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Beware the outdated SDK: A cautionary tale of broken websites

Your site has gone down. Users are contacting you for support, but you have no idea what could be causing the issue.

Mild panic sets in.

This scenario is all too common, and recently, I also encountered this issue. It turned out that the problem was not in the code I had recently written; but in my failure to realize the software development kit (SDK) I was using was deprecated.

This article will explore the risks of using an outdated SDK and provide tips to avoid its pitfalls.

So, what exactly is an outdated SDK?

SDKs are software development tools for building applications. Developers use these tools to create software that works seamlessly with the platform, including libraries, APIs, and documentation.

However, when an SDK becomes outdated, the tools are no longer current or compatible with the latest platform update. This results in issues like decreased functionality, security vulnerabilities, and even crashes. Therefore, it's crucial to keep your SDKs up-to-date.

In my case, the application uses Directus, which has an SDK called directus/sdk-js. It’s used to get content from the site and requires permissions. Unfortunately, this npm package is deprecated, and completely unsupported which broke the functionality of the application.

What happens when an SDK is out of date?

It can cause several problems, including security vulnerabilities and decreased website performance.

Outdated SDKs expose websites to attack by hackers or malicious software, resulting in data breaches, lost revenue, and reputational damage. From a website performance perspective, an outdated SDK can cause compatibility issues with other software and hardware components, leading to system crashes and errors.

This can lead to frustrated users and lost revenue as customers abandon your website for faster, more responsive competitors. Additionally, outdated SDKs may not be compatible with the latest browser versions, resulting in website incompatibility and decreased search engine rankings.

In my case, the SDK stopped working, and users could not perform any tasks. It took time to find the issue and update to the latest version. Updating the version required code changes and additional testing to ensure the site's functionality.

Best practices for updating SDKs

There is no perfect way to prevent an incident like this from happening to you. We live in a world where software changes rapidly, and innovations are on the horizon.

But there are some best practices for updating SDKs.

  1. Regularly update your dependencies; if you use npm, a simple npm update will update the packages and give you warnings.
  2. Stay up-to-date with the SDK releases and updates by subscribing to software development forums and newsletters.
  3. Before updating an SDK, review the release notes and changelogs to understand the changes and potential compatibility issues.
  4. Test your applications after each SDK update to ensure compatibility and performance.
  5. Consider using automated testing tools to streamline the testing process and identify potential issues quickly.

Importance of testing after updating

Testing your applications after each SDK update is critical to ensuring compatibility and performance. As part of the testing process, functional, performance, and security testing are conducted to determine whether any issues or vulnerabilities are introduced during the update process.

Updating an SDK always requires changes, sometimes minor and sometimes major. For this example, I was fortunate to work in a system that involved minor changes.

As for me, I tested the application from end to end. One issue I encountered, I resolved when I changed the credentials set up. The other issue was a query, the new version of Directus had made changes to return a payload different than what we were receiving before, and I had to update the code to support that new payload. Minor updates, it took time and patience to ensure every part of the application worked correctly.

How do you avoid being blindsided by a required update in the future?

To avoid being blindsided by a required update, stay on top of SDK releases and updates. Set up alerts and notifications for software development forums, newsletters, and other relevant  sources.

Additionally, it's important to have a proactive approach to software development and maintenance. This means staying on top of your software inventory, identifying potential risks, and developing a plan to mitigate them before they become critical issues.

In conclusion, using an outdated SDK will have implications for your website's performance, security, and user experience. Keep yourself from falling victim by staying up-to-date, testing your applications after each update, and taking a proactive approach to software development.