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Category Direction - Feature Flags

Feature Flags

Feature Flags can be used as part of software development to enable a feature to be tested even before it is completed and ready for release. A feature flag is used to hide, enable or disable the feature during run time. The unfinished features are hidden (toggled) so they do not appear in the user interface. This allows many small incremental versions of software to be delivered without the cost of constant branching and merging.

Feature flags unlock faster, more agile delivery workflows by providing control over the flexibility of deployment to a specific environment or audience. In addition it reduces risk to production, in case a problem is detected, because disabling the feature is as easy as turning off a switch.

Feature Flags is built with an Unleash-compatible API, ensuring interoperability with any other compatible tooling, and taking advantage of the various client libraries available for Unleash. Unleash have recently announced that they are spinning up a hosted (paid) option while maintaining their open source offering. We will be monitoring this closely.

Interested in joining the conversation for this category? Please join us in our public epic where we discuss this topic and can answer any questions you may have. Your contributions are more than welcome.

What's Next & Why

Now that we have released feature flags that support two different strategies, % rollout (gitlab#8240) and userID (gitlab#11459), we are moving forward with using feature flags internally as part of our deployment process (gitlab#26842). This will allow us to get internal feedback and improve feature flag functionality for both our internal customers and the wider GitLab community.

In addition, we are working on a powerful integration between feature flags and the issues and/or merge requests that are affected by them. Since GitLab serves as a single application tool, users who use our feature flags and issue management, can associate feature flags directly from the issue and vice versa and view the current deployment status from any location (gitlab#26456). This will provide visibility from the issue itself, and will let you know which feature flag is associated to it, it's status and percent rollout from the feature flag view, enabling you control and insights from wherever you wish to manage your feature flags.

Maturity Plan

This category is currently at the "Viable" maturity level, and our next maturity target is Complete (see our definitions of maturity levels).

Our focus at the moment is on using the feature internally to deliver GitLab itself. This is driving new requirements to the base features that are out there, and also helping us to ensure the list for complete maturity is accurate. Our plan is for our feature flag solution to compete with other products on the market such as LaunchDarkly or Rollout. As we work towards complete maturity, our expectation is that our primary adopters of this feature will be pre-existing GitLab users looking for incremental value. For buyers who are considering replacing JIRA, and looking for something that integrates feature flags with issues, we can also provide a valuable solution as we head towards complete maturity.

Key deliverables to achieve this are:

If you are interested in understanding the roadmap in a more granular fashion, you are welcome to follow these epics:

Competitive Landscape

Other feature flag products offer more comprehensive targeting and configuration. The simplicity of our solution is actually a strength compared to this in some cases, but there is some basic functionality still to add. As we are rigorously working to close the gaps with the competitors, our next strategy to tackle will be the ability to configure feature flags based on groups gitlab-ee#13308

There is a detailed LaunchDarkly comparison from when the project was first being conceived here.

Analyst Landscape

Analysts are recognizing that this sort of capability is becoming more a part of what's fundamentally needed for a continuous delivery platform, in order to minimize blast radius from changes. Often, solutions in this space are complex and hard to get up and running with, and they are not typically bundled or well integrated with CD solutions.

This backs up our desire to not overcomplicated the solution space here, and highlights the need for guidance. gitlab#9450 introduces new in-product documentation to help development and operations teams learn how to successfully adopt feature flags.

Top Customer Success/Sales Issue(s)

None yet, but feedback is welcome.

Top Customer Issue(s)

Top Internal Customer Issue(s)

Delivery Team

Top Vision Item(s)

One of our main themes in CI/CD is Progressive delivery. Feature flags, by definition is a form of progressive delivery as it allows you to deploy code incrementally and control the audience that will receive the new code. Our top vision item is to allow simple monitoring and management of the feature flags in the system, which can become a complex take once there are many feature flags in place. A feature flag dashboard as described in gitlab#2236 will make this an easy task.