Faster without Risk
Overview of Modern Feature Flags Management Services
Overview in a Graph
Feature Flags originated from the concept of Feature Toggles, a technique that allows developers to enable or disable specific functionalities. Initially, this technique was often implemented through a configuration file or a database, offering simplicity and ease of implementation. However, as the tech industry has grown and benefited from advancements in coding technologies, the Feature Toggle technique has evolved into a more complex and powerful feature flag management system. Feature Flags are now utilized in various scenarios, such as continuous integration and delivery, canary releases, Testing in Production, A/B testing, data migration, entitlement management, and more.
The image above illustrates an overview of a modern feature flags management service:
- Feature Flags Management is prevalent in almost every aspect of the software development lifecycle. It is an essential tool for accelerating product development and business growth.
- A Feature Flags Management Service comprises several components designed to ensure high availability, high performance, and support for a wide range of business scenarios.
- It is an integral part of the entire software development lifecycle. Robust ecosystem integration is becoming increasingly important.
Modern Use Cases of Feature Flag Services
Feature Flag Management plays a crucial role in virtually every aspect of the software development lifecycle. It is a vital tool for expediting product development and fostering business growth.
Continuous Integration and Delivery
Teams can leverage feature flags to separate deployment from release, facilitating trunk-based development and enabling continuous integration and delivery.
Derisking Feature Releases
Feature flags are employed in various scenarios to mitigate the risks associated with releasing new features. These scenarios include canary releases, progressive rollouts, Testing in Production, and more.
- Teams can use Testing in Production or Beta Testing to minimize the risks associated with new feature releases.
- Canary releases and progressive rollouts can be implemented to reduce release risks while ensuring high availability.
- Feature flags can aid in data and infrastructure migrations, decreasing associated risks.
- And more.
Data-Driven Decision Making
Feature flags also support data-driven decision-making, with use cases like A/B testing, experimental feature releases, lean development, and more.
- A/B testing can be used to validate new features and facilitate data-driven decisions.
- Teams can flexibly release features to specific user groups for experimental testing and lean development.
- And more.
Feature flags are increasingly used for entitlement management in many companies. For instance, they can manage the entitlements of different user groups, such as free, paid, and enterprise users.
Design Patterns for Feature Flag Management Services
FFMS provides a unified system for comprehensive management, supporting all the goals outlined in the 'Use Cases' chapter, which brings the following benefits to your team:
- Elimination of redundant code for A/B testing, Progressive Release, and Entitlement Management.
- Standardization of workflows and collaboration styles, reducing the learning curve and enhancing cooperation efficiency.
- Centralized management of thousands of feature flags, avoiding confusion in configuration files, database schemas, and access permissions across different teams in projects.
- Efficient handling of a large volume of traffic for thousands of feature flags, without performance concerns, as the feature flag management service takes care of it.
- An comprehensive UI for feature flag management, allowing not only developers but also business teams to easily manage and monitor feature flags.
To ensure the feature flag management service is robust (high performance, high availability) and user-friendly (adaptable to a wide range of business scenarios), it should be designed with the following principles in mind:
- Built on Microservice Architecture to facilitate continuous improvement and delivery, component decoupling, and support for high availability and performance.
- Incorporation of various storage types to cater to different business needs. For instance, Redis for high-performance scenarios and ClickHouse for high-volume scenarios.
- Deployment using Kubernetes or Terraform to accommodate diverse deployment needs, simplifying service deployment and upgrades.
- Utilization of Edge Services, CDN, and Multiple Data Centers to ensure low latency and high availability.
Additionally, there are many design patterns and key principles to learn. Here are some highly recommended resources:
- Feature Flag Best Practice from Unleash
- Key Principles for Feature Flags Systems
- Principles of Choosing a Feature Flag Tool
Integrating Modern FFMS within Tech Ecosystem
Modern Feature Flags Management Service plays a crucial role throughout the entire software development lifecycle, with robust ecosystem integration becoming increasingly vital.
- It integrates with CI/CD tools to control the steps of continuous integration and delivery.
- It works in conjunction with Data Analytics and A/B Testing tools to facilitate A/B testing and data-driven decision-making.
- It is compatible with Entitlement Management tools to aid in managing entitlements.
- It connects with Observability tools to efficiently detect issues and aid in troubleshooting.
- It integrates with Management & Communication tools to enhance collaboration among different teams.
- It can export data to a company's own data lake, supporting thorough data analysis and informed decision-making.
- And more.
Integration with Observability Tools
The FFMS provider should offer a method for integrating with observability tools. An FFMS should be able to send release events to the activity stream of the observability tool. This allows the tool to use these release events to detect issues and facilitate easier troubleshooting. For example, when abnormal traffic is detected, the observability tool can quickly pinpoint the root cause by examining the release events. It can then automatically trigger the rollback of a feature flag.
The Synergy Between Feature Flag Management Tools and AB Testing Tools
Many Feature Flags Management Service providers offer native experimentation tools to support A/B testing and data-driven decision-making. However, a true feature flags management tool should focus on its core functionality and integrate with other tools for optimal results. A/B testing is just one aspect of data analytics for business growth, so it's more convenient for users to have all data-driven features in a dedicated tool.
