Introducing Feature Flags in CI/CD Pipeline of DevOps

DevOps CI/CD Pipeline


Since the introduction of DevOps, it has been continuously evolving with all modern technological aspects, in which the Continuous Integration and the Delivery pipeline is getting new updates rapidly.

As we proceed further in the hybrid development area, this CI/CD Pipeline has to change into its advanced version. This continuous integration and delivery concept will get more precise and reduce the risks of faulty deployment with the involvement of new goals and best practices.

In GitLab, this progressive delivery concept is an extended version of DevOps than the usual CI/CD process. There is a forecast that this progressive delivery concept may become a default approach to deploying software in the upcoming few years.

Recently DevOps has introduced a new concept called feature toggles, also known as feature flags. This feature flag allows developers to integrate code as usual but by including new abilities as an encapsulated feature. So, they can easily be turned on and off based on priority and enhance productivity speed with risk management. However, with great authority, it also brings greater responsibilities. Feature flags demand thoughtful planning and uninterrupted management.

This article contains information about CI/CD pipeline and feature flags, its advantages, ways to improve CI/CD pipeline performance, and things to know while enabling features flags into the CI/CD pipeline.

A Concept of “Feature Flags”:

These Features Flags are software engineering methods, that enable and disable the functionalities of preferences during runtime. And in that, there is no need to add new code lines to the source code. It allows developers to make changes without deploying extra feature code and perform more configured experimentation over the features’ lifecycle. Due to this, feature flags can enable different workflows that are helpful to agile CI/CD environments and management methods.

At the time of products, often developers wrap significant code paths in a feature flag. Here is the code sample of a simple feature flag programmed in JavaScript:

if(featureFlags[‘new-cool-feature’] == true)




This sample code defines a statement that identifies where the “Button-select-feature” is enabled or not.

A feature is a variable that shows the output in the TRUE/FALSE form. For example, there is one mobile application code that defines a banner and ways to proceed further according to the pre-defined configurations. Hence, a feature flag is a variable that enables and disables features and triggers switches.

Benefits of Having Feature Flags inside DevOps CI/CD Pipeline:

By default, feature flags are designed to enable code verification, deployed on the production in a passive state and activate the code when needed. This feature allows developers to control applications’ user experience across the product. Developers also have a command to choose the time and userbase for delivering applications.

Validate Feature Functionalities:

Developers can use feature flags to implement new product features using soft rollout methods. They can also integrate feature flags to release new application features on an immediate basis. Developers can configure feature toggles “off” at the start of the feature implementation to test new features on developers’ mode in the working environment. This way, they can ensure that it is behaving as expected.

More importantly, this new feature will not be enabled for public use unless activated explicitly by the developer. After enabling the feature flag, developers need to check that its performance stays intact regardless of the situation. But once they discover any issues in the execution, they can turn it off from the new code and control its exposure to the users.

Also Read: 5 Best CI/CD Tools to use for DevOps in 2021 and Beyond

Reduces Risks:

Developers can also integrate feature flags with monitoring systems and security measures to observe any performance-related issues on an early basis. For instance, a website that experiences a sudden rise in user traffic and monitors a traffic handling module may reach its capacity or face serious performance issues. At that time, teams can use feature flags for disabling such performing features.

Improves System Behavior:

Developers can use the feature flags to reduce the complexity of code integration and releasing process. Plus, integrating new complicated features or critical refactored applications into the production branch of a repository is really challenging work. Especially, when many developers are working and overlapping each other’s code parts.

Feature flags help developers to isolate new integrated features from the stable code counterparts of the application. This isolated feature enables developers to avoid features divided into the other branches by deploying and monitoring them in the main repository branch located behind the feature toggle. After completing the code part, developers do not need to use the disruptive collaborative releasing method. In short, the developers’ team can enable the feature flag to process particular features in the new or existing application.

Final Thoughts:

Feature flags are an extremely helpful addition to the agile development property of DevOps. Well, developers can utilize feature flags in many innovative ways.

These features toggles are the built-in CI/CD pipeline functionality of the DevOps development tool and Git version control of GitOps. Undoubtedly, feature flags give developers the authority to control their code parts of application source code from implementation to deployment, and more importantly, the end-user experiences.

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