25 August 2015

How to practice software testing

During open season after Erica Walker's presentation at CAST, I mentioned a few useful tools for practicing software testing or software testing related skills (rather than passively watch/read/listen). With this blog post I want to expand that a bit and share some of the applications/sources I've found useful when actually practicing to become a better software tester.


Bitnami provides simple installers (local install) for several well-known web applications such as Wordpress, Moodle and ExoPlatform. The installer automatically sets up a web server, database server and the application itself. This is a great sandboxed environment for you to play with and you have access to the application's code and database content allowing you to do pretty nifty stuff.

Since the applications available on Bitnami are fairly large systems you'll find opportunities to focus your testing on basically any quality characteristic or test technique no matter which one you choose. Why not try a full equivalence partitioning, value selection and variable combination testing table for the post thread as moderator form in phpBB or a usability analysis of PrestoShop?

The drawback with these big applications may be that they are a bit intimidating/take time to learn. In that case try the many software download sites like SoftPedia but be aware that some software you find this way might come with various malware.

Joining open source projects can also be a good way of practicing testing while also giving something back. Popular open source code management sites like GitHub and SourceForge are great places to look for applications in need of testers.


Install XAMPP (fully preconfigured web server) and start running queries against the MySQL server. This also gives you the ability to practice writing (and running) simple scripts in e.g. PHP to manipulate/display the database content. Getting familiar with phpMyAdmin (preinstalled) is also a good idea for any web application tester.

If you want to practice online I recommend Head First Labs. You might need a MySQL reference (available online) though to solve all their exercises since they reference to pages in an O'Reilly book.


A great place to take your first few steps in API testing is predic8. They have an online REST-API available that you're free to play around with. I recommend fetching Postman and just start making simple GET requests. Use predic8's tutorial to help you progress.


Tons of applications exist for the sole purpose of practicing security testing. These applications have dozens of vulnerabilities built in so that you can practice triggering and exploiting these vulnerabilities without risking to break anything. Also, many of these applications have active communities built around them where you can get help or documentation, explaining the various vulnerabilities.

WebGoat (web testing, local installation)
Have only briefly used this but from what I've understood this might be the best choice available. If you search for WebGoat on YouTube you'll find dozens of tutorials, demonstration and installation videos.

Google Gruyere (web testing, online)
I've played around in Google Gruyere quite a bit. It's a good place to start and convenient since no installation is required. Also, due to it's fame, several videos exist demonstrating vulnerabilities in Google Gruyere and explaining the thinking behind discovering them. One example is Alan Richardson's video.

bWAPP (web testing, local installation)
Only briefly used bWAPP but seemed like it had potential. bWAPP is more helpful than Google Gruyere in the sense that you're informed about what vulnerability each page has.

BodgeIt Store (web testing, local installation)
A web security practice application aimed towards beginners (if I interpreted the description correctly). Haven't tried this one myself.

Mutillidae (web testing, local installation)
One more I haven't tried myself. What I liked in the description though was it did claim to give hints which likely make it a good starting challenge to a new penetration tester.

GameOver (web testing, VirtualBox image)
I discovered GameOver as I was writing this blog post. Haven't tried it yet but it's a VirtualBox image with several penetration testing tools and web security practice applications preinstalled (such as WebGoat). Convinient!

There are also pages dedicated to learning web security by giving the visitor progressively harder challenges (puzzles) to solve. My personal favorite is HackThisSite as I think the challenges are progressing in a good pace and you can always get help if you're stuck. For a quite extensive list of practice pages, take at look at the top answer to this Stack Overflow question.

If you want to practice system level penetration testing I recommend the Metasploit Unleashed free course. Also look into Kali Linux, a Linux distribution centered around penetration testing.
(2022 addition: Got this Kali Linux Cheat Sheet recommended to me, hope it helps)

Information gathering

Information gathering is a critical skill for testers. A course I've just started that seems to have great potential is the Google's Power Searching course. The course comes with challenges making it interactive enough to fit this blog post.

Improve your skills in other common tools

You can improve your skills in many common tools by using training videos released by vendors or users and either mimic what's done in the videos or perform the challenges given. One example of a training video collection I've found useful is Microsoft's Office course.

Operating systems

I learned a lot about operating systems in general when I started playing around with Linux. It's a fun way to start and the amount of help you can get when stuck is mind-boggling. If you have some previous experience; give Arch Linux a chance. If you're new something like Sabayon might be at the right level. Popular desktop releases such as Ubuntu may be a bit hard to get "under the hood" in but for a first timer just seeing a different operating system might be enough. In that case, go with OpenSuse or any of the Ubuntu derivatives (e.g. Ubuntu itself, Linux Mint or Elementary OS).

If you don't want to tinker with partitioning; use VirtualBox.

Networks and servers

Plenty of material is available online and practicing it is generally just about tinkering with your own home network, e.g. figuring out what various router configuration options do. You don't need an expensive lab to practice network administration and server setup; two devices (e.g. a computer and smartphone) and a basic network connecting them (e.g. a router with a built in wireless switch) is enough. If you feel like you don't know where to start, use for instance the course page linked to in this chapter and try the concepts described (like port forwarding, dhcp and file servers). I personally find network monitoring to be a particularly useful topic for testers.


The two most important messages I want you to remember:
  1. Do practice, it's important
  2. ... and not that hard
Good luck and if you have additional suggestions, just share them in the comment section below!


  1. Erik,
    Thanks for the great list! Now the next blog post I'm waiting for is to talk about how to go about learning (maybe some example challenges?), how to develop ideas for which skills to practice using these resources. Because I think it can be difficult to figure out where to begin with these things.
    Also, another resource for security testing that I recently used: http://www.dvwa.co.uk/

    1. It's a good point. I haven't invested time (because I think it takes a bit of time to provide practical, useful examples for each of these targets) but if you or anyone else have practical examples from how you used these tools, comments are more than welcome. I'll see if I find the time and motivation to follow up this post cause I've of course used several of them; but right now is not the time (as my post frequency is a pretty telling sign of).

      Thanks for your comment

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  3. John Huynh26 August, 2015

    Great blog post Erik,
    I would like to add a thinker.
    People including myself tend to forget the tools they are using! We all just assume our tools are limited as we know them today, but really... DO WE?? I would recommend everyone to read the instruction page of there tools or to google about the tools/ there maybe more to it then you think.

    Chrome - > developer tools (Plenty of features (Experiemtials), for webtesters/web developer)

    1. I completely agree with you! Many tools I use have surprised me when I actually cared to learn them (one great example is the request builder in Fiddler that took me years to find).