Application Dependencies: Are They Holding Back Software Innovation?
In software development, a dependency is a piece of software that another piece of software relies on in order to function. An application’s dependencies are the external components that the application needs in order to work. These can include libraries, frameworks, and other software packages that the application uses.
For example, if an application is written in Python and uses the Django web framework, then Django would be a dependency of the application. In order to run the application, the Django library would need to be installed on the system.
Managing Dependencies in Software Development
Managing dependencies is an important part of software development, as it helps to ensure that an application has all the necessary components it needs to run correctly. This can be especially important when deploying an application to a new environment, as all of the dependencies will need to be installed and configured correctly in order for the application to work.
While dependencies make it possible to develop applications faster and add advanced functionality quickly without having to build them from scratch, they also introduce serious risks that can bring software development projects to a halt. I’ll describe what types of dependencies commonly exist in software projects and how they impact software innovation.
Types of Software Dependencies
Functional dependencies are components or resources that are necessary for an application to function. They result from the tasks that enable businesses to achieve their desired outcomes. It is important to identify and map these dependencies to detect and address issues, removing redundant dependencies.
Sometimes, you might need an unavailable dependency, such as one still in development. Mocking is a technique used in software development to create simulated versions of components or dependencies for testing purposes. Mocking allows developers to test the behavior of a piece of code in isolation by replacing its dependencies with mock objects that mimic the behavior of the real dependencies.
Developmental dependencies, on the other hand, are dependencies that are only needed during the development and testing phase of a software application. These dependencies might include tools for testing, debugging, or building the application and are not necessary for the application to run in production.
For example, an application may depend on a testing framework such as JUnit or PyTest during development in order to run automated tests. Still, the testing framework would not be required when the application is deployed.
Similarly, an application may depend on a build tool such as Gradle or Maven during development in order to compile and package the code, but the build tool would not be needed when the application is running.
Non-Functional and Operational
Non-functional dependencies are dependencies that relate to the overall behavior and performance of a software application rather than its specific functionalities. Examples of non-functional dependencies might include dependencies on particular hardware or software configurations or dependencies on system-level services such as networking or security.
Operational requirements can be hidden in functional requirements, so they only become apparent later in the project. To resolve an issue with such dependencies, it is important to establish policies, identify the root cause of the issue, and determine the appropriate resolution.
Dangers and Risks of Application Dependencies
There are several risks associated with application dependencies, and the danger increases with greater reliance on external software components:
- Security vulnerabilities: Dependencies can contain bugs or flaws that can be exploited by attackers. It is important to keep dependencies up-to-date and to regularly check for and install any available security patches.
- Compatibility issues: Dependencies are not always compatible with the version of the software they are being used with, or they might rely on other dependencies that are not present.
- License issues: Dependencies may be subject to different licenses, and using them in an application may create legal issues if the terms of the license are not followed. It is important to carefully review the licenses of any dependencies before using them in an application.
- Maintenance and updates: These are essential in order to stay current and secure. If a dependency is no longer maintained or supported, it can become a liability for the application that relies on it.
- Complexity: An application with a large number of dependencies can be more complex to maintain and deploy, as all of the dependencies will need to be managed and kept up-to-date. This can result in something called dependency hell.
How Application Dependencies Impact Software Projects
Application dependencies are an important aspect of software development that can significantly impact the success of a software project. Understanding and managing these dependencies is crucial for building and maintaining high-quality software systems that are resilient, scalable, and easy to maintain:
Application dependencies can make the software more complex to build and maintain.
For example, if a software system has many dependencies on external libraries or frameworks, it may require more coordination between different teams and systems to ensure that these dependencies are properly managed. This can increase the time and effort required to deliver the project, and it can make it more difficult to make changes to the system in the future.
Application dependencies can affect software stability and reliability
If a change is made to a dependent component of the system, it can have unintended consequences on other parts of the system that rely on that component. This can make it more difficult to ensure that new features or changes are safe and reliable, and it can increase the risk of regressions or other issues.
Application dependencies can impact the scalability and performance of a software system
If dependencies are not properly managed or optimized, they can become bottlenecks or points of failure that limit the ability of the system to handle high levels of traffic or workload. This can impact the usability and reliability of the system, and it can reduce the value that it delivers to stakeholders.
Therefore, it is important for software teams to carefully understand and manage application dependencies in order to ensure that their projects are successful. This may require using tools and practices such as dependency mapping, automated testing, and continuous monitoring to track and manage dependencies effectively.
In conclusion, application dependencies can have a significant impact on software development projects. While dependencies can provide valuable functionality and save developers time and effort, they can also increase the complexity of a project, introduce security vulnerabilities, impact performance, and cause conflicts.
It’s important for developers to carefully consider the dependencies that their applications rely on and to try to minimize the number of dependencies as much as possible in order to keep the project simple and maintainable.
By keeping your project simple and maintainable — developers can help ensure that their applications are able to take advantage of the latest innovations and technologies and are able to adapt and evolve over time.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Mikhail Nilov; Pexels; Thank you!
Application Dependencies: Are They Holding Back Software Innovation? was originally published on Readwrite on January 26, 2023 by Gilad Maayan.