Ephemeral Feature Toggles

At its simplest  feature toggle is a small if-statement, which may be toggled without deploying code, and used to enable features (new or changed functionality) in your software.

In an agile setup most developers love  having feature toggles available, as they often allow for a continuous delivery setup  with very little friction and obstacles. While this is true, it often seems developers forget to think of feature toggles as ephemeral, and doesn’t realize what a terrible mess, this can cause – given they don’t remove the toggles once the feature is launched and part of the product.

While feature toggles often is an extremely lean way to  introduce public features in software – short circuiting normal release ceremony, as it has already happened before the launch of the feature – which often literally is a button press in a admin/back end interface.

Feature toggles must be ephemeral when used to support Continuous Delivery.

Introducing feature toggles in source code is often just allowing an if-statement and toggling between two states. While it ought to be a single place a toggle occur in the source code, it may often be in views, models, libraries and/or templates – and thus leads to (potentially) a lot of clutter in the source code.

If feature toggles are allowed to live on, the next issue is often that feature toggles may become nested or unintentional crossed as various functions, components in the code, may depend on other features.

Feature toggles is a wonderful thing, but all toggles should not have a lifespan beyond the two sprints forward – allowing for the wins of the feature toggles, yet avoiding long term clutter and complications in the source code.

Other uses for feature toggles…

Feature toggles may exist as hooks for operations or to define various class-of-service for your users.

When used for operations, they may be used as hooks to disable especially heavy functionality during times of heavy load – black Friday, Christmas or whenever it may be applicable.

When used for Class-of-Service feature toggles can be used to determine which feature a basic and a premium user – or any other classes you may choose to have – have access to.

If you’re applying feature toggles as Operations hooks or class-of-service, don’t make them ephemeral, but have your developers mark them clearly in source code.