What Is Software Composition Analysis and How Does It Work?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 3 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Security and licensing are important factors within the cyber world. It's especially crucial when using technology for business and software development. If you work in a tech role, understanding how to perform a software composition analysis (SCA) can help you protect your work and create high-quality projects. In this article, we discuss what SCA is, explain how it works, explore why performing it can be important, show you who commonly utilises it and list seven built-in SCA tool features you may see during your career.

What is software composition analysis?

Software composition analysis (SCA) is the action of identifying the different components that make up a particular software. It's an automated process that helps identify potential risks and security within the software, checks code quality, opens visibility into open-source software (OSS) and open-source components and checks for licence compliance. The SCA tool performs a scan of the software to check for discrepancies. It's a process that helps organisations mitigate potential risks while using OSS.

SCA tools are an important part of software development projects. They're an innovative and necessary tool for creating strong and safe applications. These tools can also help development teams collaborate and work simultaneously. They might be useful in setting policy and licensing requirements and help comply with those set requirements. SCA tools are likely to become more useful and sought after within a continually increasing technology-driven economy. They help provide accurate, thorough and fast software projects.

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How SCA works

SCA is a helpful tool for organisations to produce a comprehensive record of open-source components within a software product. SCA can help provide an in-depth and accurate record of data in a timely, automated manner. It scans the open-source component or software, returns a detailed inventory of licensing compliance issues, vulnerabilities and dependencies and resolves any issues it found during the process. It documents information about the issues and vulnerabilities and provides locations for the detected components, and then it alerts its user to these issues. Some of the more advanced SCA tools might provide remediation solutions.

Organisations might utilise SCA tools at the end of a software development project, but normally, they integrate them into the development stage. This allows the developers to address any potential issues during the development process and helps keep the project process seamless. Using the SCA tool at the end of a development project might result in a delay, making it challenging to meet the project deadline.

Why is SCA important?

SCA tools help minimise the possibility of unknown risks within an organisation. A large factor that contributes to the importance of SCA is risk management. Many applications people use in their everyday lives include open-source components. It's important to ensure these applications have accurate and in-depth risk management strategies. SCA helps an organisation analyse and control many open-source components without sacrificing accuracy.

SCA tools can save a significant amount of time for organisations because of their automated nature. They may aid an organisation by swiftly identifying and remediating potential security vulnerabilities, ensuring they adhere to legal licensing requirements and implementing necessary version control practices. The ability to present effective and thorough projects in a timely manner is important in the software development industry. Software developers are often under time restraints, so it's essential for them to quickly deliver high-quality applications.

Related: How to Become a Software Developer

Who utilises SCA tools?

Management, security and legal teams might often use governance SCA tools. This is to enable visibility and control over a company's applications or software. Many SCA tools might create a bill of materials (BOM) for a project. This is a document describing the components used within an application, the versions of those components and the types of licences used for them. The BOM is a helpful way for management, security and legal teams to understand the components of an application and interpret vulnerabilities and compliance issues. This might be useful in ensuring uncomplicated collaboration.

Software developers use SCA tools known as developer tools. They might set up the SCA tool of their choice to alert them of any licensing compliance issues or vulnerabilities within the project while they are working on it. This allows developers the freedom to focus on building the project and only draws their attention to these discrepancies when necessary. It also allows them to adjust and correct any issues throughout the process without having to check for errors and compliance issues manually.

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Some built-in features in SCA tools

The built-in features included in your SCA tools depend on which tools you choose to use. They can differ, but there are some features that are common among a variety of SCA tools. Which tool you decide to work with and the features it possesses depends greatly on your project and specific needs. Here are seven features you might find in an SCA tool, depending on the program you select:

Thorough detection

Thorough detection is the act of detecting issues when the SCA tool is scanning the open-source components. This is when SCA detects security risks and licence compliance issues. Thorough detection ensures developers are accounting for all potential risks. This helps build a healthy application with strong security and accurate licence compliance.

Prioritisation

Prioritisation is the ability for the tool to sort through the detected issues and decide which ones to fix first and which ones can wait. It filters the high-priority vulnerabilities and notifies developers only when it's necessary so that they can focus on their work. This is also important because it ensures a developer understands the priority of the issues.

Remediation

Remediation features may offer suggestions and recommendations on how to resolve particular issues. This feature may help determine the most appropriate solution to any detected problems. Sometimes the remediations may include information on the new potential risk management if you utilise the recommendation. For example, if there is a security issue, some SCA tools discuss the steps you can take to fix the issue. Others may offer an auto-remediation tool, which works to address the issue immediately.

Flexible automated policies

Flexible automated policies can help developers sort through and filter the vulnerabilities and licences within their SCA tool. This allows them to maintain their desired security and risk management. Strong automated policies are important, but the opportunity to approve and deny certain policies for different projects can be beneficial, specifically for a developer or organisation working on a multitude of software projects. You can choose an SCA tool with flexible features so you can design a system that works for your needs and goals. For example, you may automate some tasks while requiring a manual check on others.

Extensive database

An extensive database is a significant feature of SCA tools. This is where the SCA pulls its information from. The more data it has access to, the more comprehensive the scanning and detection might be. In addition to possessing an extensive database, many SCA tools are actively and continually updating these databases to ensure they can detect updated security vulnerabilities and licences. Many SCA tools rely heavily on their up-to-date databases due to them not being part of a centralised source of information for updates.

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Expansive language guides

There is potential for software developers, eventually, to work on a project that is not in their native language. Expansive language guides can be beneficial given the global nature of many software development projects. You might find it beneficial to use or become familiar with an SCA tool that offers this feature to prepare for a global project if the opportunity presents itself. If your chosen SCA tool adopts an expansive language guide, this might aid you in making a seamless transition to understanding the language or converting your project to that language.

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Seamless integration

A common beneficial feature of SCA tools is the ability to seamlessly integrate with the developer's system. This ensures there are minimal interruptions throughout the development process and does not require the developer to leave their familiar system to view, understand and fix issues. Another advantage of using an SCA tool that integrates with your current system is that it helps avoid any distinct errors or complications that might be present with a new and different system.

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