During the quality assurance process, companies apply various methods to test their software before they release it to the public. Black box and white box testing are the most common and reliable ways of checking for software defects that negatively impact user experience and present security vulnerabilities.

This article explores the difference between black box testing and white box testing, their benefits, methodologies, and the potential challenges these types of testing pose to software developers and testers.

black box and white box testing

What Is Black Box Testing?

Black box testing assesses the external behavior of software without examining its internal structure. The testers are only concerned with the software output and its behavior under various external conditions. Thus, they establish whether it delivers the performance it promises and meets user requirements.

Black box testing is not time-consuming, which makes it convenient for beta testing and acceptance testing. Since black box testing does not delve into the internal aspects of software, it needs to be combined with white box testing to get a complete picture of the software’s capabilities.

Read about the software development lifecycle to understand the importance of software testing.

Types of Black Box Testing

There are many types of black box testing. Here is a list of some of the more frequently implemented testing techniques:

  1. Functional testing: Tests the output after the software is given a specific input; ensures the application behaves as expected under the input requirements.
  2. Non-functional testing: Observes the software’s performance, usability, scalability, and reliability under specified conditions.
  3. Usability testing: Analyzes the user experience and interface and checks for intuitiveness and navigation efficiency.
  4. Compatibility testing: Tests software behavior in different hardware environments, configurations, operating systems, networks, and browsers.
  5. Exploratory testing: The testers check how the software behaves without using a script or test case; they rely solely on their experience, expertise, and intuition to perform the test.
  6. Error guessing: This testing method relies on the experience of the tester and their ability to find potential defects in the application by guessing which areas of the software are prone to errors.
  7. State transition testing: Tests responses during the transition from one state to another (for example, what happens after a user inputs a wrong password a certain number of times).
  8. Decision table testing: Observes multiple combinations of inputs through decision tables that list possible outcomes for each input.
  9. Boundary Value Analysis (BVA): Tests previously specified boundary values to assess software behavior when minimum and maximum values are inputted.
  10. Equivalence partitioning: Checks the software response by dividing input data into equivalence classes (i.e., groups of data that are expected to act the same); if one input in a class behaves correctly, the others are also assumed to be working.

What Is White Box Testing?

White box testing (sometimes referred to as clear, transparent, or glass box testing) examines the software’s internal structure, logic, and code pathways. Testers gain a deeper understanding of the robustness, security, and quality of the lines of code to identify potential errors and verify the input and output flow through the system and applications.

White box testing is intricate and time-consuming since testers inspect every aspect of the software’s internal workings by scrutinizing source code and design documentation. This type of testing identifies vulnerabilities, errors, redundancies, and inconsistencies, helping to optimize the code and providing insights that can be used in maintenance and future development.

Types of White Box Testing

White box testing types include:

  1. Loop testing: Testers check each loop within the code to ensure its initialization, iteration, and termination based on each boundary and condition.
  2. Mutation testing: Tests software deficiencies by introducing small changes (mutations) in the source code. If the mutations pass, this indicates that there is a bug in the code and the system needs improvement.
  3. Path testing: Analyzes every path, i.e., sequence of statements and decisions, in the code to ensure that it has been executed at least once.
  4. Conditional testing: Observes and verifies every conditional statement in the code to reveal logical errors and ensure that the software responds correctly.
  5. Statement testing: Ensures that each statement (single line of code) is executed at least once so that anomalies and errors can be identified.
  6. Decision (branch) testing: Tests each decision point to check if it’s executed in the code.
  7. Unit testing: Tests the smallest piece of code that can be logically separated to ensure all components are functioning.
  8. Integration testing: Checks if separate components that work well independently also function when integrated.
  9. White box penetration testing: The tester has full access to the source code, documentation, credentials, and other system and network information in order to perform a mock attack.

What Is the Difference Between Black Box and White Box Testing?

between black box vs. white box testing - the key differences

Here is a detailed comparison between black box testing and white box testing.

Black Box vs. White Box Testing: Objectives

These are the objectives in black box testing:

  • Functionality: Ensuring that software behaves as expected in response to specific instructions.
  • Usability: Analyzing the software’s interface and interactions, which contribute to a satisfactory user experience.
  • Data handling: Verifying that the software stores, handles, and retrieves data without data loss or corruption.
  • Performance analysis: Evaluating the software’s responsiveness, stability, and speed under different conditions and workloads.
  • Error handling: Assessing how the software reacts to invalid or unexpected inputs to ensure it does not stall or crash.

