Alpha testing an app means releasing it to a controlled users groups which are not necessarily associated with the development of the app itself.
Google PlayStore provides “Closed testing” tracks where you can run alpha tests for your Android app. Each type of testing in PlayStore is a track; a track can have multiple releases pertaining to different versions of the app that you release for the specific type of testing. App versions released on a certain track are indexed by their gradle-configured versionCode, while the versionName string remains a variable name for the versions release on the track.
To get going with Alpha testing / Closed testing in Google PlayStore, you must first release a software build of your app on the track. If you have not used it before, just navigate over to the PlayStore console, select your app and then the relevant testing type (track) from the left-hand panel.
Visibility of Closed testing releases
When you release an app to the Closed testing track, the app is only visible to those persons who you choose as testers. When releasing a new app version on the Closed testing track, you can select the list of Android users who can access your app. To add someone (with an Android device) to the list, you need to add their Google email ID into the list.
Where Closed testing differs from Internal testing is that the user does not need to make any modifications to their Play Store app (or any other settings in any app) on their app to gain access to your app.
You just need to register their Google ID in the list of testers, and then share the download link of your app with them, and then they will be able to access (download) the app on their Android device.
How it works
First you need to create a list of users who are going to be your alpha testers group. Get their Google ID’s and add them to a list (name it whatever you want). You can create and modify the testers list after choosing “Closed testing” from the left panel of PlayStore console.
Once you have a software build ready for distributing to your alpha testers group, you need to “create a new release”, then simply upload the APK / App bundle to the submission page, add in the release notes, and click submit.
Remember, every new build you submit on a given track must have their (gradle) versionCode numerically higher than previous builds on the same track.
If you were testing out a particular app version internally within your dev and testing team using Internal testing, then you can promote the build from the Internal testing track to the Closed testing. Promoting the build means the same app APK / App bundle which was previously being testing as a certain release in Internal testing (or any other track) is now made available under a new release name in Closed testing track.
This concept is often referred to as “build promotion”. This is a very useful process in Deployment cycles, as you are able to easily move the same build of the app through different types of testing groups.
How do testers access new versions of the app
Google PlayStore does not notify registered testers for availability of a new app version in Closed Testing track. So it is onto you to invite your testers to join and also notify them about the availability of a new app version in Alpha testing.
To gain access to your app for the first time in Closed testing track, each new tester will need to accept your invitation to join the testing track. You must invite your Alpha testers to your Closed testing track using the link that you can find by navigating to Closed testing — Alpha > “testers” tab > scroll down > “Join on the web”. The link format is :
https://play.google.com/apps/testing/<your app application id>
Clicking on the link above will open a browser window asking for their consent to join the testing program. On accepting it, they will receive the app’s download link, which will take them directly to the Play Store installation page of your app.
To inform your existing Alpha testers of a new app version, they just need to open the app in Play Store and if a new version is available for them, they will be prompted to Update. You can also find the direct download link to your app by navigating to Closed testing — Alpha > “testers” tab > scroll down > “Join on Android”. The link format is
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=<your app application id>
From Closed testing track onwards, your app is assigned a globally available direct download link which is agnostic of app versions, testing tracks, etc. This link will remain the same through Closed (alpha) to Open (beta) testing to Production release.
Accepting the invitation to join the testing track by testers is mandatory, and I cannot recommend this enough ! I have had tremendous setbacks in the past where testers by-passed this invitation acceptance part and tried to access the app versions directly only to see PlayStore telling them that the app is not available to them.
User app review
All alpha testers can provide rating and review for your app. These ratings and reviews are visible to the developers on the PlayStore console only and other users do not get to see them.
Play Store app review
When you submit a new release version on the Closed testing track, 2 things will happen before the release is available to testers to download:
- PlayStore will conduct thorough testing of the app in terms of Stability, Accessibility, performance and security issues and will give you the results a “Pre Launch report”. These tests are run automatically and you do not need to pay extra for them. You can also customise these tests by integrating Fire Test Lab into your project.
- PlayStore will review the app version for compliance against its rules, policies, guidelines, local country-specific rules and more. Once this review is completed, then the app release is available for download.
In my experience, review times for app releases in Closed testing tracks varies between a few hours to up to 4days.
Closed testing provides developers, particularly small-scale ones with a seamlessly integrated pipeline of basic testing and release pipelines. It is part of a highly thought-out suite of testing tracks that makes app development on PlayStore an enjoyable journey, given you understand the nitty-gritty details of it.
I did not often find good supporting documentation for various details on this testing track. So I hope this article is helpful to you in testing out your app for free on the PlayStore and using seamless build handling pipelines.