Discovering Which Projects Depend on One

I am working with several large-ish (100+ project) solutions – and at this scale, dependency management is a very real issue. While you can easily view (and set) the dependencies of a project by viewing its references, there is no obvious tool to answer the reverse question: which projects depend on a given one?

Obviously a hack is in order. Enter project dependencies – project references predecessor. Both appear in the project context menu (from the solution explorer):

In a nutshell, dependencies are stored per-solution while references are stored per-project, as they should. But that’s beside the point here. The point is: the dependencies display is smart enough to keep you from forming cyclic dependencies. When you click ‘Project Dependencies…’ you’d see something like this:

The checked boxes indicate projects that the current one (selected in the top combo) includes either in its references or dependencies. The greyed out boxes (marked in a red rectangle here) indicate projects that include the current one in a similar manner. Indeed, if you try and check a greyed out box – thereby adding it to the current project dependencies – you get:

So there you have it: the list of greyed out boxes is a poor man’s answer to the question – which projects depend on the current one.

Note two limitations:

  1. These dependencies are both direct and indirect. Distinguishing these still requires some manual extra work.
  2. This hack applies only linker dependencies among projects, and is blind to dependency by header file inclusion. Generally speaking this amounts to dependency upon interfaces and not implementations (neglecting templates and other inlines), and so is a weaker form of dependency – but still one that might be of interest.

A few months ago I decided such hacks are no replacement for a proper tool, and started using CppDepend. It is not perfect, but I’m growing to like it. Maybe more on that in a future post – but in the meantime this hack should be useful to anyone working in large solutions like mine.

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2 Responses to Discovering Which Projects Depend on One

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ho Ofek, Thanks for the post. We are going have a dependency tree view in IncrediBuild soon, so I hope it will be a nice productivity feature.

    • Ofek Shilon says:

      Ho, Uri(?) ! That’s very good news! Are you going to allow digging in, to see the concrete source of the dependency? How will you handle cyclic dependencies in a tree view? (would expand indefinitely?)

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