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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ensuring that you have knowledge of changes in components that you integrate ..

Most modern day software applications use a number of components within them. The advantage of using components is that these components can get a lot of specialized functionality implemented through them, which would otherwise be difficult and hard to implement if the application development team wanted to write all this functionality. And even if the team was able to do all this, just maintaining all these specialized features can be a big problem. Consider the case of a software which needs to create a video that needs to be burnt onto media such as CD/DVD/Blu-Ray. Now, all of these are specialized features that are done pretty well by many components, both open source and commercial. However, if the product team wanted to write all this functionality as a part of their product, they would need to also make sure that they are maintaining all this code. Even for this specialized job, there are a lot of maintenance that needs to be done. The code for this area needs to be work on any new optical media that is introduced, such as when Blu-Ray's were introduced, and when new versions of Operating Systems for both Windows and Mac emerge, the features should work as well. For all this, it is a better strategy to ensure that components are used for specialized functionality.
However, there are some risks that come out when using components, and these risks can exist whether the component is from another group within the organization or from an external organization. One of the biggest risks is when the component is being used by multiple software applications, and your application does not have dedicated use of the component. In such cases, there is a need to be somewhat more informed about what the changes are that are happening in the component. Even if consider the above case about a component that allows writing to a DVD, another product that may be using the component may request for a change in the component for some need of theirs. And the component makers may decide that such a need is genuine and put in the required feature.
There is an even chance that the new feature that has been put in may not impact your application, but there is still a chance that it may have an impact on your feature workflow. For example, you may be using the component in a silent mode, whereby no dialog from the component may show up, but another organization requests a dialog to show up for a need of theirs. In such a case, you would need to ensure that you know about this, and the discussions with the component makers would need to ensure that there would be a way of ensuring that such a new dialog does not pop up in your workflow, such as a parameter that could be passed from your application code to the component which ensures that the new dialog does not pop up.
In all such cases, even though it is the duty of the component maker to have a list of changes in the component from the previous version, it is also your duty to check that none of the changes impact your application. And if you are integrating an open source component, you may not have the ability to get the external team to make any changes to their application, so you need to very carefully check their changelist and see the impact this has made on your application. Only if there is no impact should you incorporate a new version of the component in your application.
This is one of the risks of your project planning and depending on the number of components you use and the profile of those components, can be a high level of risk that needs to be checked at a regular interval.

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