* Affected components: MediaWiki core, skins, and extensions.
* Engineer for initial implementation: Readers Web team.
* Code steward: Readers Web team.
As part of the [[ https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_Medium-term_plan_2019/Brand_awareness | Wikimedia Foundation’s Medium-term plan ]], the Readers Web team will be making significant improvements to the desktop experience of Wikimedia projects.
The Desktop Improvements project is divided into a set of many stages. Each of those followed by a rollout to testing wikis. We are building a new look&feel for Wikimedia projects. One of our requirements is to keep the old look&feel for people who do not want to use Desktop improvements while we still work on it.
Once the project is done and we solve all problems with gadgets/users scripts/templates. We plan to migrate all the features we develop into default experience. Before that happens, everything has to be feature-flagged and visible only on some testing wikis. Additionally, we would like to provide an opt-out on testing wikis and opt-in on all wikis.
The proposal here is to agree on two things:
- the way on how to manage new, significant changes that are feature-flagged. We should be able to quickly A/B test those changes/allow the user to opt-into "improved mode" to see new UI and later promote those to as default experience. We would like to use Feature Management from Mobile Frontend. It fits our needs nicely and solves most of the problems stated in this RFC.
- where to keep the new code that could help us tackle this problem
##### Problem statement
Currently, there is no feature management in MediaWiki Core. The code has to handle its visibility state by using `$config` object and some additional checks that may have to be hardcoded in multiple places. It is not a problem when we want to handle only a single feature. The problem arises when we want to:
- disable/enable multiple features at once
- do incremental rollouts where feature depend upon each other and only one feature is available for public
- promote some parts of functionality into default experience but still keeping rest disabled
- A/B test some features for a short time
- allow one feature to be available only if another feature is available
- supporting dev environments and 3rd parties in a proper manner (dev should be experimental, 3rd party gets finished features)
- handling configs and opt-in/opt-outs can become a complex set of if statements in many places of the codebase.
Most of this stuff can be hardcoded, but when we want to do similar things for different features, we find ourselves writing the same code over and over again. For example, the A/B testing procedure looks like that:
* a) write and deploy some code to support A/B test
* b) SWAT the config to enable A/B test
* c) disable the A/B test code by SWAT
* d) remove the A/B testing code
The Feature Management (or anything that we come up with) has to
- support feature flagging some parts of the app
- provide a way to bundle features into packages user can opt into
- provide an easy way to depend not only config flags but also on the ContextSource (namespace/logged_in users etc.)
- provide a unified way to A/B test features on the backend side
- supporting default configs for dev/3rd party/prod environments
- provide an easy way to promote things to stable without us having to edit code
- automated testing can be run against various combinations of flags
- if anonymous users are affected, cache must vary for each set of flags
After a quick chat with other teams, it looks like there is a need for such system as many projects involve complex logic for features visibility.
##### Existing solution
The Feature Management implemented in MobileFrontend already tackles some of those points. We would like to promote Feature Management so it can is widely used by different extensions/teams.
The idea behind Feature Management is that we have 2 main components - a list of all available features and a list of all available modes. On top of that, we have a manager that has access to all available features, mode, and config.
In configs, we store configuration per each feature. Each feature config contains a list of modes it's enabled/disabled in, e.g.:
The attached config means that AdvancedMainMenu feature is available only in the AMC mode, but not in beta nor default mode, and the HistoryInPageActions is available only for logged in users. In the system
we only call `$featuresManager->isAvailableForCurrentUser( 'AdvancedMainMenu' )` and everything happens under the hood. When we want to A/B test some feature, we need to provide an A/B test mode, sth like:
and then the experiment mode would bucket the user and based on some criteria return if feature is available or not (this part is not implemented yet).
Modes are specified in code ( implementations of `IUserMode`). Currently, we have `StableMode`, `BetaMode`, ` AMCMode` and `LoggedInMode`. Moving features between modes are as simple as just changing the configs. No code is required. Adding new mode narrows down to creating a new class that implements `IUserMode` and registering it in ServiceWirings file.
You can see the existing solution here: https://github.com/wikimedia/mediawiki-extensions-MobileFrontend/tree/c30112068cc95c4523abd472ee0a644aecdbb9a9/includes/features
The engineers of the Readers Web team came up with five proposals. Each option has many pros and cons.
