What is feature toggle or how to get rid of excruciating walruses and long-lived branches?

Suppose you want to develop a new feature, but you are not sure that users will like it, and you need to have a way to hide it painlessly. Or suppose you are working on a new big feature and want to avoid monster commits. Or just want to make the behavior of the site easily configurable. How can I solve all these problems, read under the cat.


Imagine that the development cycles of your team last for two weeks, and the implementation of a new feature will require 3 months of development from the team. At first glance, there are two possible schemes of action:

Both of these approaches have their obvious advantages and disadvantages:

Long-lived branchThe code of your unprepared feature will not be in the parent branch and will not be an eyesore to other developers
  • Permanent merge conflicts you need to resolve
  • Monstrous pull request unsuitable for code-review

Lots of short-life commits from branchesThe task is well decomposed and frozen in small portions, there is no need to resolve merge conflictsYour unprepared feature will unnerve other developers and, possibly, cause third-party effects on the UI

Using feature switchers to solve problems

This problem is quite common in development and there is an elegant solution that allows you to take the best from the approaches described above - feature toggle or feature switcher .

Essentially, a feature switcher is a boolean flag that is stored in the database and contains information about whether a feature should be enabled or not. The value of this flag can be retrieved from the database by key. The convenience of using feature switchers is that they can be easily changed by a business user during runtime through the admin panel without having to re-deploy the application.

The following is an example of using feature toggle in Java:

if (configurationManager.getParameter("is.some.functionality.enabled")) { // do some stuff } else { // do default logic } 

In the example above, configurationManager is a class that allows you to retrieve the value of a specific feature switcher from the database by its key.

Also, with the help of feature switchers, you can display / hide certain elements on the frontend. To do this, put the flag value in Model and pass it to View as shown below:

 @ModelAttribute("isSomeFunctionalityEnabled") public void isSomeFunctionalityEnabled() { return configurationManager.getParameter("is.some.functionality.enabled"); } 

Then use the passed value to render this or that HTML code:

 <c:choose> <c:when test="${isSomeFunctionalityEnabled}"> <!-- Render some stuff --> </c:when> <c:otherwise> <!-- Render some other stuff --> </c:otherwise> </c:choose> 

Types of Feature Switchers

The described concept of using feature switchers is just one possible use case and such feature switchers are called release toggles. In total there are 3 different types of feature switchers:

Thus, using feature switchers, you can build two different versions of the site on the same code base, using different databases and different sets of feature switchers. For example, on a European site it makes sense to include all features related to GDPR, but on a Russian one you can not do this.

Problems using feature toggles

Since I work on a project where feature toggles are actively used, in addition to the obvious advantages of using them, I began to notice problems associated with them:

Solutions to some of the problems described.

The following actions can help solve the above problems:


Feature switcher is a very simple and at the same time powerful mechanism that allows you to avoid monstrous commits, easily change application behaviors, or assemble several different applications on the same code base using different feature toggle configurations.

However, it is also worth remembering that this development pattern has some drawbacks that result in hard-to-read and hard-to-maintain code, therefore, excessive use of this pattern should be avoided and periodically document feature switchers and their revisions to remove unused ones and, as a result, clear the project from the "dead" code.

useful links

Source: https://habr.com/ru/post/464021/

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