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Dark Launches Explained

Dark Launches Explained

In the ever-evolving landscape of software development, the technique of dark launching has emerged. This process empowers developers to discreetly release new features to a selected group of users, allowing for real-time feedback and adjustments before a full-scale launch. But what exactly is a dark launch, and how can it transform the way developers roll out updates?

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Understanding Dark Launches: The Dark Side of Feature Flagging

At its core, dark launching is a strategy that enables a sneak peek of new functionalities to a subset of users. This method is particularly useful for assessing user response and ironing out any potential issues in a controlled environment. Unlike beta testing, where users knowingly participate, dark launches operate under the radar, aiming to refine features before general availability, based on user reaction and metrics as opposed to direct feedback.

Depending on the application's complexity, there are various approaches to executing a dark launch, each tailored to meet specific needs.

Execution Through DevOps

DevOps teams can leverage dark launching to test new software features effectively. A simple tactic for web applications involves duplicating a page, renaming it, and making adjustments. This newly created page remains accessible only to those aware of its existence. When the feature is ready for public release, transitioning from dark to live mode is as straightforward as deleting the original page and renaming the new one.

However, this approach isn't without its challenges. For instance, maintaining both the new and old pages simultaneously can lead to duplicated bug fixes. Additionally, new URLs can disrupt the testing of cross-page flows due to outdated links.

Distinguishing Dark Launches from Canary Testing

While dark launches and canary releases share the goal of preliminary feature testing, they serve distinct purposes. Dark launches focus on front-end user-facing features, enabling immediate adjustments based on user reaction. Conversely, canary releases often relate to backend infrastructure changes, involving a gradual transition across infrastructure that is typically invisible to the end-user.

Best Practices for Dark Launching

Incorporating feature flags or toggles stands out as a best practice for dark launching. This technique allows applications to react based on specific criteria, facilitating the simultaneous testing of old and new features. Feature flags enable a simplified method by which the multiple versions of an application can be deployed for the purposes of a dark launch.