A canary release is a strategy similar to blue-green deployment where you slowly distribute an update to a small subset of users before it goes live to the entire infrastructure. It's a best practice for continuous deployment and continuous delivery which reduces the risk of releasing a new software version.
The term canary release was coined by coal miners bringing a canary with them while mining. Since canaries have a lower tolerance for carbon monoxide and toxic gases, if the bird stayed alive it meant they were safe. However, if the canary died it was an early warning to workers that they should leave the coal mine before the toxic gas level impacted them.
Luckily, this technique is no longer used, however, the term canary release stuck around. In software development, canary deployment is a new idea replacing the old-fashioned approach of testing with an actual bird. It lets a pre-selected group of users identify bugs and breaks in a new feature for you before it goes to a wider audience. With the information you collect from this first group of users, you can then strengthen your feature and make sure it’s ready for a wider audience.
Canary tests can be done granularly at the feature level using feature flags to send a percentage of end users to the new version of the experience. In this way, you can avoid risking a full release of the new version of the experience on your site as it is tested.
With a canary deployment the first step is to show your new feature or new service to a small percentage of your real user base. This strategy means end-users will see different versions of your page. Some will see the original one, and the users in the canary release will see the new canary version.
Once the feature in the canary launch performs well and meets business metrics, you can continue showing the new version to more and more end-users in gradual stages until 100% of your traffic sees the new feature. If something goes wrong, you can roll back the feature.
This is beneficial for release engineering since your development team can catch any bugs in your code or issues early on when only a small percentage of users have access to the new feature and see the error rate. This allows you to make changes before showing it to more of your users.
Canary testing is a process where new code can be tested on a small subset of users to see if there are any bugs. Rather than releasing it to all users, this testing will help minimize the impact of any issues with the code. Canary testing is beneficial because it allows new features to be released while ensuring functionality and performance.
By using a canary process, you can test how the new release of your feature performs in a real environment with real users. By only showing it to a small number of users, it minimizes negative impact.
Through using the approach of running a canary test, you can see how the new software version performs in a small live group. This is much better than testing new code in a production environment since you're using live users. You can even control who the initial users are going to be so you can test with team members or early adopters first.
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Through using the technique of having your new feature gradually shown to users as your deployment strategy, you can continuously track how the feature is performing, gain user feedback and see how it affects your systems. This provides valuable insights that you wouldn’t get if you weren’t testing in a live environment.
Canary testing fits into the continuous delivery and continuous integration methodologies. Canary testing is when a developer tests a new feature by deploying it to a percentage of users. This way, if the feature fails, you can roll it back automatically. A new and important tool that is starting to be used is continuous deployment and canary testing. With this method, developers can more quickly and safely release new features and code changes at scale.
DevCycle is a feature management tool that allows you to leverage feature flags to ship faster, reduce risk and maximize the impact of your canary release. By leveraging feature flags, you can increase your release cadence with minimizing release complexity.
Through continuously deploying and testing in production, you can organize your feature flags in several environments with our APIs without needing to leave your workflow. Developers, product and marketing teams can toggle a feature on or off in the DevCycle dashboard to control who has access.
Your team can also predermine a rollout schedule to specify which users have access to a new feature and at what date. This means you can create a predetermined rollout period for a canary release and let DevCycle gradually deploy it based on the rollout schedule your team set up.
DevCycle also enables you to maximize the impact of your canary release through zero latency experimentation build for developers. Iterate and optimize features with the ability to dynamically modify content in production without redeployments.
Engineering teams can employ continuous integration and continuous delivery to keep up with competition. This practice will allow for faster development cycles, as well as the ability to deploy new features without risk of errors. Practices like canary testing can also help mitigate risk.
Want to use feature flags to start using canary releases and improve your software development workflow? Get started with a free trial of DevCycle.
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