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Dependency Management Strategy

The first of 3 articles on Dependency Management

In the ever-evolving landscape of software development, building complex applications relies on the hard work of the global developer community to standardize and develop utilities for the most common use cases. Developers no longer need to start from scratch and reinvent the wheel; instead, they rely on a rich ecosystem of libraries, frameworks, and packages to materialize their ideas. However, this approach comes with a downside that could cause a lot of harm to their application: the management of all the dependencies and their dependencies on other components.

As software projects grow in complexity, so does the tree of dependencies entwined within them. Each external component brings unique capabilities but can also introduce vulnerabilities, compatibility issues, and version conflicts that may threaten the stability and security of the entire application. This is where dependency management steps in as a recurrent milestone in the software development lifecycle.

Dependency management is the process of keeping all these external dependencies in check, ensuring that they can be integrated within a project without creating unexpected scenarios.

Effective dependency management streamlines the development process. Developers can leverage existing, well-tested code, saving time and effort. This efficiency allows teams to focus on implementing unique features and solving specific problems rather than reinventing the wheel.

In this article, we will cover some of the most important actions and decisions from the dependency management process.

Why is dependency management a crucial process in SDLC?

Dependencies left unchecked can negatively impact the end-user experience

The developers build applications to address certain needs of their user base. By doing so, the end-users will start to depend on the application provided to them in their day-to-day activities. With this power comes the responsibility to maintain a higher baseline of the quality of services offered. In such an environment, the stability, performance, and reliability of the application became crucial.

Dependencies, such as tools and libraries or the underlying framework, used as building blocks for the application are, in most cases, outside of the control of the development team. In order to tackle this challenge, the development teams should rely on tools and processes that will facilitate the management of such components and offer a way to address the required changes in a predictive manner without affecting the stability of the product.

Software components evolve over time

The software ecosystem is an ever-changing environment. Every day, vulnerabilities are discovered and patched, and the community is trying to improve the components by adding new features and fixing bugs reported by the community. From time to time, every project will hit a wall, and the maintainers are forced to overcome this challenge; for some projects, that means adding breaking changes, and sadly, for others, it means dropping support for parts of that project.

As a side-effect of this ever-changing environment, every project will have various versions available at any point in time. Picking the right version for your project may become a real challenge because of the interdependencies between various components and their dependencies.

Dependency management allows you to control which versions of external libraries are used in your project by leveraging the power of various package managers available. Ensuring that you remain up to date with essential updates while avoiding unforeseen issues introduced by incompatible versions.

To ensure consistency between environments

No one wants to hear, “Okay, but it works on my machine…”

There are few cases when the software is completely isolated from other components and does not require interaction with components. The developers are trying to design components that can run on different platforms and server configurations and that need to behave the same in various environments (development, test, acceptance, and, in the end, production environments.)

In a collaborative development environment, it’s vital that all team members work with the same set of dependencies. Properly managed dependencies facilitate seamless collaboration, enabling team members to understand and replicate the project’s environment easily. This reduces conflicts and accelerates development.

To keep your product secure

The digital landscape is rife with security threats. Dependencies can be entry points for cyberattacks if left unattended. By regularly monitoring and updating dependencies, developers can address known vulnerabilities and reduce the risk of security breaches in their applications.

Furthermore, in certain industries, such as healthcare and finance, compliance with specific regulations and standards is mandatory. Dependency management can help ensure that your software meets these requirements by maintaining a documented and controlled set of dependencies.

This is the first article of a three-part series. The next one will be published in 2 weeks.

By Alex Coman,
Software Architect






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