Mobile App — Pros & Cons of using third party libraries in your app

Jun 24, 2017

“Third Party Libraries – When the Angel becomes the Devil”

Third Party Libraries are good to have. They offer so much ease and freedom for you in your app development. It is not surprising then that component parts constitute roughly 80%-90% of the modern software applications. But there are two sides to any coin. The use of Third Party Libraries throws up its pros and cons too. Let’s analyze the two sides in an objective way.

“Third Party Libraries – The Pros”

The boon

The Third Party Libraries are unavoidable as they can grant efficiency to the process of your mobile app development and add speed to its delivery. Hence you use them big time.

The advantages are obvious. Have a glance.

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Focus on core work

It’s always good to divide your work of the app development and by ceding the noncore aspect to the Third Party Libraries. By this, you make yourself free to concentrate on your core job – the art of building great and quality software. For example, in aviation, it is best if the designers of the craft focus on the turbo engine and its efficiency and the aerodynamics involved than the other parts that go into making a plane. Same is with state-of-the-art software. Your energies are best spent where they are due.

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Domain expertise

The libraries are built by the experts in the relevant domain. They would give you the best fit for you. Only experts in geospatial software could give you, For example, Sharp Map.

Common Use

You use Third Party Libraries. Others use them too. The challenges you might find in them are possibly already encountered by the members of the developer community and sorted out. If you find new problems you may iron them out too for other’s benefit. After all you belong to a wider fraternity.
It’s win – win for all, after all.

Learning

Take a pause and appreciate. Many a time Third Party Libraries are developed by ace developers. While using their expertise don’t neglect to learn their wondrous code and design practices. No harm in paying gratitude after learning from the fraternal masters.

Cost

Money saved is money gained. You cut down on many a man day for which you would have drained your precious financial resources. In building mobile app don’t be ‘Penny wise, pound foolish’.

Support

You would also appreciate that the most paid libraries come with excellent support from their developers available round the clock. Many free libraries do the same. Your team will always gain when they interact with these expert developers.

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Up-to-date features

This comes as an automatic add-on. Any new feature developed by the Third Party Libraries vendor you can pass on to your customer at no extra cost. The developers of libraries work for you without any ask. Hey, don’t think small. You are part of a bigger team now.

The Third Party Libraries are for you then. However…

“Third Party Libraries – The Cons”

The bane

This is the flip side of the story. Carrying Third Party Libraries brings with it the lurking dangers or vulnerabilities. Your friend so depended upon, that is, the Third Party Libraries may become untrustworthy and turn into the foe of your app. This is as true of paid apps as it is of free apps.

Care to look at some points below in this regard.

Mixing Third Party Libraries and dangerous permissions:

The Third Party Libraries sometimes require permissions to communicate with third party servers to deliver superior functionality viz. to fetch advertisements, report statistics for analytics etc. These permissions can be as dangerous as access to the full internet, location-based information, to phone identity, personal data etc. You, as a developer, are forced to ask permissions for your entire application even if the functionality does not warrant it, as you are entwined with the Third Party Libraries. This exposes your app to vulnerabilities that could concede user data, particularly in an unorganized online app market space. Add to it the revenue pressure for carrying advertisement. This mixing of libraries with permissions then become the deadly concoction.

A myriad of libraries:

Sometimes you have 100s of libraries in your app. Managing them is a hassle. It’s a jugglery, especially when you use open source created libraries. A lot of outdated Third Party Libraries crack the well-crafted defenses of your app making it vulnerable. Where to look? What to fix? It is all confusion. Too many and too much to handle.

The data loss in advertising-supported “free” applications

Sometimes, to aid advertisements your harmless non-internet game must need dangerous permissions due to the use of Third Party Libraries in your advertising-supported “free” applications. Thus your free app may cost users their precious data. Surely, this is an uncalled for burden for you, to carry.

Difficulty in detecting the origin of functionality

You must also be aware that, sometimes Third Party Libraries obfuscate the scenario leaving the user confused at times as to who provides the functionality – The app developer or the Third Party Libraries.

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Minimum set of permissions – But how many?

In the Third Party Libraries scenario, it is hard to find out for you as to how many permissions are required. As developers, you will request those, only on the possibility of using them rather than on the certainty of using them.

The risk of malicious third party intent

Your integration of your mobile application with Third Party Libraries trusting them forthwith, sometimes introduces the risk that comes along with malicious third party software. It is possible that a Third Party Libraries developer short on ethics could infuse unwanted code into its unsuspecting host keeping you, the developer, in the dark.

Then, can we do without Third Party Libraries?

Difficult to imagine, indeed! You cannot reinvent the wheel. You need to develop mobile apps from the easily available resources and move ahead. Else, you fall back in the race, in trying to develop everything from the scratch

“How to live with Third Party Libraries?- The Risk Management “

Taming the beast

Third Party Libraries are here to stay. You need to learn to manage and live with them. For this, you must follow some practices scrupulously. Only then it’s possible to untangle the snare of the Third Party Libraries with harmful instincts.

Check the Libraries daily, come what may. This additional effort is worth it, if you want an efficient and effective run of the app. Also, a robust open source policy must be in place. A recent survey shows that 1 in 5 organizations was exposed to breach due to open source components in their applications.

You should ceaseless test the bulwarks and be on high alert for unpredictable vulnerabilities. The cure must happen quickly by upgrade or downgrade of the library before the vulnerability is exploited. Room for maneuver is less and your time runs fast.

Managing the Third Party Libraries is not an isolated task. You must have a dedicated research team in place. It should examine the database regularly. Frequency of checks of Third Party Libraries against the database should be high. And you must address the vulnerabilities keeping in view their occurrence, impact and the resulting exploitation.

As mobile app developers, you must apply the vulnerability test before the app release and a systematic update check procedure be employed by you after the release.

And the vulnerability test developers amongst you need to implement a dead code checker, as informed reports suggest, half of the vulnerabilities reside in the dead code.

Remember, the above-given solutions are not the end all and be all. You may use them as important cues and clues to handle the consequences of the use of Third Party Libraries in your mobile applications.

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