Maven Dependency

What are Maven Dependency Scopes and Their Related Security Risks?

Pallavi Vishwakarma
July 14, 2023

When developing software, it is common to use external libraries or packages to simplify and speed up the development process. These external dependencies can be managed using build tools such as Maven, which automates the process of downloading and including the required libraries in the project. However, when using external dependencies, it is important to understand the different scopes and their related security risks to ensure the security of the application.

Introduction to Maven Dependency Scopes

Maven is a widely-used build automation tool for Java projects. It simplifies the build process by managing dependencies, which are external libraries that a project requires to compile and run. These dependencies can be specified in a project's pom.xml file, which is the project object model (POM) for Maven.

Maven has several dependency scopes, which determine how dependencies are used in a project. These scopes specify the visibility of a dependency on different parts of a project. Understanding these scopes is important to ensure that dependencies are used correctly and to manage security risks associated with dependencies.

In Maven, dependency scopes define the extent to which a dependency is needed in the project. There are six dependency scopes in Maven, which are:

  1. Compile: This is the default scope and is used when the dependency is required to build and run the project.
  2. Provided: This scope is used when the dependency is provided by the target runtime environment or container and is not needed at compile time.
  3. Runtime: This scope is used when the dependency is needed at runtime but not at compile time.
  4. Test: This scope is used when the dependency is needed only for testing the application.
  5. System: This scope is used when the dependency is not available in a public repository and must be manually installed on the local system.
  6. Import: This scope is used only in Maven 2.0.9 or later and is used to import dependencies from other projects.

Security Risks Associated with Dependency Scopes

The different dependency scopes in Maven have different security risks associated with them. Some of the common security risks include:

  1. Malicious code: If a dependency contains malicious code, it can be easily included in the project and executed when the application is run.
  2. Vulnerabilities: Dependencies can also contain vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access to the application or the underlying system.
  3. Licensing issues: Some dependencies may have licensing issues that can lead to legal problems if used in a commercial application.

Also, using the wrong dependency scope can lead to security risks. For instance, if a dependency is defined in the "compile" scope, it will be available at runtime, which means that it will be included in the final artifact. This can be dangerous if the dependency contains a security vulnerability.

Similarly, if a dependency is defined in the "test" scope and the developer forgets to change the scope to "compile" or "runtime" during deployment, the application can be vulnerable to attacks.

Best Practices to Manage Dependency Scopes and Security Risks

To manage the security risks associated with Maven dependency scopes, it is important to follow some best practices, such as:

  • Only use trusted sources: When adding dependencies to the project, only use trusted sources such as the Maven Central Repository or other trusted repositories.
  • Regularly update dependencies: It is important to regularly update the dependencies used in the project to ensure that any vulnerabilities or security issues are patched.
  • Use the appropriate scope: Use the appropriate scope for each dependency to reduce the risk of including unnecessary or potentially harmful dependencies.
  • Monitor dependencies: Use automated tools to monitor the project dependencies and receive alerts when new vulnerabilities are discovered.
  • Conduct security testing: Conduct regular security testing to identify any vulnerabilities or security risks in the application and its dependencies.


Maven dependency scopes play an important role in managing external dependencies in a software project. However, the different scopes have different security risks associated with them. By understanding the different scopes and following the best practices to manage the risks, developers can ensure the security and stability of their applications. Regularly updating dependencies, using trusted sources, and conducting security testing are some of the key steps to ensure the security of your application.

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