Software dependency management: maximizing efficiency, enforcing security

March 19, 2024
Software dependency management: maximizing efficiency, enforcing security

Software dependencies are integral parts of any software. System development involves an entire ecosystem of libraries, frameworks, and tools. They enable an application to function how you want it to, bringing tangible benefits to end users. At the same time, neglecting dependencies can compromise software reliability, performance, and security, resulting in user dissatisfaction and poor product adoption.

Managing or avoiding? Relying on existing components or building from scratch? Dive in to learn more about software dependencies and their types, defining the strategy for efficiency with minimized risks.

Understanding software dependencies

A software dependency is a ready-made piece of code or library that helps different parts of a computer system work together. Some dependencies are simple, like individual operating systems, databases, or app servers. Others are more complicated, involving many packages that must be installed and managed.

Engineers encounter dependencies when working with software, whether they're building, running, updating, or installing it. Complex dependencies can be problematic, as they may be missing, incompatible, or outdated, leading to performance issues like frequent crashes and security vulnerabilities. Without effective management, deploying and maintaining software becomes unpredictable and risky.

Dealing with these challenges depends on the types of dependencies and the tools used to manage them. Let’s explore how dependencies are classified.

Dependencies come in numerous forms, too many to ignore

Software dependencies exist across multiple levels and take various forms. Using too many of them can lead to compatibility problems, hamper web performance, drag down downloads, or even affect other system components. Below, is a breakdown of software dependencies by levels and interconnections.

High-level dependencies
"Handshake" dependencies
Low-level dependencies
  • They typically involve major components or modules that form the backbone of the system.
  • Intermediate-level, facilitating communication between system parts.
  • The deepest dependencies, represent the smallest, most granular components.
  • Examples include core libraries, frameworks, or essential infrastructure components.
  • They often involve interfaces, APIs, or protocols that allow components to interact with each other.
  • They are usually internal or external libraries, modules, or functions directly used by other system parts.
Direct dependencies
Transitive dependencies
Idle dependencies
  • Immediate dependencies directly utilized by other components in the system.
  • Indirectly used by other components but are necessary for direct dependencies to function.
  • Included in the software system but are not actively utilized.
  • Examples include libraries or modules included in the source code.
  • They involve dependencies required by a library or module in the source code.
  • Examples are unused libraries, functions, or features not invoked or referenced by any component.

Most dependencies are crucial and difficult to remove, making effective management essential. A proper strategy helps teams identify, monitor, and resolve related issues, streamlining development, deployment, and maintenance processes.

Do not remove at all, manage appropriately

It is impractical to remove all dependencies since many functions rely on them. Developers prefer using existing components instead of building from scratch. So, it is more feasible to understand dependencies for effective management and reduction, rather than invest in rebuilding.

Identify and map dependencies with a build tool

First, you need to know where the dependencies are to identify opportunities for improvement. Using automated build tools helps you detect dependencies, see whether there are potential issues, or just ensure everything works seamlessly. This will allow to lay the foundation for easier maintenance and compatibility.

Eliminate idle dependencies with a package manager

Your software evolves, and some dependencies may grow obsolete with time. Keeping them and installing or deploying them with the app increases technical debt, posing the risk of vulnerabilities. In this case, package managers help ensure that only necessary parts are integrated into the project.

Another way is to include these dependencies directly within the app itself. This ensures the app works when deployed but might also add unnecessary dependencies. Be careful including new dependencies, as each one can bring in more code you cannot fully control.

Software dependency management - Software dependency management

Scan for vulnerabilities with SCA tools

Vulnerability scanning helps to respond to rising issues in your dependencies promptly. 

As such, Software Composition Analysis (SCA) tools automatically check dependencies to see if they are introducing any security risks. They analyze your app files to pinpoint exactly what components your software relies on and send alerts, suggesting ways to fix them.

Manage dependency confusion attacks

Errors in package management settings, automated processes lacking checks for trusted sources, or attacker schemes uncovering internal package names can result in confusing dependencies and potential cyberattacks. Securing your software from hackers is a complex task, but here are immediate measures you can take:

  • Check the signature or hashes of your dependencies by adding them to a lock file.
  • Install third-party and internal dependencies separately.
  • Check and copy third-party dependencies into your private repository, manually or with pull-through proxy tools, like Artifact Registry.
  • Combine remote and standard repositories with virtual repositories. Prioritize your private artifacts over public ones with the same name.
  • Stick to trusted sources for public packages and base images.

In modern software development, managing dependencies is inevitable. So, choosing the appropriate strategy tailored to your team's composition, resources, technology stack, and types of dependencies is crucial.

Do not battle this complex task on your own–team up with TYMIQ experts to get your software development project to the next level.

Manage your software dependencies with ease

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