Software Dependencies: Risks & Security
Although software libraries, packages, and downloadable third-party codes are essential tools for software development, there are some problems associated with using these software packages, which are often overlooked.
The more dependencies your software has, the more the need to manage correctly, which might be hard to keep up with. This lack of management often increases security risks because some libraries you use may be outdated without your knowledge. Ultimately, this puts you in a situation commonly known as Dependency Hell.
What is Dependency Hell?
Nothing is more frustrating than realizing that the code library that’s supposed to save you time and make you more efficient is now unnecessary baggage and a drawback to your project.
Dependency hell generally refers to the problems you encounter when a piece of your software depends on other dependencies. It occurs when a third-party software works abnormally, causing bugs and errors in other programs or applications.
The most common types of dependency hell are JAR hell, DLL hell, and extension conflict.
Causes of Dependency Hell
Knowing what causes dependency hell is crucial to avoiding or reducing its incidence like every other problem.
There’s no particular reason for dependency hell, as different publishers or developers might have different experiences. However, below are some of the most common:
- Poorly written codes: Generally, it’s best to use popular libraries that other developers have vouched for, but that doesn’t mean that popular libraries don’t come with issues. More so, there are chances you’ll find out about the vulnerabilities of the dependencies only after using it, and some might even be a case of loopholes hiding in plain sight. To be safer, check out libraries before using them, and avoid those with unfixed issues.
- Outdated code library: This is a scenario where the developer writes a code and completely abandons it, leaving the code without updates. Adopting these types of codes exposes your project to vulnerabilities that can be very costly.
- Inclusive dead codes: Using the functionalities of a dependency might mandate downloading/using dead codes, which are unnecessary. It might also be dependencies that become redundant as your project progresses.
- Poor Documentation: In some cases, documentation that tells others about a program’s functionality may not exist or be poorly documented. Sometimes, these documents only cover the languages the developer speaks, which may lead to misinterpretation by others. Hence, improving and adapting these software dependencies is hard without proper documentation, and you might be better off starting from scratch.
These are just a few scenarios where dependencies could cause issues. However, as mentioned earlier, external packages and libraries are incredibly beneficial, and nobody can argue that code reuse isn’t a vital part of software engineering.
However, dependency hell is something that is just sometimes unavoidable. Nonetheless, you can apply some methods to help reduce your chances of falling into dependency hell.
Solutions to Software Dependencies Problems
The following are some tips that might help you prevent dependency hell from occurring.
- Research the dependencies you wish to use on your project. What is the dependency capable of? What other dependencies does that dependency rely on? Are there well-written instructions and online resources available to help me learn how to use this software?
- Compare it to other alternative dependencies that provide the same features.
- Minimize dependencies and also delete unused/unnecessary dependencies.
- Make sure you know the capabilities of your package manager, especially regarding handling dependencies and their conflicts.
- Additionally, you can use a package manager, version lock your software project, or design your software to be more adaptable to prevent dependency issues.
Dependencies are a must-have and are beneficial to developers. However, many issues may come from using dependencies, but there are several methods to help prevent them, which we’ve listed above.
Don’t let dependency hell scare you away from using software dependencies that can make your process more efficient and more straightforward. Or do you think the risks outweigh the benefits?