Feature flag controls

Access

To be able to turn on/off features behind feature flags in any of the GitLab Inc. provided environments such as staging and production, you need to have access to the Chatops bot. The Chatops bot is currently running on the ops instance, which is different from https://gitlab.com or https://dev.gitlab.org.

Follow the Chatops document to request access.

Once you are added to the project test if your access propagated, run:

/chatops run feature --help

Where to run commands

To increase visibility, we recommend that GitLab team members run feature flag related Chatops commands within certain slack channels based on the environment and related feature. For the staging and development environments of GitLab.com, the commands should run in a channel for the stage the feature is relevant too.

For example, use the #s_monitor channel for features developed by the Monitor stage, Health group.

For all production environment Chatops commands, use the #production channel.

Rolling out changes

When the changes are deployed to the environments it is time to start rolling out the feature to our users. The exact procedure of rolling out a change is unspecified, as this can vary from change to change. However, in general we recommend rolling out changes incrementally, instead of enabling them for everybody right away. We also recommend you to not enable a feature before the code is being deployed. This allows you to separate rolling out a feature from a deploy, making it easier to measure the impact of both separately.

GitLab’s feature library (using Flipper, and covered in the Feature Flags process guide) supports rolling out changes to a percentage of users. This in turn can be controlled using GitLab Chatops.

For an up to date list of feature flag commands please see the source code. Note that all the examples in that file must be preceded by /chatops run.

If you get an error “Whoops! This action is not allowed. This incident will be reported.” that means your Slack account is not allowed to change feature flags or you do not have access.

Enabling feature for preproduction testing

As a first step in a feature rollout, you should enable the feature on https://staging.gitlab.com and https://dev.gitlab.org.

For example, to enable a feature for 25% of all users, run the following in Slack:

/chatops run feature set new_navigation_bar 25 --dev
/chatops run feature set new_navigation_bar 25 --staging

These two environments have different scopes. dev.gitlab.org is a production CE environment that has internal GitLab Inc. traffic and is used for some development and other related work. staging.gitlab.com has a smaller subset of GitLab.com database and repositories and does not have regular traffic. Staging is an EE instance and can give you a (very) rough estimate of how your feature will look/behave on GitLab.com. Both of these instances are connected to Sentry so make sure you check the projects there for any exceptions while testing your feature after enabling the feature flag.

Once you are confident enough that these environments are in a good state with your feature enabled, you can roll out the change to GitLab.com.

Enabling a feature for GitLab.com

Similar to above, to enable a feature for 25% of all users, run the following in Slack:

/chatops run feature set new_navigation_bar 25

This will enable the feature for GitLab.com, with new_navigation_bar being the name of the feature.

If you are not certain what percentages to use, simply use the following steps:

  1. 25%
  2. 50%
  3. 75%
  4. 100%

Between every step you’ll want to wait a little while and monitor the appropriate graphs on https://dashboards.gitlab.net. The exact time to wait may differ. For some features a few minutes is enough, while for others you may want to wait several hours or even days. This is entirely up to you, just make sure it is clearly communicated to your team, and the Production team if you anticipate any potential problems.

Feature gates can also be actor based, for example a feature could first be enabled for only the gitlab project. The project is passed by supplying a --project flag:

/chatops run feature set --project=gitlab-org/gitlab some_feature true

For groups the --group flag is available:

/chatops run feature set --group=gitlab-org some_feature true

Cleaning up

Once the change is deemed stable, submit a new merge request to remove the feature flag. This ensures the change is available to all users and self-hosted instances. Make sure to add the ~”feature flag” label to this merge request so release managers are aware the changes are hidden behind a feature flag. If the merge request has to be picked into a stable branch, make sure to also add the appropriate “Pick into X” label (e.g. “Pick into XX.X”). See the process document for further details.

When a feature gate has been removed from the code base, the feature record still exists in the database that the flag was deployed too. The record can be deleted once the MR is deployed to each environment:

/chatops run feature delete some_feature --dev
/chatops run feature delete some_feature --staging

Then, you can delete it from production after the MR is deployed to prod:

/chatops run feature delete some_feature