Table of contents

The GDS Way and its content is intended for internal use by the GDS community.

How to manage third party software dependencies

When you develop and operate a service, it’s important to keep any third party dependencies you use up to date. By doing this, you can avoid potential security vulnerabilities.

Any automated tools you use to manage third party dependencies should be compatible with GDS supported programming languages. The tools you use should neither slow down your development process nor disclose potential security vulnerabilities to the public.

You can read more about managing software dependencies in the Service Manual, where you will find a list of common dependency management tools.

Our programming language style guides also contain language-specific advice about managing dependencies (for example, managing Python dependencies).

Update dependencies frequently

Update your dependencies frequently rather than in ‘big bang’ batches. This works well with continuous delivery principles, ensuring the changes introduced are small and can be automatically tested.

Tools exist that will scan GitHub repositories and raise PRs when dependency updates are found. Teams at GDS are using:

All the above tools are free to use on public repositories.

Docker base images

Like dependencies, Docker base images are also frequently updated. If you run containers as part of your service, you should regularly rebuild your images (and base images) to include the latest updates. Automate this process where possible.

Monitoring for vulnerabilities

You should monitor for potential vulnerabilities in every layer of your technology stack. This is not straightforward but tooling exists to help. The Service Manual provides guidance on browser technology, tooling and mailing lists you can subscribe to.

Most of the tooling that helps you stay on top of dependency updates will also highlight vulnerabilities. Additional tooling includes:

  • GitHub security alerts - This can be configured per repository in the settings tab of the GitHub UI. When GitHub discovers or is informed about a vulnerability, it will email an alert to the repository owner and users with admin access
  • Snyk - Snyk is capable of detecting vulnerabilities in a variety of languages including all the GDS supported programming languages. Snyk can be configured to raise PRs, email regular reports and alert you when new vulnerabilities are detected

Docker images

Always use official base images. Docker Hub regularly scans official images and the results can be viewed by logging into Docker Hub. If you do not regularly update your base image, you must ensure a manual process exists to monitor and prioritise fixes for vulnerabilities detected.

The Digital Marketplace team uses Snyk container vulnerability management tooling to regularly scan base images.

Minimising what you need to monitor

Minimise the things you need to monitor by minimising dependencies where practically possible. For example, if running containers, make sure you pick the smallest base images.

Also consider managed solutions where possible. For example:

  • Use GOV.UK PaaS buildpacks so you do not have to monitor for Operating System (OS), runtime or programming language vulnerabilities
  • Consider managed container orchestration technology such as AWS Fargate or similar so you do not have to monitor for vulnerabilities in your OS or control plane

This guidance is inline with the GDS Reliability Engineering strategic principle of use fully managed cloud services by default.

This page was last reviewed on 23 April 2019. It needs to be reviewed again on 23 October 2019 by the page owner #gds-way .
This page was set to be reviewed before 23 October 2019 by the page owner #gds-way. This might mean the content is out of date.