The World Changes Around Your Code

June 13, 2022

It started with a conversation with my parents. We were talking about my work, legacy software and maintenance:

But if that software is working … why does it need maintenance?

At the time, I didn’t have a ready-made answer.

Why does software rot?

It is sometimes called software rot (or bit rot):

[…] a slow deterioration of software quality over time or its diminishing responsiveness that will eventually lead to software becoming faulty, unusable, or in need of upgrade.


This is not a physical phenomenon: the software does not actually decay, but rather suffers from a lack of being responsive and updated with respect to the changing environment in which it resides.

(emphasis mine)

In fact, you could argue that software rot is the opposite of regular rot: the software is unchanged, but the world itself started to rot…

No Software Is An Island…

Modern software rests on tremendous piles of dependencies:

Worse, your control over these things is limited (at best).

When — not if — these things change, you have 2 choices:

Technical Debt

I find it hard to talk about this problem without resorting to the language of economics.

People understand technical debt in the context of their own software: cutting corners today for some benefit — usually meeting a deadline. Some extra costs, or “interests” in this analogy, are assumed under rework and future slowdowns.

(in the context of this blog post, whether or not cutting corners will make things faster, or ever be paid back is besides the point)

In that sense, your dependencies are a type of technical debt — it’s software you didn’t want to write and test. The hope is that the total cost of your dependencies is lower than software you could write yourself.

In some cases, this is true! But it’s certainly not true in all cases and wisdom resides in knowing the difference (or hedging your bets).

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