An Introduction to Feature Flags

An Introduction to Feature Flags

Let’s consider a world, not in the distant future but in the present, to feature a unique testing environment. A testing environment is completely separated from an organization’s other sandboxes. This environment for testing will allow everyone to test almost everything in production. The idea behind this testing environment is to accumulate valuable data that will help your production team make significant improvements. And that’s the secret ingredient? Feature Flags!

The most significant pain point for any production/testing environment is deciding if the idea is genius or foolish. Feature flags help you directly deploy your applications’ new versions and features into a production environment in miniature batches.

What are feature flags?

Feature flags is a coming-up-age software engineering method that allows developers to continually integrate into the primary’ trunk.’ With feature flags, developers can ship incomplete features into the production state. These features will be dormant till they are ready to be worked upon. Feature flags also play a quintessential role in software development and delivery. When the feature in development is complete, the code can be activated on demand.

Feature flags have complete over which code paths can be activated at a given period. Several names are associated with feature flags, such as switchers, feature toggles, and flippers. During the runtime or build time, these flags can be switched on or off promptly when teams can change an application’s behavior without updating the code; that solves most of the problem.

**Trunk- The major development branch that comes directly under the version control system.

Benefits of feature flags

Feature flags are extremely powerful in SDLC, despite adding complexity to their codebase. Some of the benefits that feature flags offer are:

  • Production Testing:

    Feature flags eliminate the need for a distinctive testing environment. Hence, making new features enabled for beta users and developers becomes seamless.
  • Development Cycle:

    If feature flags are not in place during development, you’d need to hold off on deployment till testing is done. This process usually takes weeks; however, the development cycle is cut short with feature flags. Feature flags allow developers to get into the SDLC process multiple times, try the partially developed features, and receive instantaneous feedback!
  • Simple Version Control:

    Feature flags employ a trunk-based development process, which allows people to continuously integrate, merge every day, iterate, and minimize the process of merging conflicts.
  • Decoupling Businesses:

    During SDLC, there are times when a feature is ready-for-release. However, developers publish it. With feature flags, you can switch it on whenever it deems fit.
  • Seamless Release:

    Feature flags ensure a superior control level for blue-green and canary releases.

Who uses feature flags?

Developers have primarily used feature flags for several years. Engineers and developers use them for continuous deployment and later configure them as they are implicated directly into the code. Before feature flags existed, Boolean flags, an exceedingly simple toggle, were used to turn any feature on or off. Other than being very basic in complexity, Boolean flags only comprise true or false values.

With several development and evolution over the years, product managers have garnered control over releases alongside their ability to update feature flags while running experiments. At the same time, developers can deploy code at their will, but it’s about the managers to divide who witnesses any change in production.

As several teams are seen using feature flags, the most common users are:

  • Developers
  • Product Managers
  • Quality Assurance

Feature Flags: Use Cases

Feature flags are extensively used to release new features embedded in the software. Besides canary launches, you can do several other things, such as activating features for a country-wide event or installing per-region or per-user commands. You cannot get any different technique that offers such control.

Feature Flags to test, analyze, usage, and Iterate

Feature flags roadmap for usage:

  1. Code: To deploy a new feature that can be disabled for everyone else.
  2. Test: You can bring in developers and internal testers when the feature is almost completed.
  3. Canary/Beta: After completing several testing and iterations, you can toggle it either for beta users or provide it for usage for a specific population group.
  4. Iterate: This step ensures you gather metrics alongside usage analytics. As you continue to gather feedback, iterating later becomes better.
  5. Release: As for the last step, you can toggle the feature for everyone.

**Note that both deployment & release should be distinctive. It’s about you to decide if the feature is available or not based on if the release meets up with the business parameters. Feature flags are a great way to achieve an excellent business opportunity.

CloudZenix uses feature flags to enable seamless development

For years now, feature flags have indeed become a staple for software development that enables the DevOps team to release features hassle-free and seamlessly. CloudZenix leverages feature flags as an integral part of the software development process. Our process to implement feature flags in your code is easy. We can help you create flags inside the platform and then help you wrap features in code alongside flags while implementing them.

Once the feature flags are live, we’ll help you manage them. We will review the flag at a regular cadence and then remove the parts of the feature flag which aren’t required anymore. The best part is we can make the entire process automated for you. Want to know more about feature flags or DevOps and Cloud Computing? Get in touch with us at:

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