case from an equivalence class passes, the other test cases from the same class are expected to pass. This method helps to identify and eliminate redundant test cases, thereby saving time and resources.

Boundary Value Analysis

Boundary value analysis (BVA) is another black box testing technique used in software engineering. It’s built on the premise that errors most often occur at the boundaries of the input domain rather than the center. This technique involves creating test cases for the boundary values of the input domain. BVA is very effective at identifying errors without requiring testing of every possible value. 

Decision Table Testing

Decision table testing is a systematic and organized black box testing technique used to deal with complex systems. This technique is beneficial when the system’s behavior is different for different combinations of inputs. It’s often used when there are multiple inputs that can have different values and can result in different outputs.

A decision table represents inputs and outputs in a structured, tabular form, making it easy to understand. It ensures the coverage of all possible combinations, thus making the test cases more comprehensive and robust.

State Transition Testing

State transition testing is a black box testing technique used to test the behavior of a software application for different input conditions given in a sequence. It’s particularly useful when software behavior changes from one state to another following particular actions.

This technique uses a state transition diagram to represent the different states of a system and the transitions from one state to another. It can help validate a software application’s behavior when it has a sequence of events or needs to maintain a specific order of events.

Use Case Testing

Use case testing is a black box testing technique that uses use cases to identify test cases. A use case is a description of a system’s behavior as it responds to an end-user’s need or request.

This testing technique helps in identifying all possible scenarios for a particular functionality. It ensures that the system can handle and respond to every request correctly and effectively.

Common Black Box Security Testing Techniques 

Here are a few techniques used to carry out black box security testing.

Fuzzing

Fuzzing, also known as fuzz testing, is a technique that involves providing invalid, unexpected, or random data as input to the software. The aim of this technique is to find crash or exploit vulnerabilities in the software.

Fuzzing is a powerful technique because it can help identify coding errors and security loopholes that might not be visible during regular testing phases. It can help in identifying buffer overflow vulnerabilities, memory leaks, and more.

Penetration Testing

Penetration Testing, often referred to as pentesting, is a technique in which a simulated attack is performed on the software to identify vulnerabilities. A penetration test attempts to breach the security of the software, just like a real-world attacker would do, but without causing damage and with the goal of discovering and mitigating security issues.

This technique is highly beneficial as it allows testers to identify how an attacker could gain access to the software and what vulnerabilities they could potentially exploit.

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)

Dynamic application security testing (DAST) is a black box security testing approach that evaluates a software application in its runtime environment. Unlike other testing techniques that focus on examining the codebase, DAST focuses on the live application, aiming to find vulnerabilities that might be exploited during real-world operations.

DAST tests the application from an external vantage point, much like an attacker would. This means the technique does not require access to the underlying source code, making it particularly useful for applications where the source is not readily accessible. The method provides an immediate feedback loop, allowing vulnerabilities like runtime issues, server misconfigurations, and application environment vulnerabilities to be detected and addressed in real-time.

Web Application Testing

As web applications become a critical asset for many organizations, web application testing is growing in importance. It involves testing web applications to find vulnerabilities or issues that could affect the functionality, performance, or security of the application.

Black box web application testing can help identify issues like SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and other vulnerabilities. It ensures that the web application is secure, user-friendly, and performs well under different scenarios.

Black Box Functional Testing: Pros and Cons 

Let’s review some of the pros and cons of using black box testing methods for functional testing.

Pros

  • Simplicity: Black box testing does not require specific programming knowledge, so it allows virtually anyone to be a tester, including those who may not have a deep understanding of the software’s internal workings. This simplicity also speeds up the testing process, as testers can begin writing test cases as soon as the software’s specifications are complete.
  • User-focused: Black box testing encourages testers to disregard the internal system, and to focus on the system’s functionality as a user would. This naturally aligns the focus of testing with the user experience, encouraging testers to discover and understand issues that users would encounter. By focusing on the user experience rather than the technical aspects, black box testing enables creating test cases that more accurately reflect user behavior.
  • Efficient for large code bases: Because it is not necessary to understand the code that powers the software, testers can start working without having to understand a large and complex code base. Also, black box test cases can typically be executed even if there is a change in the underlying system functionality.

