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README.md

This package is a simple framework for building experiments in node apps. The purpose is to be able to run certain segments of code only when a user who is part of a certain experiment is using the app.

Guiding Principles

Make it easy:

  • for developers to declare experiments
  • to enable an experimental feature by:
    • true/false - on or off for everyone
    • user ID
    • group name
    • % range (user ID % 100 within range)
  • to set default experiment values based on deployment environment

Make it difficult:

  • for unwanted code to run by accident

Overview

The Configuration file maps features to user groups. An Experiment Context shows which features and variants are "enabled". It is created by providing a user id. The framework provides methods that allow the developer to show portions of the view or execute parts of the controller based on a given Experiment Context.

The framework doesn't know or care about the rest of the server environment including HTTP variables and such. It doesn't communicate externally to report usage or store its data in a database. Instead, applications tie results into their own frameworks and reporting tools.

Configuration

Configuration is accomplished by means of a configuration object with the following properties:

  • groups An object keyed by the name of a group of users.
  • experiments An object keyed by the names of the experiments.
  • envs An object keyed by deployment environment names (i.e., local, dev, test, prod).

A sample configuration object might look like the following:

{
    "groups": {
        "family search": [1, 2, 3, 4],
        "phase 1": "20-30%",
        "phase 2": "20-50%",
        "phase 3": "20-60%"
    },
    "experiments": {
        "featureOne": "phase 1",
        "featureTwo": ["family search", "3-5%"],
        "featureThree": {
            "variantOne": "0-20%",
            "variantTwo": "21-100%"
        },
        "featureFour": true
    }
    "envs": {
        "prod": {
            "featureFour": false
        }
    }
}

Each property of the groups object specifies the name of a group of users. It may have any of the following values:

  • A user id
  • A percentage of users
  • An array of user id(s) and/or a percentage of users

Each property of the experiments object specifies the name of an experiment. It may have any of the following values:

  • The name of a group or a percentage of users
  • An array of group name(s) and/or a percentage of users
  • A boolean indicating if the experiment is on or off for all users
  • An object containing the names of variants

Each property of the envs object specifies the name of a deployment environment. It may have any value and is resolved against the runtime environment variable TARGET_ENV by default. You may specify a different environment variable for determining what your app's runtime environment is by adding the DEPLOYMENT_ENV_VARIABLE property to your config file. The envs property allows you to override experiment settings based on the runtime deployment environment. In the example above, the featureFour experiment would be on by default for all environments, except prod where the default has been overridden.

If an experiment is configured with an object with several variants (the last option), each variant may specify any of the first two values in the above list. If an experiment is not configured with any variants, it is assigned a variant named "default" which is the default variant for that experiment.

A percentage of users may be specified either as a single value (e.g. "10%") or a range of values (e.g. "20-30%"). In the first case the lower bound of the range is assumed to be 0.

Usage

The basic pattern of usage has three steps:

  1. Configure all groups and experiments.
  2. Create a context for the current user.
  3. Use that context to determine if a portion of the code should run or not.

The example below shows how all three steps can be used inside some code with simple if statements.

var experiment = require("experiment");
experiment.configureFromFile("config.json");

// Create a context with the id of the current user.
var context = experiment.contextFor(userId);

// Specify a portion of code that is protected from running if the user
// in the given `context` is not part of the experiment with the given name.
if( experiment.variantFor("featureOne", context) ) {
    // This code runs if the user is part of ANY variant in the experiment.
} else {
    // This code runs if the user is NOT part of the experiment.
}

if( experiment.variantFor("featureThree/variantOne", context) ) {
    // This code runs if the user is part of variantOne
    // of the experiment.
}

In addition to protecting code with an if statement, you can also use a switch statement to vary the code run for each variant.

switch( experiment.variantFor("featureOne", context) ) {
    "variantOne":
        // This code runs if the user is part of variantOne.
        break;
    "variantTwo":
        // This code runs if the user is part of variantTwo.
        break;
    default:
        // This code runs if the user is not part of any variant of "featureOne"
}

It works exactly the same way in EJS views:

<h1><%= title %></h1>
<p>
  <% switch( experiment.variantFor("buttonColor", context) ) { %>
    <% case "redButton": %>
      <a class="button error">Click</a>
    <%   break; %>
    <% case "greenButton": %>
      <a class="button go">Click</a>
    <%   break; %>
  <% } %>
</p>

<% if( experiment.variantFor("inviteFriends", context) ) { %>
  <p>Invite your friends!! <a href="#">Get Started</a>.</p>
<% } %>

Conditional Usage

For cases where you want to use the native conditional support of the language, a feature function is provided. The feature function takes in a feature name and context and returns either the name of the variant active for the given context, or false if no variants are active. This can be useful in multiple ways, such as:

In a controller class:

if(experiment.feature("feature one", ctx))
  console.log("I'm in!!");

switch(experiment.feature("feature two", ctx)) {
    case "variant 1":
        console.log("Variant 1 is active");
        break;
    case "variant 2":
        console.log("Variant 2 is active");
        break;
    default:
        console.log("The default path is active");
}

Or in an eco template:

<% if experiment.feature 'feature one', ctx: %>
  <h1>Experimental Title</h1>
<% else: %>
  <h1>Default Title</h1>
<% end %>

Selecting a Callback

If the user needs to first determine whether or not any function can be called for a given user context, a lower-level select function is provided that will select the appropriate callback to use from an object of variant name/callback pairs. This can be useful when the code doesn't fit the protect use case, e.g.:

var callback = experiment.select("feature one", context, {
    "variant one": function () {
        // This code runs if the user is part of variant one.
    },
    "variant two": function () {
        // This code runs if the user is part of variant two.
    }
});

if (callback) {
    callback();
}

This can be very useful when the user needs to have a reference to the callback to pass to a template engine like Mustache, for example.

var mustache = require("mustache");

// If the user in the given `context` is part of feature three/variant one,
// the `invited` variable will contain a function that is used as the value
// of the `invited` template variable.
var invited = experiment.select("feature three/variant one", context, {
    "variant one": function () {
        return function (text, render) {
            return render(text, this);
        };
    }
});

var view = {
    name: "Michael",
    invited: invited
};

var template = "" +
    "<p>" +
    "There's a New Year's Eve party at my house. " +
    "{{#invited}}" +
    "<strong>And you're invited, {{name}}!</strong>" +
    "{{/invited}}" +
    "{{^invited}}" +
    "<em>But you're not invited!</em>" +
    "{{/invited}}" +
    "</p>";

mustache.to_html(template, view);

Falling Back

When there is a piece of code that you need to run when the user is not part of the given context, you may use a fallback function. A fallback function uses the special property name fallback inside the object of possible callbacks.

experiment.protect("feature one", context, {
    "variant one": function () {
        // This code runs if the user is part of variant one.
    },
    "fallback": function () {
        // This code runs if the user is *not* part of variant one.
    }
});

Installation

Assuming you have a working installation of node.js and npm, you can install all dependencies of this package by executing npm install from the root directory of the package.

You can learn more about how to install node and npm on the node wiki.

Tests

To run the tests, first make sure you install all of the package's dependencies (see Installation above).

Next, use vows to run the test suite.

$ vows test/*_test.js
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