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Dependency hell

Last week, one of my students went on a bit of a rant about legacy projects and the utter hell that is dependency management. It’s so incredibly on point, and they agreed to let me share with you…

This is so ridiculous: every other legacy project (4-5 years old) on GitHub is completely unusable because of dependencies version hell.

You download the project to follow an older tutorial, run npm install and spend the next 2 days doing crazy movements trying to resolve the project dependencies conflicts.

Your node is too new, so it doesn’t work with the version gulp-sass.

OK. You get nvm and install the local version of node/npm (your best bet), then the gulp-sass’s own dependency doesn’t work with that particular downgraded version of npm.

You downgrade/upgrade again, just to find out that the whole thing doesn’t work with that particular version of gulp. And to upgrade to gulp version 3 you need to rewrite part of gulp config.

And also a part of the build is bundled with the older version of babel and webpack, and you don’t even start to comprehend how to resolve those.

You install something really weird using Homebrew on your machine because someone smart-looking recommended it on StackOverflow for that error, or maybe it was a different error…

You don’t even have a chance to look at JS (sorry TS) of the actual project yet, there is no time—you’re just trying to get something to show in your browser without a million errors.

The dependency issues described here can plague even relatively newish projects that you actively manage.

A few years ago, I would run into this any time I’d go to touch one of my open source projects after a few months. I’d spend two hours trying to debug Gulp issues just to change a line or two of CSS and run a new build.

It’s why I switched to a smaller build setup a few years ago that mostly just uses NPM scripts.

Just like with front end libraries, some build tools can be helpful, but too many create a nightmare to maintain in the long run, even when they help in the short term.