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What is software debloating?

Rukhshan Haroon

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Software debloating is the process of eliminating extra or unneeded functionalities from a program or system.

The application of software debloating is widespread in embedded systems where hardware is limited. Therefore, eliminating extra functionality can significantly reduce resource consumption.

Debloating is also used to minimize the attack surface and limit software level vulnerabilities.

When we debloat software, we preserve the functionalities we require and lose the rest.

Debloating source code

Software debloating is still an emerging field. It can be achieved by eliminating unused or dead code at the source code level.

However, the source code of the software we wish to debloat must be available for such software debloating and, in the real world, this is not always be possible. So, performing debloating at the source code level is not always an option.

Debloating binaries

On the other hand, another technique to perform effective software debloating is to debloat compiled binaries. This may be particularly helpful in situations where the source code is not available.

Library removal

Another useful technique for debloating software is to remove or debloat language-specific libraries that are not required for the functionality we are interested in.

Drawbacks

The largest drawback of software debloating is that cutting down on code or eliminating certain libraries results in the loss of functionality of the original program. This means that the debloated program may have significantly fewer functionalities than its original version.

However, we must note that the only purpose of software debloating is to keep those required functionalities by the user and eliminate the rest. Henceforth, in most cases, we can preserve the functionality we require. This is exactly why software debloating is useful.

Example

For example, systems that are only used to record CCTV footage only require the CCTV software and its dependencies to be installed on the operating system. In this context, we may be able to debloat the operating system by removing unnecessary programs such as browsers, PDF viewers, or any pre-installed games.

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Rukhshan Haroon
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Grokking Modern System Design Interview for Engineers & Managers

Ace your System Design Interview and take your career to the next level. Learn to handle the design of applications like Netflix, Quora, Facebook, Uber, and many more in a 45-min interview. Learn the RESHADED framework for architecting web-scale applications by determining requirements, constraints, and assumptions before diving into a step-by-step design process.

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