Sebastian De Deyne
Designer & developer at Spatie

Leaner feature branches

In most projects, we use git flow to some extent — depending on the project and team size. This includes feature branches.

Feature branches (or sometimes called topic branches) are used to develop new features for the upcoming or a distant future release. When starting development of a feature, the target release in which this feature will be incorporated may well be unknown at that point. The essence of a feature branch is that it exists as long as the feature is in development, but will eventually be merged back into develop (to definitely add the new feature to the upcoming release) or discarded (in case of a disappointing experiment).

Working on a project with a lot of interdependencies between features with a bigger team comes with a new set of challenges dealing with git.

We’ve recently set up a new guideline: if it’s not directly tied to your feature, don’t put it in your feature branch.

In practice, our instinct seems to be “work on the feature branch until the feature is complete” without thinking twice.

For example, you’re working on a dynamic footer feature in a multi-tenant app. The footer contains the tenant’s address (among other things). You want the tenant to store the address on their settings page and pull that data into the footer. You created a feature/footer branch from develop.

While you could keep everything on the footer branch, your team members (and sometimes users) are better off if you branch out. Create a new feature/address branch from develop to add the address settings, merge it into develop, and finally, bring feature/footer back up to date with develop.

If other developers are building something that requires the same derived feature, they don’t have to wait on the main feature to be merged in to continue.

This also keeps PRs smaller and more focussed, which means reviews will be easier and faster to process, which results in a tighter feedback loop.

Finally, if it turns out the main feature has a lot of rabbit holes, we can ship the derived feature on its own.

The hard part is identifying derived features as features, not as a bullet point on the main feature’s specs.

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