Feature Flags and Toggle Switches
A toggle is a control that has two states: on and off. It’s a common user interface component that appears in many different contexts (such as the Caps Lock and Num Lock keys on your keyboard or the Airplane Mode button on mobile devices). A toggle switch is the preferred way to change system functionalities because it takes less screen space than two radio buttons, and is more easily understood by users than a checkbox.
However, it’s important to consider the cognitive issues with toggle switches and ensure that they are implemented consistently and effectively. Toggle switches should have direct labels that clearly state their effect and utilize visual cues to convey their current state, such as movement and color. They should also be easy to activate, even when users are not in the most optimal position to do so. They should also be consistent in their visual design and not look like sliders that require multiple presses to update their state. It’s also worth noting that some users have red/green color vision deficiency, so relying solely on the toggle color to communicate state is not a good idea.
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When it comes to feature flags, the toggle configuration that will go live in production should always be tested with all of the toggles flipped On. However, it’s a good practice to perform additional tests with the fallback configuration as well, in order to avoid any surprise regressions in a future release. This type of testing is often called “Experiment Toggles” and it’s a common technique for performing A/B and multivariate test experiments. By using Experiment Toggles, it’s possible to see how different combinations of codepaths will perform in the real world. This allows companies to quickly make data-driven optimizations without having to re-deploy the entire application. Alternatively, they can use a feature-toggling service such as FastFacts to dynamically re-configure specific services in the runtime of their test environment, resulting in much faster iteration times and a more responsive feedback loop.