Our program is related to many other tools that almost - but not quite - entirely fail in detecting library dependencies in a heterogeneous and open computing environment. Package managers such as RPM and Depot[2,8,9,11] allow point-of-installation dependency analysis based upon a ``closed-world'' assumption. As long as either has complete control of the environment, dependencies will likely be satisfied correctly. Combine these with other software installation techniques such as direct compilation, however, and they will fail to spot possible problems in the resulting stew. Neither RPM nor Depot has full knowledge of the user environment in which the software that they install will be utilized.
Change detectors such as tripwire and aide can detect changes to a filesystem but cannot analyze the potential effects. We need to know not only the names of files that changed, but also which programs could be affected by libraries that have changed, and even perhaps which programs might be broken by a particular `make install'.
Pre-existing tools most applicable to our problem act to control the user's environment carefully so that conflicts should not occur. The Soft environment control system manages library bindings by careful control of the user's environment variables. Soft was preceded by much other work on creating software modules that can be invoked by users on demand[4,6]. These inspired our own software module mechanism that sowhat understands and analyses.
Others have faced the same problems with libraries and opted to control the dynamic linking environment carefully in order to avoid the need for approaches like sowhat. Vendor-supplied software has been hampered in Linux by the large number of differing distributions of what is essentially the same core operating system. Differences in distributions can often break software, so that a product that works properly in one distribution may not work in another.
The Linux Standard Base(LSB) project seeks to provide a dynamic linking environment within Linux in which vendor-provided software is guaranteed to execute properly. The goal of LSB is to identify a set of core standards that must be shared among distributions in order to guarantee that a product that works properly in one of them will work in all compliant distributions. These standards include requirements for the content of dynamic libraries, as well as standards for locations of system files used by library functions.
With these standards in hand, the LSB provides tools with which one can certify both environments and programs to be compliant with the standard. Linux distributions can be examined by an automatic certification utility that checks link order, versions of libraries, and locations of relevant system files. A distribution may have more libraries than the standard specifies, but the libraries specified in the standard must be first to be scanned during linking and must contain the appropriate versions of library subroutines. Another certification utility checks that the binary code for linux applications only calls library functions protected by the standard. Since the LSB tools solely analyze the contents of binary files, they can check closed-source executables for compliance.
The LSB's library version probing is a much deeper library analysis than our tool performs, though not beyond the scope of future work. For example, sowhat relies upon the names of libraries to indicate versions, while LSB scans them for embedded version strings, so that it can accurately determine the content and versions of renamed or even misnamed libraries.