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  • Writer's pictureAndreea Popa

Declutter Your App from Using Too Many Third Parties: Escape the Dependency Hell

It’s a true fact that we live in an era where tools are making their way into our work for more efficiency. And this is great because we can say goodbye to mundane tasks and focus on the ones that need more attention. However, can they affect your work?

developer struggling with dependency hell

In software development, incorporating open-source third-party code has become a common approach. It's not surprising, as it enables developers to bypass coding from the ground up, meeting project deadlines in a faster manner. But no matter how good it is, everything has its flaws and quirks.

Using too many third parties means there’s a greater number of components or libraries employed so increased consideration is required for managing software dependencies.

If you lose more time solving dependency issues than writing code, more likely your code is burdened and you join hell. Well, not really hell, hell, but the software dependency hell. Not clear? Make yourself comfortable and let me walk you through the so-called software dependency hell. I’ll also help you to escape it, don’t worry!

Table of Contents:

What Is Software Dependency?

Software dependency occurs when you depend on external libraries to incorporate specific functionalities rather than creating them from scratch.

These libraries encompass pre-existing and tested code that developers can recycle and integrate into their software instead of constructing everything anew. Leveraging software dependencies offers the advantage of saving time and effort while ensuring consistency across various projects.

Software developer working

​However, this reliance on external libraries means that the software system is vulnerable to any issues or bugs present in the dependency, potentially affecting the entire system. Therefore, developers must exercise careful management and regular updates of their software dependencies to ensure ongoing security and reliability.

Consider a scenario where someone designs a web application that needs to implement a robust authentication system. Instead of developing the authentication logic from scratch, the developer decides to use a widely-used authentication library. Consequently, the security and authentication features of the web application depend on the functionality provided by the external library, and any updates or changes made by the library's developers can impact the overall security of the application.

Basically, on the one hand, you save some time; on the other hand, it is possible to invest more time trying to find and solve the problems.

Why Should Developers Avoid Software Dependencies?

Hey, if you keep using open-source third-party code, your apps won't last long. What would your user think when they paid for your features and they're not working properly? If working for other people, what would your customers think? They'd probably leave bad reviews about your work, they won't recommend you to other potential customers, so on and so forth.

Plus, relying on external libraries introduces the risk of security vulnerabilities. Using outdated or unpatched dependencies can expose the software to potential exploits, leading to unauthorized access or compromise.

Depending on multiple libraries can result in compatibility issues. Updates or changes to one dependency may conflict with others, causing system errors and downtime, which can be challenging to resolve.

Some problems may also show in performance. Software dependencies can have a detrimental effect on performance by increasing load times, memory usage, and processing overhead. This can lead to a noticeable decline in application responsiveness and user experience.

Depending on third-party components can make software maintenance and updates more complex. This complexity may result in difficulties ensuring the software remains up-to-date, leading to a decline in overall application quality.

And the worst it can go is to the dependency hell.

What Is Dependency Hell?

Dependency hell reflects the challenges developers face when managing complex dependency relationships. Conflicts between dependencies or their versions can make deployment, maintenance, and updates burdensome, potentially hindering the overall development process. 

When third-party software is integrated with other programs or applications, the phenomenon known as "dependency hell" arises when this software behaves irregularly, resulting in errors and bugs.

What Causes Dependency Hell?

To get out of dependency hell you need to know the reasons why you ended up there, right?! So, if you want to escape the chains of dependency hell, you need to fully comprehend what causes it.

Dependency hell situation

Dependency Can Impact Downloads

Dependency hell often arises from the challenges faced by primary software, which relies on numerous large software components. This poses a significant obstacle during downloads, resulting in extended waiting times and decreased software flexibility. Even when only a fraction of a large software piece is necessary, the entire package must be downloaded. This not only lengthens the process but also consumes additional computer resources.

To overcome dependency hell, finding a balance between obtaining essential bundles and minimizing unnecessary downloads is key. This approach can significantly enhance speed and overall performance, providing a more efficient experience for users.

The Library You Depend On Gets Ignored Over Time

In open-source projects, it's typical for issues not to get fixed, affecting your projects. This happens when the code is made but then left without updates or, in some cases, completely forgotten. 

This leads to unnecessary code, which isn't good for you or your users and poses a big security risk. If users face many errors and bugs, they might get frustrated and stop using your products or services.

The Quality of the Library Code You Use May Have Issues

In making software, going for the simplest solutions usually works best. But ignoring low-quality libraries might seem easy. As a developer, you know that code can show issues in different, not-so-obvious ways.

Your dependency might work well most of the time but fail sometimes in certain situations. It could have a straightforward design but struggle with big data. There might even be hidden security problems.

While it's easy to avoid terrible libraries, even popular ones can have these problems. Before using any software, it's important to do a quick Google search. See if other developers had trouble with it. If there were problems, were they fixed?

After the initial excitement, those who maintain open-source projects might lose interest. This can lead to your project going quiet, with the problems being still there and security issues ignored.

Lack of Good Documentation

Writing great code is one thing, but explaining how the program works is a different skill. Many solo or small-scale open-source maintainers might not be good at it. Even if they are, they often stick to languages they know well, relying on community translations to cover other languages.

