Streamlined Infrastructure Deployment: Harnessing the Power of Terraform and Feature Toggles

Organizations are constantly seeking ways to streamline their infrastructure deployment processes for optimal efficiency. Explore the feature toggle approach.

As technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, organizations are constantly seeking ways to streamline their infrastructure deployment processes for optimal efficiency. One approach that has gained significant traction in recent years is the use of feature toggles. Feature toggles, also known as feature flags or feature switches, are a powerful technique that allows developers to control the release of new features or changes in their applications or infrastructure. In the context of Terraform, an infrastructure-as-code tool, feature toggles offer immense benefits by enabling teams to manage and deploy infrastructure changes with ease.

Benefits of Using Feature Toggles in Terraform

Using feature toggles with Terraform offers several benefits that enhance the efficiency, safety, and flexibility of your infrastructure deployment process. Some of the key benefits include:

  • Gradual rollouts: Feature toggles allow you to release new infrastructure changes incrementally to a subset of users or systems. This helps you identify and address any issues or bugs before a full rollout, minimizing potential disruptions.
  • Reduced risk: By testing and validating new infrastructure changes in a controlled environment before enabling them for all users, you reduce the risk of introducing critical bugs or performance problems that could impact your entire system.
  • Rapid rollbacks: If a deployed change causes unexpected issues, feature toggles enable you to quickly disable the feature without reverting to a previous Terraform state. This facilitates fast and targeted rollbacks.
  • Continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD): Feature toggles are essential for a robust CI/CD pipeline. They allow you to continuously integrate and deliver small changes, which can be toggled on or off as needed, supporting a smooth and steady deployment process.
  • A/B testing: Feature toggles enable A/B testing by allowing you to compare the performance and user experience of different infrastructure configurations. This data-driven approach helps you make informed decisions about which changes to adopt.
  • Emergency fixes: In the event of critical issues, feature toggles provide a way to quickly disable problematic features without waiting for a full deployment cycle, minimizing downtime and impact.
  • Feature parity across environments: Feature toggles ensure consistency between different environments (e.g., development, staging, production) by enabling or disabling specific features as needed in each environment.
  • Cross-team collaboration: Teams can work independently on their respective components and features, toggling them on or off as they are ready. This enhances collaboration among development, testing, and operations teams.
  • Reduced downtime: Feature toggles help minimize downtime associated with deploying new infrastructure changes. Users won't experience disruptions while changes are being rolled out and tested.
  • Easier troubleshooting: Troubleshooting is simplified with feature toggles, as you can isolate issues to specific toggled features, reducing the scope of investigation and expediting resolutions.
  • Feature flagging for infrastructure: Feature toggles extend the concept of feature flags to infrastructure changes. This enables you to control infrastructure changes in the same way you control software features, leading to greater flexibility and agility.
  • Compliance and regulation: Feature toggles can be used to ensure compliance with regulations or policies by allowing you to quickly disable specific functionalities if needed.
  • Future-proofing: Feature toggles make it easier to prepare for future changes and updates by allowing you to lay the groundwork for features that may be activated later.

How Feature Toggles Work in Terraform

To understand how feature toggles work in Terraform, it is important to grasp the concept of conditional logic. Feature toggles essentially rely on conditional statements to determine whether a specific feature or infrastructure change should be enabled or disabled. In Terraform, this conditional logic can be implemented using various techniques, such as input variables, conditional expressions, or even custom scripts.

One common approach to implementing feature toggles in Terraform is by utilizing input variables. By defining input variables that control the behavior of certain resources or modules, teams can easily toggle the presence or configuration of those resources based on the value of the input variable. This approach allows for a clean and modular way of managing feature toggles within Terraform code.

Another technique is to use conditional expressions directly in the Terraform configuration. Conditional expressions allow developers to define conditions based on input variables or other factors and specify different configurations or resources depending on those conditions. This approach provides more granular control over the behavior of the infrastructure and allows for more complex feature toggle scenarios.

Implementing Feature Toggles in Terraform: Best Practices and Considerations

When using feature toggles with Terraform, it's important to follow best practices to ensure smooth and effective management of your infrastructure deployments. Here are some recommended best practices:

  • Clear naming convention: Use descriptive and consistent naming conventions for your feature toggles. This makes it easy to understand their purpose and scope.
  • Documentation: Document the purpose, behavior, and configuration of each feature toggle. This information should be easily accessible to all team members.
  • Feature toggle lifecycle:

1.     Creation: Create toggles during the initial planning phase, even if they're not immediately needed. This prepares you for future features or changes.

2.     Activation: Enable toggles only after thoroughly testing and validating the associated changes.

3.     Deactivation: Disable toggles for features that are no longer needed or that have issues. Regularly review and clean up inactive toggles.

  • Limited scope: Keep the scope of each feature toggle as narrow as possible. Avoid toggles that affect too many resources or have a broad impact.
  • Consistent state management:

1.     Ensure that the Terraform state file is kept in sync with the state of your feature toggles. Changes to toggles should be tracked and managed just like other infrastructure changes.

2.     Avoid modifying feature toggles directly in the Terraform state file. Use Terraform configurations to update toggles.

