Performance and load testing tools have grown ever more sophisticated over the last decade. In the old days, performance testing tools were little more than tools that generated dummy network traffic with ICMP to test an interface’s or node’s ability to handle heavy traffic.

These days, performance and load testing tools can use virtual entities to mimic the behavior of a real user for more accurate data. Though many of these tools do require a subscription to unlock all of their features, many have free trials that you can use to get your feet wet with load testing before you take the plunge and sign up for a subscription.

But before we look at the best of the best, let’s first discuss why performance testing tools are needed and what types of metrics they measure.

We get into a lot of detail further down where we feature each tool, but in case you only have time for a summary, here is our list of the best performance and load testing tools:

  1. SolarWinds Performance Monitoring with NPM (FREE TRIAL) The Network Performance Monitor is an SNMP-based system that includes analytical functions that are based on historical data. Runs on Windows Server.
  2. Paessler PRTG Network Monitor (FREE TRIAL) All-in-one network, server, and application monitor that includes NetFlow sensors for traffic load analysis. Runs on Windows Server.
  3. Tricentis Flood Cloud-based tool that can analyze onsite, remote, internet, and cloud server traffic flows.
  4. LoadView A cloud-based tester that focuses on web applications and services. Includes a lot of automated testing templates.
  5. LoadNinja A tester for internet connection loads on web utilities that deploys thousands of real browsers to emulate load on a target site.
  6. StressStimulus Tester for load on mobile applications and web applications. Generates 10,000 virtual users for stress testing.
  7. WebLOAD Stress tester from Radview that focuses on web applications.
  8. SmartMeter.io Network and web application tester that offers a range of views right down to packet level.
  9. Apache JMeter Free open-source network tester that installs on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.
  10. NeoLoad Load testing that supplies from 50 to one million virtual users. Good for checking SLA goals.
  11. Automai Performance Tester An automated tester that has the capabilities to test Citrix and VMWare, but it also works with SAP, PeopleSoft, Infor, and Oracle systems.

Why are performance and load testing tools needed?

Software and components of IT infrastructure are designed with the best intentions, but hidden errors, unknowns, and unforeseeable events can be disastrous to a project. To mitigate the risk of failure – whether during the development process or after a mission-critical system has been deployed – technicians and engineers need to verify the limits of a system.

The more stress a system or application is put under, the more errors and bugs surface. These types of bugs aren’t usually obvious and need to be dealt with. A problem can’t be solved if it can’t be identified, and performance and load testing tools help refine critical systems by causing hidden issues to bubble to the surface.

What types of systems do these tools test?

Performance and load testing tools measure a wide variety of metrics. Most of them have a core competency of testing application loads, though they test ancillary metrics too, such as network load.

In addition to website and application speed tests, some tools have network traffic generator modules.

The best performance and load testing tools

With that said, let’s take a look at the best performance and load testing tools, starting with an industry favorite: SolarWinds.

1. SolarWinds Network Performance Testing with NPM (FREE TRIAL)

Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor

The SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor offers network testing tools that will help you spot problems with the delivery of services within your system.

This tool is a very sophisticated monitoring system that detects all devices attached to the network automatically. You don’t need to install any agent software on your devices because they are all shipped with SNMP capabilities. The Simple Network Management Protocol includes procedures for constant monitoring of network devices. All that your system lacks is a central controller to request and collate this data. This is the role taken by the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor.

Network testing functions within the NPM include troubleshooting utilities that are based on historical data. At first glance, it is difficult to work out whether performance issues are being caused by the network, services and applications, or software processing problems at servers and endpoints. The PerfStack utility within the Network Performance Monitor shows you all of the underlying contributors to service delivery. These graphs are color coded so you can get down to the stack level that is displaying errors and fix the problem quickly.

Another useful performance monitoring tool in the package is the NetPath utility. This enables you to see in real time the delivery times of data from one point on the network to another, showing the statuses and speeds of each node that packets have to pass through on that journey.

The Network Analysis Tool within SolarWinds NPM gives you graphical representations of performance metrics so you can see in an instant when performance begins to be impaired.

The Network Performance Monitor is a full network management system that includes all of the performance and load testing tools that you need to spot potential problems and head of disaster. The software downloads directly from the SolarWinds site and self-installs on Windows Server. You can get the Network Performance Monitor on a 30-day free trial.

SolarWinds Network Performance Testing with NPMDownload 30-day FREE Trial

2. Paessler PRTG Network Monitor (FREE TRIAL)

Paessler PRTG is a very large collection of network, application, and server monitors. This package includes load and performance testing tools. Paessler ships the entire bundle containing all of its monitoring utilities to every customer. You tailor the package to your needs by choosing which monitors to activate. The monitors are termed “sensors” by Paessler and if you only activate less than 500 sensors, the system is free.

