Testing in Production with Feature Flags
Developing and delivering quality software is not an easy task. Application updates go through a variety of tests before being released to customers. However even after all this testing, once new changes reach a production environment and are being used in real-world situations by your end users, things can sometimes go wrong!
Because of this it’s important for developers to be able to test their software changed in a production environment from time to time. Testing software, while it’s in production, has always been a scary proposition. What’s worse than breaking a program that’s running? Doing something like that will cause a lot of headaches for everyone involved, most noticeably, the customer.
Developers and engineering teams need a convenient and powerful way to be able to test their latest changes in production. One popular method for this is to test in production using feature flags.
What is a Feature Flag?
Feature flags, which are sometimes called Feature Toggles, provide developers with a powerful tool to test their software in multiple ways. At its simplest level a feature flag is a way to enable and disable a feature within an application.
That’s a powerful tool because it allows developers to control their feature releases by first testing features based on specific audience demographics. That’s enormously helpful because there’s no need to rollout buggy or unloved features to a broader audience.
Getting Started with Feature Flags
There’s no need to roll your own solution when implementing feature flags. Instead, it’s a good idea to leverage the power of a cloud-based feature flag management solution from a third-party provider. That way, you can add feature flags to your development and deployment process quickly without any major overheads.
Improve Customer Experience by Testing in Production
This type of system is appropriate for software developers who regularly update their applications. Since the need for development and deployment is continuous, so is the requirement for a feature management solution like Feature Flags. Some companies will continuously tweak small parts of their software, looking for the best overall performance and monetization gains. For these types of businesses, production testing using feature flags makes complete sense. They don’t have ever to shut down or impact their core users. Instead, they test and tweak as needed and switch flags on and off when they’re sure of the results.
Another important aspect of releasing features which is often overlooked is how a feature will perform under increased user load. You may have a feature which is working perfectly in your test environment but once it’s deployed to production things don’t go as planned. Feature flags provide you with the ability to release a feature to a specific percentage of your users, this is known as a Canary Release, allowing you precisely control the load being delivered to the feature while monitoring its performance.
It’s fair to say that companies that perform production testing using feature flags have a competitive advantage over those who don’t. The ability to test and tweak means they’re always dialing in their core product so that it best meets their customer’s expectations. That will create an advantage because it means giving the customers their ideal service.
Software companies struggle to differentiate their products, and this technique is a way to do it. Getting feedback all the time that’s responding to software changes is invaluable. It means your customers are using a program that they’re actively helping to evolve. If your competitors are missing out on this vital step, they’re losing ground.
Companies that want to improve their customer experience with excellent software solutions need to test in production.
Using Feature Flags to Conduct Experiments
Testing in production with feature flags is not just about making sure your latest feature release is working as expected. Another powerful tool provided by feature flags is the ability to conduct experiments in production to see what version of a feature is working best for your customers.
Feature flags allow you to easily perform A/B testing within your application and give you the ability to serve multiple variations of a feature to your end user. Couple this with analytics software and you can get real user feedback on your software features with ease. That means your team can eliminate guesswork and rely more on data-driven decisions.
Accelerate Your Software Feature Delivery
Ultimately, it’s essential to deliver working features fast and continuously to your users. That type of commitment is what keeps loyal customers faithful to the brand. Testing features on a subset of users in production gives you the power to hone every one of your software features to exactly what your customers need giving them an excellent user experience.