  • Code review: Include feature toggle changes in your code review process to ensure that they're implemented correctly and aligned with your infrastructure goals.
  • Testing and validation:

1.     Test new configurations thoroughly with toggles enabled and disabled to verify correctness and performance.

2.     Use automated testing to validate the behavior of toggled features.

  • Continuous monitoring:

1.     Regularly monitor the behavior and performance of toggled features in production to detect any issues.

2.     Implement monitoring and alerting to identify unexpected behavior caused by toggles.

  • Graceful degradationDesign toggled features to gracefully degrade when the toggle is turned off. This ensures that disabling a feature doesn't cause disruptions.
  • Rollout plan:

1.     Plan gradual rollouts carefully. Monitor the behavior of toggled features during each rollout phase.

2.     Avoid enabling a new feature for all users immediately. Gradually increase the user base to catch issues early.

  • Regular review: Regularly review the status and usage of feature toggles during team meetings. This helps keep everyone informed and ensures that toggles are properly maintained.
  • Automation and tooling:

1.     Consider using dedicated tools for managing feature toggles and configurations to enhance visibility and control.

2.     Automate the activation and deactivation of feature toggles to reduce the chance of manual errors.

  • Training and onboarding: Ensure that all team members understand the purpose and usage of feature toggles. Provide training and onboarding materials as needed.

Example Usage of Feature Toggles in Terraform

Feature toggles can be implemented in various ways within Terraform to control the deployment of infrastructure changes. Here are some examples of how feature toggles can be used in Terraform:

Conditional Resource Creation

You can use a feature toggle to conditionally create or exclude specific resources based on the state of the toggle. For instance, you might have a feature toggle that controls the creation of an experimental component in your infrastructure.

resource "ibm_is_vpc" "vpc" {
  count = local.enable_vpc_experimental_feature ? 1 : 0
  # ... other configuration ...
  Configuration Variations

Feature toggles can be used to switch between different configurations for a resource. For example, you might use a toggle to determine whether a database instance uses high availability or single-node configuration.

resource "ibm_database" "postgresql" {
  count = local.use_high_availability ? 1 : 0
  # ... other configuration for auto scaling ...

 Module Inclusion

When using Terraform modules, you can conditionally include or exclude entire modules based on feature toggles. This is useful for incorporating different sets of resources or configurations.

module "feature_module" {
  source = "./modules/feature"
  enabled = local.enable_feature_module
 Provider Selection

Feature toggles can determine which cloud provider to use. This is useful when you need to switch between different providers for testing or cost optimization.

provider " kubernetes " {
  alias = local.use_kubernetes_provider ? "main" : "backup"
  # ... provider configuration ...

 Environment-Specific Settings

Use feature toggles to enable or disable environment-specific settings, such as debugging or logging configurations.

resource "ibm_is_vpc" "vpc" {
  # ... vpc configuration ...
  tags = local.enable_debugging ? { "Debug" = "true" } : {}

 Service Rollout

Employ feature toggles to control the rollout of a new service or feature gradually across different instances or regions.

data " ibm_is_zones" "available" {}
resource " ibm_is_vpc " " vpc " {
  count = local.enable_new_service ? data.ibm_is_zones.available.zones : 0
  # ... other configuration ...

Troubleshooting Common Issues With Feature Toggles in Terraform

Despite their benefits, feature toggles can sometimes introduce challenges or issues that need to be addressed. One common issue is the complexity that comes with managing multiple feature toggles and their interactions. As the number of toggles increases, managing their dependencies and ensuring their proper functioning can become challenging. To mitigate this, teams should carefully plan and document the relationships between different feature toggles and thoroughly test their interactions. 

Another potential issue is the increased cognitive load on developers when dealing with feature toggles. Developers need to be aware of the presence and behavior of various toggles and how they impact the overall system. This added complexity can lead to confusion and potential errors. To address this, providing clear documentation and fostering open communication within the team is essential.

Feature Toggle Management Tools and Frameworks 

As the adoption of feature toggles continues to grow, several tools and frameworks have emerged to facilitate their management and implementation.  Following are a few popular tools:

  • IBM Cloud App Configuration:  IBM Cloud App Configuration is a centralized feature management and configuration service available on IBM Cloud for use with web and mobile applications, microservices, and distributed environments.
  • LaunchDarkly: A feature flag management tool that allows you to control the release of new features and changes using feature flags
  • Flagr: An open-source feature flagging and A/B testing service that can be used to manage feature flags in IaC
  • Unleash: An open-source feature flagging and A/B testing framework that can be used to manage feature flags in IaC
  • Split: A feature flagging platform that allows you to control the release of new features and changes using feature flags


In conclusion, feature toggles offer a powerful mechanism for streamlining infrastructure deployment in Terraform. By decoupling feature releases from infrastructure changes, teams can achieve greater flexibility, control, and efficiency in their deployment processes. By following best practices, monitoring their impact, and addressing common issues, teams can fully leverage the power of feature toggles to optimize their infrastructure deployment. Whether through the use of feature toggles or alternative approaches, it is crucial to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement and adaptability to meet the evolving needs of modern infrastructure deployment.

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