A feature flags management service should concentrate on traffic splitting and integration with third-party data analytics tools. For example, to facilitate overlapping experiments, the service should support features like Mutually Exclusive and Multi-Layer Experiments Traffic Assignment.
Managing experiment assignment strategies in a single, user-friendly platform remains a challenge for many teams. To address this, Feature Flags Management Services (FFMS) should strive to integrate with third-party data analytics tools. Conversely, data analytics tools should also offer the ability to integrate with feature flags management services. For instance, Growthbook (a pure AB testing tool) provides an easy-to-use data source feature that allows users to integrate their own feature flag data, unlike some other less user-friendly options.
The Synergy Between Feature Flag Management Tools and Entitlement Management
You can combine a self-development system with a feature flag service's API to build your own Entitlement Management system. For example, you can use feature flags to control user access. Call the FFMS API to modify the feature flag rules after a configuration change in your entitlement management service.
However, managing the mapping system between the feature flags management service and your own Entitlement Management Center remains a challenge. The FFMS provider should exert more effort in this area. Conversely, entitlement management or software monetization providrs should also expand their capabilities to integrate with FFMS.
Integration with whole tech ecosystem is a long way to go. The FFMS provider should focus on its core functionality and integrate with other tools for optimal results.
The Future of Feature Management
There are some famous feature flag management service providers in the market, all striving to offer better services for their customers. They aim for ease of use, greater power, and enhanced intelligence. I believe the future of feature flag management services will include the following features:
- Copilot-like features to enhance the development experience.
- A significant new scenario in the AIGP (AI-Generated Program) era.
- All-in-one solutions - Perfect integration with various large-scale scenarios.
- More Self-Hosted and Open Source Services for improved security, privacy, and cost-effectiveness.
- And more.
Today, some open-source LLMs (like OpenChat) have emerged with powerful capabilities that almost match the ChatGPT 3.5 turbo model in coding. Compared to ChatGPT, they are easy to deploy with almost zero cost. Feature Flags Service will be able to offer users a free copilot-like feature in the future, which will include:
- Auto-generation of feature flag code based on the context. This will be very useful for new developers.
- Automatic removal of dead feature flags and related code. Compared to humans, it can easily detect hidden dependencies referenced with a feature flag.
- Assistance for Observability tools in detecting issues by examining the relevant code source.
- Suggestions for experiment assignment strategies based on the context, allowing non-data scientists to conduct professional A/B testing.
- And more.
A New Big Scenario in AIGP (AI-Generated Program)
Today, many startups are fascinated with creating disruptive applications in the AI-Generated era. Some aim to enable ordinary people to generate a production-ready digital product without any knowledge of coding. Many demo products are already available in the market, and many ideas seem very promising.
In the next several years, ordinary people may not be able to build complicated applications like Twitter or Facebook with AI. But they can build simple applications like:
- A simple application to solve school math and history questions.
- A toolkit or a web plugin to improve work efficiency.
- A simple game (with self-defined rules) to play with friends.
- A simple website to display information.
These simple applications will likely be made up of small, ready-made components built by AI agent companies.
For large companies with complex business logic, they may combine traditional methods with new AIGPs or AIGCs (AI-Generated Components).
In this new programming trend, Feature Flags will still play a very important role:
- Maintaining its power to reduce risk as always.
- Retaining its skill for A/B testing splitting.
- Preserving its code to aid entitlement management.
- Replacing Git to control the version of AIGP simple applications.
- Keeping its flexible, specific audience release feature for simple applications.
- And more.
All-in-One but Concentrated
All-in-One is a major future trend. It will use a single feature control code base to connect all Feature Management services:
- Reducing maintenance costs and making the code more robust.
- Lowering the cost of building complex enterprise systems.
- Creating an efficient and robust ecosystem for customers' IT systems.
More Self-Hosted and Open Source Requirements
Technologies like Kubernetes and Cloud Services are becoming increasingly popular in companies. With technologies like Helm Chart and Terraform, installing, upgrading, and maintaining a self-hosted service is becoming easier. This will be a major trend in the future.
As a vital system in many companies, there is a growing demand to understand how the system works and what data it collects, including any potential security issues or risks from politics or competition. The emergence of more Open Source Feature Flags provides more confidence to customers. This will continue to be a significant trend.
Market Size: Insights from LaunchDarkly's Annual Report
More companies are starting to invest more in Feature Flags Management Services. According to an annual report from Launchdarkly.com, the market size for Feature Flags Management Services is growing rapidly. Many companies are willing to invest millions of dollars in building their Feature Management Services.
As we navigate the evolving landscape of software development, the significance of Feature Flags Management Services (FFMS) is increasingly apparent. These services are pivotal in facilitating efficient and flexible software development processes, from continuous integration to A/B testing and entitlement management. The rise of open-source and self-hosted solutions marks a shift towards greater security and cost-effectiveness, catering to diverse business needs. Moreover, the integration of AI-generated programming and copilot-like features heralds a new era of accessibility and innovation in software development. The growing investment in FFMS, as evidenced by market trends, underscores its essential role in the future of technology. As these services continue to evolve, they promise to offer more comprehensive, user-friendly, and integrated solutions, cementing their place as indispensable tools in the tech ecosystem.