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Feature Flags Explained: Use Cases, Benefits and Examples

what is feature flagging

First thing’s first: what are feature flags?

Feature flags are also commonly referred to as feature toggles, or switches. At a high level, the purpose of a feature flag is to enable or disable a feature. They help you take control of your releases by sending new features to specific audience segments and allowing you to choose the exact percentage of your users that receive an experiment.

feature flags

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There are many other use cases for feature flags; you can:

  • Safely test features in production while rapidly collecting valuable user feedback
  • Deploy code when you want and independently release – and unrelease – features with the flip of a switch
  • Control and cater each individual’s experience with user segmentation
  • Get real-time visibility into the impact that every new change is having

Many popular apps like to use feature flagging to see how users respond to new features. As they receive positive feedback and gain confidence in the feature, they increase the number of people who get the new version with no app updates required. You’ve probably been part of a rollout and not realized it!

Read about how Google ChromeSpotify, and Instagram use feature flags to test rollouts and new features in a risk-free way!

Benefits of rolling out using feature flags

You’ve been releasing features the same way forever and it’s been ~fine~. Why should you consider adding feature flags to your releases?

Mitigate Risk ‍♂️

Nervous about your new product’s performance? You have the ability to rollback your product or feature immediately if you detect a bug or encounter negative feedback that could cost you your reputation.

Control Who Sees What

Create audience segments to manage who experiences your new feature and when. You control which features are turned on or off for each customer with the flip of a switch.

Time Control Your Launch ⏰

If you’re worried about network traffic being an issue, rollout to small increments of customers over a specified period of time.

Measure immediate impact

By controlling the rollout and sending out the release in small increments, it’s easy to monitor and measure its impact as it happens.

Update Already Live Features

Make changes to live features without having to redeploy or require app-store updates.

Gather Live Feedback Before You Release

At Taplytics, we often speak to the importance of an experiment-driven mindset, to maintain the habit of pushing out ideas as fast as they come to test how your customers react.

This is exactly what feature flags support – instead of keeping new features to yourself until they’re perfect, why not release them to a small, controlled group? You can gather feedback from the group to help you gain the confidence needed to slowly release the feature to more and more customers. If the feature is bugging out or receiving negative feedback, you have the power to flip it off just like *that*.

We’re part of Google Chrome’s Mobile App Rollout and you probably are too
Google Chrome rolled out its new address bar to small user segments at a time to gather candid user feedback to get mixed reviews. Read about it here.

How do Feature Flags work?

Feature flag products and services make it easy to create and implement feature flags.

You start by specifying an audience segmentation; this is where you pick who is going to see the new feature. You can filter by anything from location to to days since sign up or login. 

Next, you set the distribution and choose what percentage of the selected users will be initially included in the rollout. You also have the option to set a timed rollout schedule, whereby you can control a release as you increase or decrease the number of users in it. 

Create the feature flag, paste the code, flip the switch. It’s that easy!

Get Feature Flagging

The key to a successful product release is the collection of user feedback early on. Being able to adjust and accordingly making changes before releasing it to the masses is a huge advantage that is really easy to achieve with feature flags. If you still think it’s too soon to release to even a small group of users, feature flags can enable a feature for just you and your team to see. This ensures you can be confident about your new feature before the first wave of rollouts. Remember, don’t wait too long to ship that first version –  the longer you wait, the more you lose valuable time to collect feedback and test functionality in the hands of your real users.

Check it out: Taplytics released our dead simple feature flagging platform on Product Hunt last week!