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TestComplete vs. Katalon Studio: Test automation tool face-off

How many features do you need in a test automation tool? IT consultant Tom Nolle shares what users value most in these two automated front-end testing options -- and crowns a winner.

IT software vendors face an interesting conundrum: Can they balance ease of use against a comprehensive feature set?

Test automation tools are at the center of this dichotomy, as the advent of CI/CD, the increased role of mobile and web front ends, and the proliferation of citizen development are changing the focus of software testing.

When they evaluate front ends, on both browser and mobile, testers create objects that represent fields and screens, define data inputs and expected outputs, and introduce mechanisms to recognize how screens present information to end users. QA can create tests from this model, then put GUIs through their paces to validate their functionality and usability.

In this face-off, we compare SmartBear TestComplete vs. Katalon Studio to get a sense of how much users value complex feature sets in their test automation tools.

The big easy: Katalon Studio

Katalon Studio targets a customer base that wants ease of use. IT professionals largely agree that the product offers one of the fastest learning curves of any test automation tool, as well as the least requirements for development expertise to plan and build tests.

Katalon Studio follows a different business model than competitors. The product is free, but it's not open source. Katalon Studio is essentially a front end for the Selenium and Appium open source test automation frameworks. It hides the complexity of Selenium and Appium and simplifies building tests and running tasks.

Thus, simplicity and ease of use are the biggest benefits of Katalon Studio's offering. It's the only front-end testing tool widely reported to be accessible to people outside web or mobile development teams, though the number of non-developer users is fairly small. It's also easy to install the product; everything comes in one package, so you don't have to integrate separate pieces.

Katalon Studio includes a script mode -- where you record a script that plays back to create a test -- as well as a keyword mode -- where you build a test case from a form-like interface. You can also build scripts using programming tools. The product's tests are data-independent, which makes it easy to change data inputs and the expected results without re-scripting tests. As long as the sequence of user interactions isn't changed, the tests are repeatable. If the sequence changes, you must revise the test to model the new pattern of inputs and responses.

Katalon Studio's architecture is similar to that of other functional testing products; the test sequences represent webpages as objects. When developers change a webpage in a way that impacts the test patterns or input/output descriptions, the objects reflect those changes. You can use the product in a single browser for functional tests or in multiple browsers to simulate load testing. Some users apply it to fairly complex web or mobile applications, and they find it uniformly easy to learn and use.

It's also a cross-platform tool, available on Windows, Linux and macOS, which makes it easier to align with staff skills. Finally, Katalon offers helpful video tutorials, which non-programmers tend to prefer over written documentation that typically caters to users who have a background in testing.

Rich and hearty: TestComplete

SmartBear's TestComplete offers a different take on front-end testing. The product aims to provide a rich feature set, but it also offers layers of assistance that can ease test construction. Users can progress through the layers and work their way toward a complex, comprehensive test-building process.

IT professionals consider TestComplete easy to use, even for non-developers, but it is still more complicated to learn and use than Katalon Studio. TestComplete can test web, mobile and desktop applications.

TestComplete is a commercial test automation tool. On the plus side, you can use it for nearly any kind of UI testing. However, it comes with the associated costs and contracts of commercial offerings. There is also a large body of users familiar with the product.

TestComplete is object-based. You define an object to represent a screen and objects to represent fields and controls on the screen. Tests reference these objects, and the product makes it easy to construct, reconstruct and reuse tests.

You can create scripted tests in five popular languages, including JavaScript, Python and VBScript, or you can build keyword-driven tests. TestComplete also has an AI visual engine to associate its field or object elements -- on which the tests are based -- with the screens displayed. The package can pick out fields and screens without the need for users to provide explicit identification, even to the point of using screen coordinates. This enables screen formats to change, but you can still recognize the screen and the object associated with it, then run the correct tests.

The built-in AI helps non-technical users build thorough tests because they don't have to remember all the possible screen sequences they might encounter; they only have to recognize and associate possible screens with an object. When a particular screen appears, the product can pull up its associated object and test. The AI visual engine can also aid in test development.

As with Katalon Studio, TestComplete is data-independent in test structure, so it's easy to change data to broaden the testing scope. It can also integrate with web and mobile interface drivers, including Selenium, to provide at-scale testing. Furthermore, the product's data-independence and AI and object-based characteristics encourage test reuse.

TestComplete also offers quality documentation and a high-quality user experience. Many enterprises have used TestComplete for nearly a decade, which results in a strong base of familiarity among test developers, as well as extensive documentation. Almost every TestComplete customer queried cites the breadth of the user base and the quality of documentation as big plusses.

Katalon Studio vs. TestComplete

So, in the battle of SmartBear's TestComplete vs. Katalon Studio, which tool comes out on top? Katalon Studio is unquestionably cheaper -- it's free. For basic users, particularly individuals and companies with limited developer resources or knowledge, Katalon's product is easier to learn and use than TestComplete.

Still, some users have concerns about Katalon's tool. First, you must pay for product support, and some users worry that the current free nature of Katalon Studio won't last. Second, Katalon Studio is a newer offering with comparably fewer users than TestComplete, which means it's more difficult to get a significant sampling of reliable reviews and references. Finally, Katalon's lack of desktop testing and its limited number of supported scripting languages concern enterprise users with broad GUI testing requirements.

TestComplete compensates for its small disadvantage in ease of use -- compared to Katalon Studio -- with rich testing features. The steepest learning curve comes with TestComplete's field/object approach and AI test enhancement, and once you get trained up -- with some help from its excellent documentation -- you can make up for the learning time with a reduced testing effort. Only a minor contingent of users report that they couldn't get their minds around TestComplete over time.

The bigger drawback of TestComplete is the cost, which is most applicable to users in the midsize business range or those with only limited GUI testing requirements. Enterprise users rarely cite cost as an issue.

Ultimately, SmartBear's TestComplete is worth the climb. The differences in ease of use for TestComplete vs. Katalon Studio are largely confined to the learning period, and they disappear for most users with even modest experience. TestComplete's broader scope of available testing, AI features and extensive user experience make it a clear choice for enterprise users and a good choice even for midsize businesses that can work it into the IT budget.

Katalon Studio is excellent for limited-scale web or mobile GUI testing, but TestComplete lives up to its name, and it is the winner of our face-off.

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