Cons

  • Limited coverage: Since black box testing focuses on the system’s functionality, it can miss errors in the system’s structure or inner workings. For example, black box testing may not effectively detect memory leaks or other issues that occur within the system’s structure.
  • Potential for redundancy: Since testers are not privy to the system’s internal structure, they may unknowingly create multiple test cases that check for the same thing. This redundancy can lead to wasted time and resources.
  • Difficulty in identifying complex issues: Since black box testing focuses on the system’s functionality, it may overlook complex issues that arise from the system’s structure or internal workings. For example, issues related to concurrency or data consistency might not be easily identifiable through black box testing.

Black Box Security Testing: Pros and Cons 

Pros

  • Low chance of false positives: In black box security testing, the tester or testing tool attempts to exploit vulnerabilities from the attacker’s perspective. If an exploit succeeds, there is a high chance that the vulnerability really exists. 
  • Reveals hidden vulnerabilities: Another advantage of black box security testing is that it can reveal hidden vulnerabilities. These are issues that may not be apparent during regular operation but could be exploited by malicious individuals or software. 
  • Identifies configuration and deployment issues: A configuration issue could be as simple as a setting that’s been left at its default value, potentially opening the door for an attack. Alternatively, a deployment issue could be a component that hasn’t been properly installed or configured.

Cons

  • Difficulty in pinpointing root cause: Since black box testers do not have access to the internal workings of the system, they can only identify that a problem exists, not why it exists. This can make it difficult to develop a solution, as the underlying cause of the issue may not be apparent.
  • Potential overhead: Running comprehensive black box tests can be resource-intensive, potentially slowing down the system or even causing it to become unresponsive. However, modern dynamic testing tools can operate without slowing down live systems.
  • Incomplete coverage: Because black box testing doesn’t have access to the system’s internal code, they can’t check every line for potential vulnerabilities. This means that some issues could slip through the cracks and go unnoticed until they’re exploited by an attacker.

Best Practices for Effective Black Box Testing 

Understand the Requirements

Before you can effectively test a system, you need to have a comprehensive understanding of the system requirements. This includes understanding the system’s functionality, the data it will process, and the security requirements it must meet. Without a full grasp of these requirements, it’s impossible to create effective test cases.

Having a comprehensive understanding of the requirements also helps you identify potential problem areas in the application. This knowledge allows you to focus your testing efforts on areas that are likely to have the most issues, thereby increasing the effectiveness of your testing procedures.

Prioritize Test Cases

Not all test cases are of equal importance. Some areas of the application are more critical than others and, therefore, should be tested first.

Prioritizing test cases also means focusing on the functionality that is most important to the end-user. This ensures that critical functionalities are thoroughly tested and functioning correctly before the product is released.

Prioritizing test cases is also a way to manage time and resources effectively. By focusing on the most important test cases first, you can ensure that the most critical parts of the application are tested in case time or resources run out.

Use Diverse Input Data

One of the strengths of black box testing is its ability to uncover errors and bugs that might not be identified in other forms of testing. This is largely achieved through the use of diverse input data.

Using diverse input data means testing the system with a wide range of input. This includes both valid and invalid input. The aim is to test the system’s behavior and reaction to different kinds of input.

Collaborate Closely with Development Teams

Black box testing is not a one-man task. It requires close collaboration with the development team. Testers and developers need to work together to understand the system requirements, develop effective test cases, and interpret the test results.

Collaborating closely with the development team also helps in getting quick feedback on the test results. This feedback is crucial in making necessary changes and improvements to the system.

Moreover, the development team can provide important insights and information that can help in the testing process. For instance, they can provide information on the most critical areas of the application, which can help in prioritizing test cases.

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