Using Toggles in Software Development

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In software development, toggles (also known as flags) provide a simple and intuitive way to control the behavior of a piece of software. They are ideal for controlling settings or changing preferences (either ON or OFF) because they are easy to understand and can be pressed quickly with one finger. They are also less prone to error than other types of switches such as radio buttons.

Toggles are often used to enable experimental features but can also be helpful for enabling standard functionality in a more flexible manner. In these cases it is important to have clear labels and standard visual design in order to avoid confusion. In addition, it is generally best to use toggles only when they are needed and to limit their usage to areas where the benefits outweigh the cognitive burden.

It is also important to remember that the configuration state of a toggle is ephemeral. Ideally, the toggle will be rolled out in small increments to reduce risk and the switch should be removed as soon as it is no longer required. However, this can be difficult in practice. Savvy teams view their toggle inventory as inventory that comes with a carrying cost and seek to keep it low.

A common strategy is to have a separate team tasked with the task of removing toggles from the codebase as soon as they are no longer required. This allows the rest of the team to focus on testing the actual feature without having to worry about the toggles that may be causing bugs in production. Some teams even put “expiration dates” on their toggles so that a test will fail if it attempts to execute with the toggle flipped off.

Another option is to expose a feature flag service that can dynamically re-configure an artifact at runtime. This can significantly improve the speed and ease of switching a toggle ON or OFF and can help to avoid the need for the code to be restarted when it is being tested. However, this can increase the number of requests to a server and can also make it more difficult to ensure that the feature is fully tested. Ultimately the choice of which system to use should be based on the needs of each individual project.