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The Pros, Cons, and Best Practices for Using Feature Toggles


Feature toggles are a powerful tool that developers can use to deploy code changes quickly and efficiently. They allow developers to test features in production without exposing them to end-users. As a result, they can change the behavior of features without having to go through the entire release cycle, which can save time and money. Feature toggles are becoming increasingly popular as they provide a way for teams to experiment with new features. This method provides them the ability to turn them off or reduce their exposure without a traditional roll back or build-test-deploy cycle if needed.

Overview of Feature Toggles

Feature toggles work by allowing developers to turn certain features on or off at any given time, for any user or group of users, depending on their needs. This means that they can test new features quickly and easily, with minimal risk.

Best Practices for Using Feature Toggles

It is important to practice best practices when using these tools to ensure maximum success.

First, organizations should make sure that their feature flags are properly configured and secure. This means setting up multi-level flags or staged rollouts as needed, enabling only certain users or environments to see the feature. Then implementing adequate security measures to prevent accidental exposure of sensitive data.

Second, organizations should aim for minimal system impact when deploying feature flags. This can be achieved by carefully designing the flag configuration so that it does not excessively burden the system with processing time or memory use. Additionally, organizations should also monitor performance closely and make sure everything works as expected before rolling out a feature more broadly.

Finally, organizations should have a plan in place for reverting changes if something goes wrong during the testing phase or if they need to revert back any changes quickly. Feature flags provide the flexibility of being able to revert any changes without waiting for an entire release cycle. However, this requires proper planning ahead of time and having a system in place for efficiently monitoring performance and tracking progress towards goals. 

Types of Feature Toggles

Feature toggles come in a variety of different types, each with its own unique advantages and disadvantages. 

The most commonly used type is the binary toggle, which allows an organization to turn a feature on or off at any given time. This type of toggle is often used when a feature needs to be tested quickly without having to wait for the entire release cycle. 

Another popular type of toggle is the A/B testing, or “multivariant” toggle. This allows developers to test different versions of code simultaneously to determine which version works best. 

Both of these toggles are useful for running experiments and gathering data about customer engagement, user experience, and overall performance metrics. In the case of the binary toggle, the comparisons are between status quo and new. This is valuable when practicing progressive delivery, where a change may be rolled out gradually to ensure all is well before sending it to all users.

In addition to these two main types of feature toggles, there are also more advanced solutions—such as nested or parent/child flags, and dynamic configuration (also known as remote configuration). Multi-level flags or staged rollouts—that allow for more complex configurations. Multi-level flags allow developers to set multiple states for a feature across different environments and users. But staged rollouts enable developers to gradually introduce new features over time by rolling out changes in stages. These more advanced solutions offer greater flexibility and control than basic binary or A/B flags. As a result, this allows organizations to tailor their feature deployments according to their specific needs.

Overall, compared to homegrown or in-house solutions, feature flags are much easier and faster to deploy as they don’t require waiting for an entire release cycle before deploying code changes. Additionally, they provide greater flexibility concerning testing features quickly in production while still being able to revert if something goes wrong during the testing process. However, it is important that organizations practice proper security measures when using these tools in order to prevent accidental exposure of sensitive data through misconfigured flags.

How to Use Feature Toggles Effectively

When testing code in production, feature toggles can be a powerful and effective tool. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to use them:

1. Identify the Feature: The first step is to identify which feature or update you wish to test. This could include anything from a small bug fix or UI tweak, to larger changes, such as new functionality or an entirely new product offering.

2. Set Up the Flag: Once you’ve identified the feature, the next step is to create a flag for it by setting up a toggle in your codebase. If you’re using an existing service like Split, this just requires adding a few lines of code.

3. Toggle On/Off: Next, you will need to set the flag so that it can be turned on and off at any given time without having to wait for an entire release cycle. Depending on your needs, you may want to enable only certain users or environments to see the feature. This can be done by setting up multi-level flags or staged rollouts, respectively.

4. Monitor Performance: After deploying the feature toggle and enabling it on certain users or environments, it’s important to monitor performance closely and make sure everything works as expected. This way, problems can be caught quickly and fixed before they become major issues down the line.

5. Revert Changes: If something does go wrong during testing phase or if the results are not favorable, you have the ability to easily revert to any changes with feature toggles: No need for a full release cycle!

Examples of Successful Implementations With Feature Toggles 

Feature toggles have been used successfully by many organizations as a way to test in production. One prominent example is Chase WePay, which recently used Split’s feature flags to optimize its release process. WePay can now ship new discrete features as often as they’d like. They test them first internally, then with select customer groups, before slowly ramping them to all of their customers. 

At Swedbank, another well-known organization that has adopted feature toggling with Split, they use feature flags both for experimentation and for managing stability. Feature flagging is key to delivering value to their customers by allowing their engineering teams to automate their release process, which in turn reduces risk in the release pipeline. By removing this layer of extra processes, developer velocity increases, team confidence increases, and therefore developer experience increases as well.

These are just a couple of examples of how organizations can successfully use feature flagging when testing in production environments. By leveraging this tool effectively, organizations can gain greater flexibility when it comes experimenting with new features without risking too much disruption downstream.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Feature Toggles

The main advantage of using feature toggles is that it allows teams to experiment with new features without having the worry about releasing them too soon. The fear is that they won’t be able to revert back if something goes wrong during a testing phase. Additionally, feature toggle driven releases are much faster than traditional deploy and release cycles as they don’t require waiting for a new deployment to release a feature.

However, there are some disadvantages associated with using feature toggles. This includes increased complexity when managing multiple versions of a feature across different environments, and potential security issues due to accidental exposure of sensitive data through misconfigured flags. 

If you’re looking to leverage the positives and avoid the negatives of feature toggles, it’s important to implement a feature management platform across your organization. The best ones can help streamline version control, provide visibility across teams, and they even include advanced security protocols to ensure sensitive data isn’t shared with the cloud. Split’s Feature Data Platform™ has a rules engine architecture, which means feature toggle rules are always evaluated by the Split SDKs inside your code, never by sending sensitive data across the network for evaluation.

Switch It On With Split

The Split Feature Data Platform™ gives you the confidence to move fast without breaking things. Set up feature flags and safely deploy to production, controlling who sees which features and when. Connect every flag to contextual data, so you can know if your features are making things better or worse and act without hesitation. Effortlessly conduct feature experiments like A/B tests without slowing down. Whether you’re looking to increase your releases, to decrease your MTTR, or to ignite your dev team without burning them out–Split is both a feature management platform and partnership to revolutionize the way the work gets done. Schedule a demo to learn more.

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