On the other hand, white box testing focuses on the following:

  • Code coverage: Ensuring that every part of the code (including loops, paths, statements, and conditions) is executed and tested.
  • Concurrency issues detection: Identifying potential issues with multi-threading or parallel processing that could disrupt concurrent operations.
  • Logic verification: Checking that the code logic does not cause software errors or flaws.
  • Vulnerabilities detection: Analyzing security flaws and software vulnerabilities to potential data breaches.
  • Integration verification: Assessing how different software units interact to ensure that the flow of data between them is unimpeded and correct.
  • Boundary testing: Testing how the code behaves at the boundaries by imputing values just inside and outside the accepted ranges.

Black Box vs. White Box Testing: Advantages

Here are the advantages of black box testing:

  1. Gives insights into user experience: Black box testing simulates how users interact with the software to ensure its usability and functionality.
  2. Effective in detecting interface issues: Black box testing is specifically designed to detect defects in data flow, input validation, and system behavior.
  3. Independent from the code: Black box testers do not have to know anything about the internal workings of software or its coding to perform testing.
  4. Highly adaptable testing method: Black box testing is applicable to a wide range of software applications, regardless of their internal complexity and underlying technology.

On the other hand, these are the advantages of white box testing:

  1. Validates code logic: White box testing assesses each part of the code to validate loops, paths, decisions, and statements.
  2. Early bug detection: White box testing detects flaws and errors in the earliest stages of development, reducing the risk of a compounding effect.
  3. Code optimization: White box testing optimizes the code and software performance by detecting inefficiencies and redundancies in the code.
  4. Improves security: White box testing assesses internal software vulnerabilities to detect potential weak points susceptible to outside attacks.

Black Box vs. White Box Testing: Disadvantages

Black box testing comes with some downsides, including:

  • Limited coverage: Since black box testers only assess specified inputs and outputs, the testing does not achieve full coverage of all the possible pathways, functionalities, and behaviors.
  • Unidentified code issues: Black box testing does look at the internal workings of an application, so it might fail to identify issues that arise from code errors and security vulnerabilities.
  • Requirements dependency: Black box testing relies on software requirements. If they are inaccurate, incomplete, or ambiguous, the testing results come into question.
  • Redundancy: Black box testing has a high potential for redundancy since multiple tests can sometimes focus on the same parts of software.

White box testing disadvantages are:

  • Complexity: White box testing delves deep into code analysis so it is more intricate and time-consuming. This complexity also makes it difficult to create test cases that will cover all the aspects of the code.
  • High frequency: As software undergoes many iterations, the code changes frequently. White box testing must be performed regularly to ensure that these alterations don’t introduce vulnerabilities and errors.
  • Bias: White box testing is performed by testers who are familiar with the software’s internal workings. This means that they might be biased, make false assumptions about certain functionalities, and overlook potential problem areas during testing.
  • May disregard user experience: White box testing is focused on code quality, disregarding how this translates to user experience. While code might be error-free and perform as expected, it might still lack intuitiveness and be difficult to use.
  • High level of expertise: Only people thoroughly familiar with complex software logic, structure, and programming languages can perform white box testing. This makes it hard to find testers with the right skill set.

Who Performs Black Box vs. White Box Testing?

Black box testing is performed by:

  1. Quality assurance testers: Individuals trained to evaluate software functionality and user experience. They are familiar with software requirements and specifications.
  2. Domain experts or business analysts: Individuals familiar with business processes or domain-specific applications assess how the software responds to business and industry-specific requirements.
  3. End users: Actual users previously chosen by software companies to test the software before its release (also called beta-testers).

White box testing is performed by:

  1. Software developers: The developers who write the software code are also involved in its testing.
  2. Dedicated testers: Individuals who specialize in white box testing and are familiar with writing code, algorithms, and design patterns.
  3. Security engineers: Individuals who perform vulnerability assessments to identify potential weaknesses.

Black Box vs. White Box Testing: Level of Expertise

Black box testing requires a strong understanding of the software’s external functionality, behavior, and user interactions. Testers don’t need to be familiar with the internal workings of the software.

White box testing requires a robust technical background and in-depth knowledge of software code, structure, and logic. Testers must be familiar with system design, architecture, and algorithm development to proficiently conduct white box testing.

Unboxing Software Quality

Black box testing and white box testing work hand in hand to offer deep insights into software functionalities, security, and user experience. While black box testing focuses on the external behavior of applications, white box testing looks under the hood to inspect the code and structure.

Together, these two forms of testing ensure user satisfaction and a squeaky-clean reputation for the company that releases the software.