The Present and Future of Software Updating


Software development has evolved immensely since the days of MS-DOS and blocky green letters. Today, software advances at the speed of thought, creating a need to deliver updates and changes to software as quickly and as discreetly as possible. Advancements in software development, such as continuous delivery and feature flagging, make it possible to update software on the fly. Here are just some of those software advances.

Developing on the fly

It has long been a fear among developers that if you have too many hands working on one program, simultaneously making changes, then you are bound for disaster. It just seems risky to update or fix bugs on an application while it’s being utilized by end users.

However, this practice has defied logic at nearly every turn. Continuous delivery and feature toggling allows your best IT personnel to fix bugs and update software without disturbing users. This makes software development and bug fixing more secure than ever before. Continuous delivery is a method of developing, updating, or repairing software while it is still functionable to the general public or end users. This is accomplished by automating certain processes in the development and repair of programs and applications.

It takes a team of developers for this machine to run properly, but even that flies in the face of convention. When thousands of developers work simultaneously on different segments of a program, it allows the product to reach the market much sooner. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, this method is secure and efficient.

By making regression testing and integration part of the daily routine, you can eventually eliminate these phases altogether and automate them. Don’t underestimate the value of this. Testing and fixing bugs on a program is a phase that can take weeks or even months. Having the ability to do this in real-time while still allowing users to operate the software has revolutionized software development forever.

Controlling access to apps while working on them

Being able to develop and fix applications, packages, and programs on the fly is wonderful, but how do you maintain security? The answer to this question is called “feature flagging”.

A feature is a functionary bundle of data that’s part of a program or application. In other words, it is a package of code and command prompts. A feature flag is a binary or Boolean value that is applied to a feature. Essentially it is an “if” statement. In other words, the feature flag tells the program, “If this is happening, then you do this, but if that is happening, you do that.”

Bringing it all together

What does this have to do with continuous delivery? Well, if continuous delivery allows developers to do “construction” on portions of software while making others available, then the feature flags are what keep users away from the parts of the software that are under construction.

Let’s say that a business that you frequent is undertaking renovations while remaining open. This is continuous delivery. When you enter the business, you notice that certain parts of the establishment are blocked off to the general public. On one side of the blockade, consumers patronize the business. On the other side, construction workers are renovating the place. The feature flag is the blockade.

In short, while an application or program is under development, yet being continuously delivered, feature flags act as security. They say, “If this portion of an app is malfunctional or being worked on, then shut it down.” Once that portion of the app is ready for consumption, the feature flag processes its other “if” statement: “If this portion of the app is not being worked on or malfunctioning, then it is open for business.”

If you are a software developer or tech aficionado who is not utilizing continuous delivery and feature flags, then you’re behind the curve. If you’re still employing an “under construction” landing page when fixing or updating your software, then you could be losing users. Through continuous delivery and feature flagging, your software never has to stop running, and neither do you.

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