PRTG uses SNMP procedures to keep a constant check on the performance of all of your network devices. The tool will detect all of those devices automatically, compiling a hardware inventory and displaying live statuses on the management console.

NetFlow sensors in the package add further insights into your network performance. This sensor exploits a packet sampling language created by Cisco to let you see the flow rate of data between two points on your network. You can also use this tool to capture packets through port mirroring and check on the health of VoIP connections.

Paessler offers PRTG on a 30-day free trial. This software installs on Windows Server.

Paessler PRTG Network MonitorDownload 30-day FREE Trial

3. Tricentis Flood

Tricentis offers a variety of products including qTest, Tosca, RPA, and its distributed load testing product Tricentis Flood. In addition to public and private cloud deployment options, Tricentis Flood also supports open-source generation tools such as JMeter, Selenium, and Gatling.

Its subscription model is rather simple, providing both monthly and annual options. Though Tricentis Flood is geared towards enterprises, it also has a version for small to medium-sized businesses with a relatively inexpensive monthly fee.

We also like how Tricentis designed its solution to integrate with private hosting providers such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. In addition to a rather limited free trial, you can also request a demo.

4. LoadView

LoadView differentiates itself from most other load testing tools by offering real browser testing (as opposed to virtual browser testing). Naturally, LoadView is a cloud-based solution designed to test web applications and website performance.

Furthermore, it stress-tests web APIs to verify service-level agreements (SLA). The free trial is capable of testing up to 40 web browsers or devices as well. Also, note that a benefit to using a cloud-based solution is the lack of needing in-house staff to configure and implement installation on local hardware.

If you’re looking for a less hands-on solution that won’t tie up the resources of your information technology team, LoadView can save significant amounts of time and frustration. Fortunately, the free trial does not require payment card information, so you don’t have to worry about being trapped by recurring payments.

5. LoadNinja

LoadNinja is another fierce competitor in the load testing and performance testing arena. It too offers a free trial that requires minimal information and doesn’t request payment details upon sign-up. It offers record and playback test scripts that are automated which don’t require coding on behalf of the user.

Its data is platform-independent thanks to its browser-based data console. SmartBear, the creator of LoadNinja, offers a 14-day free trial as well. And instead of using a browser emulator to stimulate and simulate load, it uses thousands of real browsers for the most accurate testing.

In addition, it has a virtual user inspector and debugger that works in real-time. Furthermore, it’s equipped with tools to test applications over the LAN via dedicated IP addresses. The Pro version supports up to 250 virtual users, while the Premium version supports up to 2,500 virtual users. Larger enterprises with greater testing demands can contact SmartBear regarding pricing details for over 2,500 virtual users.

6. StressStimulus

StressSimulus is interesting because its designers not only created it to test web applications, but also mobile applications. Also, it can run tests both locally and in the cloud to help isolate performance bottlenecks so you can address the weakest components of your application. We also found it interesting that it simulates security by allowing a tester to supply each virtual user with login credentials to better gauge the impact of high-volume authentication.

This feature supports login credentials and virtual user identities by interfacing with web forms, Basic, NTLM, and Kerberos. In addition, it can simulate user behavior to load-test dynamic pages and other factors like session IDs and cookies. Supported protocols include HTTP, HTTPS, AJAX, SOAP, WCF, binary WCF, and XML over HTTP.

Note that this is an automated solution and does not require the user to write scripts, though scripting features are included. Awe were disappointed to see that StressStimulus has a free trial that only lasts for seven days. Conversely, we were surprised to see that the free trial includes as many as 10,000 virtual users and full customer support. We find that it’s rare for a free trial to include customer support because companies typically want to reserve that resource for paying customers, so kudos to StressStimulus.

7. WebLOAD

WebLOAD, like other performance testing tools, isn’t strictly a network performance tool. As its aptly-named moniker implies, its designers created it specifically to test the performance and scalability of web and mobile applications.

Created by Radview, WebLOAD offers an analytics dashboard that provides insight into Javascript performance and server-side performance. And like most other performance testing tools, WebLOAD has a free trial which supports up to 50 virtual users.

The free trial is full-featured too; full-featured trials may not be the norm, but are becoming more and more popular. Supported technologies include HTTP/HTTPS, HTML5, AJAX, SOAP, and more. The free edition runs on both Windows and Linux platforms and integrates with Dynatrace, AppDynamics, and New Relic.

