What Is LaunchDarkly? A Look at Features and Use Cases
In this review, we go over what LaunchDarkly is, pros and cons, use cases, and more.
LaunchDarkly is a SaaS platform for developers to manage feature flags. By decoupling feature rollout and code deployment, LaunchDarkly enables developers to test their code live in production, gradually release features to groups of users, and manage flags throughout their entire lifecycle. This allows developers to release better software, with less risk.
From a business standpoint, LaunchDarkly was created in California by Edith Harbaugh and John Kodumal. They recently raised a whopping $200 million in their Series D funding round.
What Are Feature Flags/Feature Toggles? How Does LaunchDarkly Help?
Feature Flags (also known as toggles or switches) have a wide variety of use cases and are a powerful tool for engineering and operations teams to turn code off and on in their production environment. Once the new code is hidden behind a feature flag, a developer can turn the specific code on for a subset of your users without impacting the entire user base.
For example, want a specific feature on your website only available to users who live in New York? No problem. Create a flag, target users living in the New York area, and like magic, your new feature will only be displayed to that particular target group. While feature flags are created by developers in the code base, companies like LaunchDarkly have designed tools to invoke these flags, manage them through a UI, and make the whole process much easier at scale.
Pros & Cons
- Workflows allow users to schedule and approve feature flags.
- Robust library of open source SDKs.
- Boolean and multivariate flags.
- RBAC and custom roles.
- Ability to schedule flags for progressive delivery.
- Integrated with Jira and Slack for notifications.
- Data export available for an additional fee.
- SaaS only. No on-prem solution available.
- Lacks AI/ML automation.
- No YAML editor or GitSync available.
- No shared context with CI/CD.
- Very few integrations.
- No end-to-end analytics, verifications, or governance for the entire software delivery process.
- Sticker shock!
Psssst… If you’re looking at the cons and thinking “wow, I really want this in my feature flags solution,” take a look at Harness Feature Flags. We offer most of that already (or it’s on the way).
LaunchDarkly Features & Use Cases
Progressive Delivery: Risk-Free CI/CD
Progressive delivery is a practice that allows organizations to control how and when new software features or changes are delivered. It builds on the capabilities and practices of feature flag management and deployment strategies like blue-green and canary deployments. Ultimately, progressive delivery combines software development and delivery practices allowing organizations to deliver with control.
Beta Testing and Qualitative Feedback
Feature flags are a great way to test features to a beta tester group, collect user input, and evaluate performance before releasing a feature to the entire user base. In this area of progressive delivery, it’s critical that developers get feedback on performance, usability, and functionality from the consumer before it’s ready for prime time. Feature flags give you the granular control you need to target specific groups or individuals and gather feedback on their experience.
A kill switch is exactly what it sounds like: a mechanism to instantly stop something. In the context of feature flags, this could mean that we suddenly get a bunch of bug reports about a feature. Instead of having to roll back and possibly affect other features in the release, we can simply switch the one buggy feature off. We have two great kill switch examples in a prior article.
Release progressions help teams roll out new features via ring deployments, percentage deployments, and canary launches. Using these tailored, incremental release tactics provides significantly less risk than rolling out features to an entire user base.
This is a more common use case of feature flags, so let’s go with a very simple explanation. Let’s say we add a new button to our site and we want to see if it gets a better response if it’s red or blue. We could, with the help of feature flags, release feature A (the red button) to 50% of our users, and release feature B (the blue button) to the other 50%. We’d then be able to collect data and see if A or B performed better.
Faster Incident Resolution
We don’t often think about it, but feature flags can help us gain faster incident resolution. In fact, feature flags can even completely prevent issues from ever arising. In our article specifically on faster incident resolution, we provide real-world use cases/examples that feature flags can solve. You can think of feature flags in this context as a first line of defense should something go wrong in production.
LaunchDarkly offers the standard 3 tiers of pricing most software companies offer, with basic functionality on the starter plan and full functionality at enterprise level. We can confidently report that enterprise pricing has a high per-user price point.
The below criteria are judged from 1 to 5 stars.
Likeness to Renew ⭐⭐⭐
CI/CD Integration ⭐
Looking for More? Check Out Harness Feature Flags
While LaunchDarkly is the name most people think of when the topic of feature flags comes up, that’s all it does. It doesn’t integrate with your CI/CD (Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery) pipelines - so if you’re looking for a feature management platform that does it all (and provides governance, security, and amazing automation and reporting capabilities to boot), we invite you to check out Harness Feature Flags. Harness makes software development teams’ lives easier by helping deliver software in a safe, simple, repeatable, and reliable way.
Still evaluating tools? Take a look at our comparison pages. We have good info on LaunchDarkly, Optimizely, Split, and Cloudbees Feature Management. In these pages, we go over important feature comparisons like security, governance, reporting, feature flag SDKs, and more. Additionally, we have another blog post on the Top 6 Feature Flag Management Tools. Lots to read up on, indeed!