The Benefits of Using Toggles in Software Development

A toggle is a hardware or software switch that allows an end user to change the current state of a feature. This is often used for things such as themes or other settings. Toggles are commonly implemented as sliders, with direct labels that can be clearly read, and visual cues to help users make the switch. Toggles are also sometimes referred to as switches or flags in the context of programming and other technical fields.

Using toggles can help teams avoid creating separate code branches during development and testing, which would otherwise be necessary in more traditional waterfall-style software development processes. This can significantly reduce the cycle time of releasing new features into production.

The use of toggles can support a variety of Agile development approaches, including trunk-based continuous delivery and A/B testing. Using toggles can allow a team to perform all of the testing and validation of new features on existing production code, rather than requiring them to be written in dedicated branches that will eventually be integrated into the main code base.

Savvy teams tend to view the inventory of toggles in their codebase as a form of overhead, which comes with a carrying cost. Therefore, they seek to keep it as low as possible by being proactive about removing toggles when they are no longer needed. This can be done by adding toggle removal tasks to the team’s backlog or by building it into their feature management platform. Some teams even put expiration dates on their toggles, which will cause a test to fail if the toggle has not been flipped off by the end of its lifecycle.