Feature flags spec

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Client-side PostHog libraries (like posthog-js) are able to have a rather simple feature flags implementation, given that they only ever have to deal with one user. As such, we can make a request at the start of a session to fetch feature flags that are enabled for a user, keep those on memory, and periodically check for updates.

On server-side libraries, however, we need to be able to handle n distinct IDs. As such, we are unable to fetch user-specific flags proactively, since there is an infinite number of possible distinct IDs that one can call isFeatureEnabled with. As a result, we've developed an approach to implementing feature flags on our server-side libraries, described in this doc.

A note: simple flags

To improve performance of feature flag methods on the server, all PostHog feature flags have a property is_simple_flag. A simple flag is one that does not rely on any filters, so calculating if it is on for a given user or not depends entirely on two things: rollout percentage and user distinct ID.

Distinct ID is passed in by the user, so all we need is the rollout percentage to determine if a flag is on without having to offload the calculation to the PostHog instance.

Pseudocode Implementation

class FeatureFlagsPoller:
constructor():
# Check if there's a Personal API Key available in addition to the Project API Key
poll() -> void:
# 1. Set up a poller to fetch a list of available flags from api/feature_flag using the Personal API Key
# 2. Store the result
isFeatureEnabled(key: string, distinctId: string, defaultValue: boolean) -> boolean:
flag = flagObjectOrNull(key)
if !flag:
return defaultValue
result = defaultValue
if flag['is_simple_flag']:
result = isSimpleFlagEnabled(key, distinctId, flag['rollout_percentage'])
else:
# Send a POST request to /decide passing the user distinct_id in the request data
# Authenticate with the Project API Key
response = post('/decide/', data={ 'distinct_id': distinctId })
result = key in response.data.featureFlags
# Capture a posthog event called $feature_flag_called, passing the properties $feature_flag (the key) and $feature_flag_response
client.capture('$feature_flag_called', { '$feature_flag': key, '$feature_flag_response': result })
return result
isSimpleFlagEnabled(key: string, distinctId: string, rolloutPercentage: int) -> boolean:
if (!rolloutPercentage):
return true
# 1. Get the SHA1 hash of the a string in the following format: key.distinctId
# 2. Convert it to hex format and take the first 15 chars
# 3. Cast it to an integer from base16
# 4. Divide it by the following hexadecimal number: 0xfffffffffffffff (1152921504606847000)
# 5. Return: (hashToInteger / 0xfffffffffffffff) <= (rolloutPercentage / 100)

Ensuring consistency with isSimpleFlagEnabled

To check if your isSimpleFlag implementation is in accordance with others, the following should be true:

  1. SHA1('a.b') should equal '69f6642c9d71b463485b4faf4e989dc3fe77a8c6'
  2. The integer value for the hash of 'a.b' should equal 0.4139158829615955