It’s funny that I first learned what smoke tests are just a few minutes ago. autrijus is mentioning them in his pugs reports all the time, but I just thought it’s some slang for tests ;-/
Anyway, the scenario is: daily builds are good, so is frequent testing.
However, sometime testing takes time. Testbases grow big (which is good) and sometimes take a long time to run – up to days for large projects that use tests to exercise boundary cases. This is a problem – how do you build daily with such long tests ?
Solution: smoke tests – a small and quick set of tests that take a hour or two to run. These assure that the system “doesn’t smoke” after a build – i.e. doesn’t crash the machine, throw a segfault, declare that 2+2=5. Just a few trivial tests can go a long way cleaning up major and basic bugs.
So, you build daily + run a smoke-test suite. If it fails – you found a bug and you know it’s new – was entered today -> easy to fix. If it passes, fine. Comprehensive tests run all the time and are ready the test the program more thoroughly.
Note: smoke tests are not too applicable to small programs that don’t have huge testbases.