8. SmartMeter.io

SmartMeter.io offers distributed load testing by creating masses of virtual users with software generators to simulate high demand. In addition to real-time analysis, it translates data into graphs to make it easier to spot trends and the results of tests.

We especially like that it has a feature that simulates mobile browsers. Additionally, we like its logging feature to record and display individual HTTP requests and responses so you can comb through HTTP data with the granularity of a packet capture. We were pleased to see that it is significantly more inexpensive than most competitors and that even the Personal version – which is the most basic version – allows 500 virtual users and an unlimited number of tests.

We were, however, disappointed to discover that SmartMeter.io does not issue refunds. According to their refund policy, they will not offer refunds because it is not a tangible good. We suppose the lack of an adequate refund policy is justified by its low cost. Nevertheless, it has a free trial that allows you to test the waters before taking the plunge.

9. Apache JMeter

Apache JMeter is undoubtedly a popular performance and load testing solution because it is free and open source. Naturally, it’s available on GitHub as a native Java application, and it’s incredibly versatile. In addition to testing dynamic web applications and static resources, it also includes network and Java-objects testing functionality.

To further highlight its versatility, be aware that it runs on a variety of platforms including Windows, Mac OSX, Linux distributions, and any other Java-compatible platform in its CLI mode. Supported nodes and protocol types include web (HTTP, HTTPS, Java, PHP, ASP.NET), FTP, LDAP, JDBC, mail protocols (SMTP, POP3, IMAP), TCP, and Java objects.

I did want to highlight a disclaimer Apache provides on its website, however. Apache makes it very clear that this solution is not a web browser. Even though it may look like one, it actually works on the protocol level. As such, it lacks the capability to simulate virtual user behaviors from a browser or execute a web page’s Javascript. Nevertheless, this is a great free tool for those wishing to perform load testing and preserve their budget. Check them out on GitHub.

10. NeoLoad

Neotys created NeoLoad as an enterprise load testing solution that integrates with dev-ops teams. We were impressed by the sheer power of this product, which allows load testing with anywhere between 50 and 1 million virtual users. Needless to say, this product has high scalability. Despite scaling to support enterprise-grade scenarios, Neotys also includes a free version for developers and testers who only need to run small tests.

The options for configuring user-behavior testing are rich and complex, too. This solution is able to replicate geographic and mobile network conditions and define pass or fail SLA’s to identify pain points and bottlenecks. Standard protocols include HTTP, HTTPS, HTTP/2, SOAP, and other optional protocols at your discretion, and it interfaces with SAP Web and Oracle E-Business.

We were a little disappointed that the pricing page didn’t reveal any of the individual plans’ prices; for that information, you need to contact Neotys. Nevertheless, we did like the application-testing interface and thought it looked both sleek and clean. No matter the size of your business, application, or development team, Neotys can tailor a solution for you. You can download and trial a free edition.

11. Automai Performance Tester

Last but not least is the Automai Performance Tester. One thing we like about this product is that Automai intentionally designed it to be as user-friendly and automated as humanly possible. To facilitate this design goal, Automai made the scripting process completely code-free. All a tester need do is click and use the application as a normal user would, and Automai will automatically generate scripts that are easy to tweak and edit.

This smart software also has an interesting way of recording flaws and errors. It can detect problems and bottlenecks, and then take screen captures to highlight the pain points. We were also to see how modular it is. Not only does it work with Citrix and VMWare, but it also works with SAP, PeopleSoft, Infor, and Oracle. Underlying programming platforms in which it interfaces with include .NET, Java, C++, Flash, Adobe, SQL, and HTML5 as well.

Be aware that there is a free trial that lasts for 14 days. Again, we were surprised to see that even the free trial includes full technical support, though we don’t believe this free trial is fully-featured. Still, the free trial is a great way to test your network before committing to a purchase.

Conclusion

Building systems and infrastructure is only half the battle; once you’ve finished developing the first iteration of your system, you need to verify its functionality with performance and load testing tools.

Apart from the tools mentioned featured above, there are more purpose specific free tools, that are a lot narrower in scope and functionality that can be of use. Paessler offers a number of free performance and load tools, which include the NetFlow Tester, which gathers NetFlow messages, and the Webserver Stress Tool, which tests the performance of your websites.

It’s simply impossible to know how a new application or resource will react under heavy stress without testing tools. The right tools will help uncover issues that would otherwise be discovered by the end user.

Instead of taking the approach of Microsoft and rolling out a new system with thousands of bugs, we advise you to use one of the aforementioned performance and load testing tools to make sure you’ve got all of your ducks in a row.