Feature flags in development of GitLab

When to use feature flags

Starting with GitLab 11.4, developers are required to use feature flags for non-trivial changes. Such changes include:

  • New features (e.g. a new merge request widget, epics, etc).
  • Complex performance improvements that may require additional testing in production, such as rewriting complex queries.
  • Invasive changes to the user interface, such as a new navigation bar or the removal of a sidebar.
  • Adding support for importing projects from a third-party service.
  • Risk of data loss

In all cases, those working on the changes can best decide if a feature flag is necessary. For example, changing the color of a button doesn’t need a feature flag, while changing the navigation bar definitely needs one. In case you are uncertain if a feature flag is necessary, simply ask about this in the merge request, and those reviewing the changes will likely provide you with an answer.

When using a feature flag for UI elements, make sure to also use a feature flag for the underlying backend code, if there is any. This ensures there is absolutely no way to use the feature until it is enabled.

How to use Feature Flags

Feature flags can be used to gradually deploy changes, regardless of whether they are new features or performance improvements. By using feature flags, you can determine the impact of GitLab-directed changes, while still being able to disable those changes without having to revert an entire release.

Before using feature flags for GitLab development, review the following development guides:

noteThe feature flags used by GitLab to deploy its own features are not the same as the feature flags offered as part of the product.

For an overview about starting with feature flags in GitLab development, use this training template.

Development guides:

  • Process for using features flags: When you should use feature flags in the development of GitLab, what’s the cost of using them, and how to include them in a release.
  • Developing with feature flags: Learn about the types of feature flags, their definition and validation, how to create them, frontend and backend details, and other information.
  • Documenting features deployed behind feature flags: How to document features deployed behind feature flags, and how to update the documentation for features’ flags when their states change.
  • Controlling feature flags: Learn the process for deploying a new feature, enabling it on GitLab.com, communicating the change, logging, and cleaning up.

User guides: