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Your Guide to Proper Feature Flagging Hygiene

Madison Maher


What are feature flags? 

Feature flags, also known as feature toggles, are a software development technique used to enable or disable functionality without making changes to code. They allow developers to test new features without making them available to all users, or to enable or disable specific features for certain user groups. They can also be used to enable or disable certain areas of code in order to reduce risk during a software release. 

Ease of use & implementation 

Feature flags are easy to use and implement, especially when using a proper feature flagging solution (like DevCycle!) that makes it easy to set up flags and control how they are used. With DevCycle, you can easily control who sees your features and when, set up experiments to test different variations of your features, and track usage and performance. 

While the benefits of feature flags are plentiful, some teams fear that using flags will add complexity to the codebase since they technically require additional code to set up and manage. However, there are feature flagging hygiene best practices that help ensure that your codebase remains clean, regardless of how many flags you have in your codebase at once. When you practice proper feature flagging hygiene, feature flags actually reduce technical debt and lead to a cleaner codebase. 

Feature flagging hygiene

Feature flagging hygiene is the practice of regularly maintaining and cleaning up feature flags. This includes removing any flags that are no longer needed, disabling any flags that are not providing the desired value, and removing any configurations related to the flag. 

Disabling and removing feature flags when they’re no longer needed is the most important step in maintaining a clean codebase. But in order to know when a feature flag should be removed, we must first understand the entire lifecycle of a feature flag and what purpose the flag serves in each phase. 

What is the lifecycle of a feature flag? 

The first phase in a feature flag’s lifecycle is the actual creation of the flag (this is usually done in the development phase). It is then tested in the staging phase, before being enabled and released in the production phase. During the production phase, the feature flag is monitored and tracked to evaluate its performance and usage. 

Finally, the feature flag is removed or disabled when it is no longer needed, or when it is not providing the desired value. Feature flags should also be removed when a feature has been tested and is ready to be released to all users. And of course, a feature flag should always be removed if it is causing technical or performance issues.

When removing the flag from your code, you should also remove any tests or experiments associated with it, along with any configurations related to the flag, such as user groups or rules. Finally, you should review any metrics or analytics associated with the flag to ensure that your changes had the desired effect. 

How should you remove a feature flag? 

It’s important to ensure that the code is not adversely affected by the removal. Thus, it’s best to first disable the flag, then test the code to ensure that it still works as expected. Once you have verified that the code functions properly, you can then safely remove the flag and any associated tests or experiments. 

Managing technical debt with feature flags

Feature flags are a tool intended to help teams increase deployment frequency and reduce release complexity. And they do just that – especially when your team prioritizes proper feature flagging hygiene.

What’s even better? Feature flags also help your team manage technical debt – another software development practice that’s key to maintaining a clean codebase and optimally running product.

Since feature flags allow developers to test new features without making them available to all users, they help reduce the risk of introducing bugs or other issues into the codebase. They also allow developers to make incremental changes that can be easily tracked and tested, rather than solely relying on massive, end-of-month feature releases that are often filled with bugs. Also, feature flags reduce the complexity and cost of maintaining or fixing code, since they allow teams to enable or disable certain areas of code at a time. Lastly, feature flags can be used to track usage and performance, which can help identify areas of the code that need to be improved or refactored.

Ultimately, feature flags are an effective way to increase deployment frequency and release more features without introducing codebase complexities. Get started today with DevCycle’s feature flags today, and use this post as a feature flagging hygiene best practice guide!

Written By

Madison Maher