Without good documentation, it's hard to improve or customize these software dependencies. In such situations, you might find it easier to start from scratch rather than trying to figure out how to make things better with limited information.

The Package Is Too Big

This issue can happen in both front-end and back-end technologies, where extra modules load into memory. When making a front-end web app, if libraries aren't made with tree shaking in mind, your package can get much bigger. Even if you only use a small part of the library, you still get all its code, making your site slower for users.

If you're not familiar with tree shaking, think of your app and its parts like a tree. Each part (dependency) in the tree does something for your app. These parts come in through import statements and act like getting rid of unnecessary code in modern applications.

Issues with Dependencies: Conflicts, Circles, and Diamonds

Dependency Conflicts: This happens when two software packages need the same thing but want different versions of it.

Circular Dependencies: It's like a loop. Package A needs a version of B, and B needs a version of A. Updating one might break the other.

Diamond Dependencies: When conflicts go deep in the dependency tree. Many parts need something in common but each wants a different version, making things more complicated.

Dependency Hell Examples

We wanted to hear from our experts about how they’ve encountered this problem and the things they did to solve it. So, Cosmin Artene gave us some examples and tips on what to do in such situations:

We need to be really careful when we use third-party packages in our application–we have to check if they are well maintained and see if they are up-to-date with all the dependencies of their own.

Let’s take this example that I ran into a while ago. It looked something like this: a larger project, composed out of smaller (project-like) libraries. One of them, let’s call it LibraryA, was used for doing its HTTP requests, Axios version 0.21.1. On the other hand, a second one, LibraryB, was using a newer version of Axios, let’s say 0.22.0. When you would have added both of these smaller libraries onto your dependencies in the main project it would result in errors once trying to run your install command.

We can also run into examples such as LibraryA importing LibraryB importing LibraryC that ultimately, for some reason, imports LibraryA again and at some point, when someone wants to import all of them at once, crashes the entire application.

These are things that can be avoided if the code is thoroughly tested and goes through a serious series of code review checks from the team members. Another easy way of avoiding this is to reduce the number of third-party libraries when we can, which improves performance as well.

How Do I Get Out of Dependency Hell?

If you also saw names like JAR hell or Classpath hell, it’s the same concept we’ll discuss now. So how do you break free from the door of the dependency hell?

Get out of dependency hell

Fortunately, even though dependencies are often inevitable, there are strategies to lessen the risk of encountering potential dependency hell. Some proactive steps you can consider include:

Regularly Update and Maintenance Dependencies

Keep your dependencies up-to-date. Regularly check for updates, security patches, and bug fixes provided by the developers of the external libraries you are using. This helps ensure that you are using the latest and most secure versions.

To streamline this process, consider prioritizing dependencies based on their crucial role in ensuring the optimal performance of your application.

An additional method to minimize dependencies is to concentrate on those that pose the most significant data security risk. This specifically pertains to open-source libraries, which can expose your application and its users to a multitude of vulnerabilities.

Also, get rid of those that don’t seem so important and start coding by yourself.

Check Dependencies and Remove the Unnecessary Ones

Periodically audit your project's dependencies. Identify and remove any unnecessary or redundant dependencies. This reduces the complexity of your project and minimizes the chances of conflicts.

Employ static code analysis tools to pinpoint the sources of your crucial dependencies and evaluate the possibility of condensing or eliminating them entirely.

An alternative strategy is to import only the specific elements you require from the code. While this may not necessarily decrease your bundle size, it will likely clear your global namespace (where names such as variables, and functions are defined and can be accessed throughout the entire program), diminishing the likelihood of conflicts.

Importing only what you need helps avoid such conflicts because you're not cluttering your global namespace with unnecessary names.

Maintain Clear and Detailed Documentation

Maintain clear and detailed documentation for your project's dependencies. Include information on versions, configurations, and any specific considerations for integration. This documentation aids in troubleshooting and ensures a smoother development process for others working on the project.

To ensure compliance with the aforementioned practices and any other essential measures, it is crucial to establish clear guidelines for dependency management. All members of your development team, including developers, QA specialists, and security/DevOps personnel, should strictly adhere to these established regulations. This proactive approach helps prevent the risk of rules or methodologies being overlooked.

Implement Automated Testing for Software

Implement comprehensive automated testing for your software. This includes unit tests, integration tests and system tests. Automated testing helps identify compatibility issues and regressions early in the development process. This consistency ensures that your code behaves reliably, making it easier to spot and fix any unexpected changes.

Sure, setting up automated testing takes a bit of effort upfront, but it saves you heaps of time in the long run. When you make updates or add new features, automated tests give you a green light if everything is good or a heads up if something's off.

Final Thoughts

In wrapping up the article about handling software third parties, I hope you now see how juggling outside code can be tricky.

Just like websites are awesome digital playgrounds, the codes we add are like the tools that make them fun. But watch out! If we're not careful, these tools can create a bit of chaos, and that's what we call "dependency hell."

But hey, no worries! We've got a plan. Regularly cleaning up, being selective with what we use, and testing things out can keep our coding world neat and tidy. Or avoid third parties and create 100% personalized code. You choose your battles.

Happy coding, and may your projects be free from tangled complexities! If you need a partner in developing software, don’t hesitate to reach out. We're here to help!


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