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The Benefits of Leveraging Feature Toggles in Software Development


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Feature Toggles, or feature flags as they’re often called, are a powerful tool for software engineers. If used properly, they can be an invaluable asset to the development process. By enabling feature toggles within the codebase, developers can quickly turn ON or OFF features without having to go through the entire development cycle over and over again. This is a significant time saver and life saver.

Feature toggles have become increasingly popular among software developers. This is probably due to their ability to improve agility, accelerate time-to-market velocity, and increase reliability.

Simply stated, they’re pretty clutch.

In this article let’s cover the basics of feature toggles. We’ll explain when and why feature toggles should be used to maximize efficient software delivery. Take notes!

To Take Control of Your Software, Grab the Bull By the Toggle

Feature toggles are a safe, helpful shortcut. Use them to enable or disable new features without making tedious updates every time. That’s a breath of fresh air.

With feature toggles, you can test the performance of new functionality straight in production—before exposing things to your customers— and that’s key!

Let’s say you want to try new features live: Feature toggles are perfect for A/B testing scenarios. Developers can quickly release features to subsets of customers and track what happens. If features aren’t responding well to customer traffic, you can pull them back and tweak certain aspects accordingly. Feature toggles with causal analysis identify what’s working, so software engineers can learn early on as they ramp up their releases little by little through percentage rollouts.

What about risk mitigation? When issues arise, feature toggles provide an additional layer of security. They can be easily disabled. In fact, it’s as simple as hitting a “kill switch.”

No wonder most software engineers agree continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) wouldn’t be possible without feature toggles. Once teams get a handle on their feature toggling, they can easily automate the deployment process, triggering builds and deployments whenever new code is committed. They can also help teams quickly adjust on the fly if needed, and there’s barely any risk to the code.

Be able to improve your agility, time-to-market, and empower software teams through reliable development practices—it’s all possible with feature toggles.

Feature Toggles Attached to Data? Even Better!

Not only do feature toggles help you quickly release feature updates, they’re a useful experimentation tool. The best feature toggle platforms include data attribution at the feature-level to help you truly harness what’s possible. Especially when it comes to trying a range of feature variants right in production, toggles with data are a go to. The best part is you can track what works and what doesn’t before deciding the best release approach.

If a feature causes an error or a bug, ops teams can address them right away. The best feature management platforms will capture these performance issues with actionable and insightful data—including information around which flag is associated with the changes in metrics. As a result, response times and triaging becomes rather quick, avoiding potential disruptions or downtime in production.

The benefit of feature flag data is providing next level visibility. This makes it easier for teams to monitor the progress of their projects and ensure all new features meet quality standards. Also, particularly important for large software teams, feature flags enable trunk-based development, which dramatically reduces the frequency and complexity of merge conflicts.

Potential Pitfalls of Feature Flags & How to Avoid Them

Feature toggles are a powerful tool for developers, but they can also come with certain risks if you’re not careful. For instance, feature flags can become difficult to manage if there are too many of them or if feature branching is not properly monitored. This can lead to feature overload, where feature branches get out of control, and it becomes difficult to track which features are active or not.

In order to avoid these potential pitfalls associated with feature flags, developers must ensure that their feature flagging system is well organized and tightly controlled.

How to Implement Feature Toggles With Best Practices In Mind

Developers need to take several steps in order to ensure that their feature flagging system is safely and efficiently managed.

The first step is for developers to create a feature management plan which outlines how feature flags will be used in the software development process. This should include a clear description of when feature flags should be used, as well as how they will be implemented and monitored. Defining strict guidelines is a critical component to minimizing risk. Do it.

Next, stay on track and be organized. One way to keep things tidy is to periodically review your feature flagging system. Make sure that there are no unnecessary or outdated flags causing clutter and confusion. Automated tracking tools can help identify which features have been enabled or disabled at any given time. Get to know them, so you don’t have to spend too much time monitoring or manually reviewing codebase.

Finally, recognize when it’s time to retire old feature flags. Once features flags have been 100% released for over 100 hundred days, they’re typically no longer needed. If you’re not cleaning up “old” feature flags, code can become harder to read, and that presents a number of issues.

Stop Teetering, Start Toggling

By leveraging feature toggles efficiently with best practices and implementation, you’re on your way to inspiring a culture of accelerated software development and experimentation. Good luck! Let Split know if you have any questions or would like to demo our feature toggling platform.

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