How Ablator Works

Some features should not be switched on for all your users as soon as they update to a new version of your app.

Maybe they would absolutely trash your server if all users accessed them at once after release. Maybe they are untested prototypes. Maybe they are hard to test with conventional quality assurance or unit tests, and you want only a small number of your users to be subjected to them until you are more certain that they work properly.

Maybe your feature is unit-tested, passed quality assurance, and you still want the option to quickly disable it for all your users if an unforeseen problem arises.

Maybe you have two different variations of a feature, and want to use A/B-testing to present a one variation to half of your users, and another variation to the other half.

For these and more use cases, you can use feature switching 1. Feature Switching means that your app is asking a server wether to enable a certain feature.

The server in this case is Ablator.

A good feature switching server allows you to

  • define when to roll out the feature
  • define how quickly to roll out the feature
  • quickly revert or pause the rollout
  • enable a feature globally once you are sure of its maturity

It is also important that, as long as you don’t explicitly tell it to change something, the server always gives the same answer for a specified user. This way, users don’t experience features that flash on and off every now and then.

Ablator give you all of the abilities and more. Here’s how you use Ablator together with the app that you are creating:

Step 1: Define Functionalities in Ablator

In the Ablator web interface, create a new App, then inside the app create a new Functionality2. On the Functionality overview page, you’ll see how many users you have in total, and how many of those have the Functionality switched on.

A Functionality has one or more Flavors. Flavors are used to enable A/B-testing in your app using Ablator. If you only want to switch a feature on and off, a single Flavor named “On” (or something similar) is enough.

Once you have defined one or more Functionalities, it’s time to include Ablator into your app.

Step 2: Integrate Ablator in Your Code

There are a number of libraries available to include Ablator into your code:

  • For Python, there’s Karman
  • For Swift, there’s Shepard
  • For NodeJS and TypeScript, there’s Herschel
  • You can also just make a simple web request to Ablator’s API.

To use ablator, you need a string that uniquely identifies your user. This can be

  • The user’s email address
  • The user’s username
  • The device’s MAC address
  • The device’s unique identifier
  • or some other combination thereof

Ablator does not save these strings directly. Instead, they are salted and hashed (using SHA256) and only the hashed result is saved to the data base.

You also need the unique ID of your app in ablator. You’ll get that by visiting your app’s detail page and copy and paste it into your code.

Now it’s time to request your app’s available functionalities from the server. Use your client’s which function to do that. With most available clients, the list will be cached, so you can then use caniuse(functionality_string) or which(functionality_string) and get an instant answer.

Construct your application in way that you can easily gate your functionality with a few if statements like:

    if (caniuse(my_app.my_functionality)):

Step 3: Roll Out and Manage Your Features

Now your app is ready. Next up is to configure the functionality in ablator. For this, you’ll need a roll-out strategy, a release, and at least one Flavor.

By default, the roll out strategy for new Functionalities is “Controlled By Release”. If you click on the name of the roll out strategy, you can change it to “Globally Enabled”, “Cancelled”, which revokes the functionality for evey user, and “Rollout Paused”, which stops handing out the functionality to new users, but lets users who already gained the functionality keep uing it.

Watch Your Feature Roll Out

  1. Also called functionality switching, feature toggles, or feature flags.2 

  2. For a variety of reasons, but mostly to distinguish them from features of Ablator, features are called Functionalities in Ablator.  2