In software development, a "feature" is a distinct unit of functionality that fulfills a particular requirement or solves a specific problem. Features are the building blocks of any software, be it a simple button in a mobile app or a complex e-commerce service.
Managing features effectively is critical for the success of any software project, and that's where the practice of feature management comes into play.
It is in the end a practice rather than a tool, and this guide will help you understand what it is all about and how Featurevisor can help you with it.
What is Feature Management?
Feature Management is the practice of controlling the visibility and behavior of different features within a software application. It involves a set of techniques and tools that allow you to:
- Toggle features: Turn features on or off without changing the application code.
- Rollout control: Gradually release new features to a subset of users.
- A/B & multivariate testing: Experiment with different variations of a feature to see which performs better.
- Remote configuration: Change the behavior or appearance of features without deploying new application code.
- Faster time-to-market: Feature management enables you to deploy code as soon as it's written and tested, even if the feature isn't fully complete. This results in quicker releases and a faster time-to-market.
- Reduced risk: By using feature flags, you can release new features in a controlled manner, making it easier to roll back in case of errors or issues. This reduces the risk associated with each release.
- Increased flexibility: Feature management allows for more dynamic and flexible software releases. You can toggle features on or off, perform A/B tests, or roll out features to specific user segments without requiring code changes.
- Improved user experience: With feature management, you can personalize features for specific user segments, improving user satisfaction and potentially increasing conversion rates.
- Streamlined testing: Feature flags enable more efficient testing strategies like canary releases and A/B testing, making it easier to gather user feedback and make data-driven decisions.
- Better collaboration: Feature management tools centralize all your feature configuration in one place to collaborate and manage features more effectively.
- Phased rollouts: Feature management allows you to gradually release new features, collecting data and feedback at each stage to ensure that the rollout is as smooth as possible.
- Simplified debugging: When an issue arises, it's easier to pinpoint the cause when you can control the configuration of your features in one place, including seeing history of its recent changes.
There are various terms that are commonly used in the context of feature management. Let's take a look at some of them:
A feature flag, also known as a feature toggle, is a software development technique that's basically an implementation of "if" condition in your code allowing you to enable or disable functionality in your application, ideally without requiring any further deployments.
This is achieved by decoupling your feature releases from application deployments.
Feature flags can be referred to by many other different names as well:
- feature toggle
- feature switch
- feature rollout
- feature release
- feature launch
Usually feature flags are evaluated at runtime, meaning that the application will check the value of the flag at the time of execution and behave accordingly. And the evaluated value of the flag can be different for different users, depending on the conditions you set.
In Featurevisor, feature flags are expressed as features, which can be a simple boolean flag, or an A/B test, or a multivariate test with scoped variables depending on your use case.
A/B testing is an experimentation technique used to compare two or more variations of a feature to see which one performs better against your conversion goals. Your conversion goals can be anything from increasing the number of sign-ups to improving the click-through rate of a button.
It is a great way to validate your assumptions and make data-driven decisions.
You learn more about how they are both evaluated using the SDKs in application runtime here.
Canary release is a technique used to gradually roll out new features to a subset of your users. It is a great way to test new features in production with real users and gather feedback before rolling them out to all your traffic.
Learn more about it how it works with Featurevisor in Progressive Delivery guide.
The practice of releasing new features that are hidden from users, allowing developers to test functionalities in a production environment without exposing it to the general public.
You can read further about its use cases in:
The process of making a particular feature or change available to users. This can be done incrementally or all at once, depending on the strategy.
You can see how the rollout rules are defined in Featurevisor here.
Targeting rules are the conditions that determine whether a particular feature is exposed or not to a particular user.
They can be based on a variety of factors, such as:
- User attributes (e.g. age, location, subscription plan, etc.)
- User behavior (e.g. number of sessions, number of purchases, etc.)
- Device attributes (e.g. browser, screen size, OS etc.)
- And more...
In Featurevisor, targeting conditions are expressed as segments which contain a set of conditions that must be met for a user to be included in the segment. Those conditions are defined against attributes, and evaluated against provided context.
The practice of categorizing users into different cohorts, or "buckets", often to test multiple variations of an A/B test or handling a regular feature flag's incremental rollout.
Challenges with traditional feature management
Traditionally, feature management has been done by hardcoding conditional statements in the application code directly, which lead to several challenges:
- Code complexity: Using conditional statements to control features can make the codebase messy.
- Deployment risks: Rolling out features without a controlled environment can lead to unexpected issues.
- Lack of flexibility: Once a feature is deployed, it's generally difficult to modify or roll it back.
- Collaboration gaps: Development, QA, and product management often lack a unified tool to control and monitor features.
Featurevisor is an open-source software specifically designed to tackle the challenges of Feature Management. Here's how:
Featurevisor adopts GitOps workflow, making it easier to manage, review, and approve feature changes through Pull Requests. This brings in accountability and ensures only vetted changes go live.
Transparency and auditability
Because of using Git, you also get the benefits of version control, allowing you to easily roll back to a previous version if needed and have full history of all changes for auditing purposes.
Independent configuration deployment
Featurevisor allows you to deploy configurations independently of the main application. These configurations, known as "datafiles", contain all the settings related to your feature flags, A/B tests, and variables.
This helps decouple releases from application deployments.
Featurevisor SDKs ensure latest configuration is fetched in applications, meaning you can toggle features on or off instantly without waiting for a new application deployment.
Cloud Native and unopinionated
Whether you are using AWS, Google Cloud, Azure, or any other cloud service, Featurevisor's cloud native architecture seamlessly integrates with your existing tech stack. It has no preference for Git hosting, CI/CD tools, or CDN, offering you unparalleled flexibility.
Feature Management is crucial in modern software engineering for deploying in a safer, faster, and in a more controlled manner.
Featurevisor takes it a notch higher by incorporating best practices like GitOps and offering instant, flexible configurations. By adopting Featurevisor, you are not just choosing a tool; you are opting for a more efficient and effective approach to managing your software's features and everything to do with managing their releases.