##### Proposal 1: No framework (config-based conditionals)
Instead of implementing the Feature Management system, we can utilize what we currently have in MediaWiki. Config arrays have some merging strategies that could help us solve some such problem.
* nothing to write, we already have config objects
* the best code is no code
* bit messy, need to remember many config options, might have to write functions that do checks across multiple config flags and/or user options
* need to write new code every time we want to change feature visibility (A/B test it, enable for logged in, enable as default experience)
* easy to make mistakes
* difficult to unit test as each feature will have it's own logic when it's visible/not
* merging strategies in config files can be difficult to understand
##### Proposal 2: Use or extend BetaFeatures
The BetaFeatures extension is designed to serve such a purpose. Not all things is supported by BetaFeatures, and we would have to implement Feature Sets and handle anonymous users (as currently, BetaFeatures can handle only logged-in users). Another problem we face is that the core functionalities of Vector will depend upon an extension which, in our opinion, is not the optimal solution.
* it feels like BetaFeatures is a great place for such code
* another dependency making Vector and other extensions we're going to touch depend upon BetaFeatures.
* it needs lots of work. Currently, BetaFeatures supports only opt-in for a single feature. There are no feature sets, no modes.
* it feels like a/b testing doesn't fit into BetaFeatures.
* supporting instances without BetaFeatures extension is tricky. Desktop Improvements outcome is going to be default experience. Tangling Desktop Improvements with an extension that might not be available on 3rd party makes it bit more complex
* BetaFeatures supports only logged-in users, we want to enable some features for anon users
##### Proposal 2: Local to Vector
Most of our work circles around Vector skin, therefore it makes sense to implement the code supporting our changes in Vector. There are many other extensions (like UniversalLanguageSelector) that inject UI elements to Vector, and we would like to amend those. It means that those extensions will have to be aware of special Vector handling (the improvements mode). Therefore it creates a dependency upon Vector which is not an optimal solution.
* fast and easy
* we don't have to worry about different parts of the ecosystem
* code duplication with MobileFrontend
* there might be problems when it comes to other extensions, as other extensions might depend upon Vector (by using Vector Feature Management classes/interfaces)
* we will provide lots of useful code that most probably won't be used anywhere else
* code won't be available for other teams to use it
##### Proposal 3: Implement in MediaWiki core
The Vector skin is the default skin shipped with MediaWiki core. We would like to minimize Vector dependencies to a minimum. Therefore if we want to create a reusable solution, it should go into something that Vector already depends.
Feature Management code feels like a bit more complex Config structure that additionally performs various checks before it returns `true` or `false`.
* Feature Management can be unified and used across Vector, Minerva, MobileFrontend, and other extensions/skins. Our work will touch not only Vector but also other extensions.
* can lead to simplifying extensions/skins code as most of the responsibility will be held by Core.
* later could be used by different projects. Therefore code is expected to evolve
* it feels like this should be an integral part of MediaWiki
* no external dependencies skins/extensions
* longer review cycle
* what to do with BetaFeatures extension - maybe FeatureManagement could use BetaFeatures as storage?
##### Proposal 4: Implement as standalone library (Composer)
We also explored an option to create an external library and load it with the composer in all extensions/skins we're going to amend. Sadly this option raised lots of unknowns, and it is an area we could explore more.
* Easy to start and start writing code
* clear separation between FeatureManagement library and code that uses it
* can be confusing to bind with MediaWiki ecosystem (Hooks/ServiceWirings etc.)
* at the end it cannot be a standalone library as it needs to utilize MediaWiki ecosystem
### Author recommendation
Readers Web had a long discussion on how to tackle this problem, and we would like to head with **Implement it in core** (Proposal 3). We already tried to support Feature Management in Minerva, which can run without MobileFrontend ( in desktop mode), and we encountered many small bumps on the way. The Feature Management feels like something Core should support/provide, and Beta Features extensions feel like a "storage" space for user opt-in/opt-outs.
The current solution is an adaptation of previous Stable/Beta mode, and it has some quirks which we need to solve before porting it into Core. Also, we learned we could not depend upon RequestContext in ServiceWirings file, and the system has to pass the current IContextSource when performing feature checks. With those lessons learned, we genuinely think we can provide a fantastic piece into the core MediaWiki that could be used by different teams across multiple projects.
Before we start doing that, we would like to reach a wider group and ask for comments and suggestions.