5 Ways to Configure a Monorepo for DevSecOps Efficiency
October 06, 2022

Monorepos — or the use of a single repository for every part of an application — have been around since before git was invented in 2005. This is in contrast with the more recent approach of having separate repositories for each service and the underlying infrastructure. In recent years, however, they've come back in vogue thanks to top engineering organizations such as Google, Facebook, and Uber all publicly stating that they use monorepos, and again in 2017 when Microsoft said they had moved Windows to a monorepo.

Monorepo is not a fit for every organization. If you are evaluating the use of a monorepo, there are pros and cons you should evaluate.

Monorepo Challenges

The primary concern with using a monorepo is access control. When using git for a monorepo, you can block write access by directory, but git was not designed to limit read access granularly like that. There are ways to create branches with branch protections, but even with those controls, an insider may still be able to gain access to more source code than if the codebase was broken up. Additionally, supply chain attacks can be amplified if proper protections aren't put in place. A full admin (not recommended) has control over the entire codebase and could poison any part of it. That's why using a monorepo requires a super high level of trust in your team and your security practices.

The other primary reasons teams avoid using a monorepo are beginning to be solved. For example, people sometimes believe that microservices require multiple repos and only monoliths can use a monorepo. If teams are decoupled with separate repos and pushing code at different paces, it is undoubtedly easier to tune your repositories for each team. Within a monorepo, however, there are ways to achieve the same partial deployments. Tools that compare the changes to running state and only apply diffs, such as Terraform and Kubernetes, can perform rolling deployments where the changes can be isolated to a small segment of the code and can be deployed in place without downtime.

Additionally, teams may be afraid of the storage and networking necessary to handle development and pipelines for a monorepo. Google has an estimated 80TB in its monorepo. Obviously, that won't fit on a developer's laptop, which is why git added shallow and partial clones. Those may still be large, but you only pay the cost once, then all subsequent pulls are diffs and, thus, much smaller.

Finally, many testing tools used in CI/CD pipelines are designed to test the entire repo. That would take hours unless configured properly. And that is not a simple task, but that is where the tips in the next section can help.

Monorepo Benefits

The primary benefit of a monorepo is to have one single source of truth. I've heard horror stories of people making changes to their microservice with the expectation that it was deployed, but because they missed a step in a dependency's repo, it wasn't. With a monorepo, you know that the running application environment matches the main branch because there is no other codebase to apply from. Therefore, if the code isn't committed to the main branch, it isn't in the runtime environment.

Additionally, local searching, shortcuts, and code reuse benefit from having a single repo. Search is a lot easier because your code and all dependencies are in the same repo. If multiple services share a dependency, you can download or create that package once and use it anywhere.

Finally, with the right configurations, even testing such as security scans can be configured to handle a monorepo.

Tuning Testing for a Monorepo

1. Maintain a directory structure for mappability

In order to properly manage a monorepo, you should organize the various components of your codebase to be separated in a logical directory structure. Related code should be close in the directory tree, and work that involves different teams should be separated into different directories. If properly structured, the organization of a repo will also help with managing protections and auditing. Write and approval permissions can be mapped to specific directories, maintaining a least privilege model for administration where write access is limited to only specific directories despite a shared repository across teams.

2. Only provide feedback on impacted code

Traditional testing tools provide feedback across an entire repository. If you are only working on modifying the code in one small microservice out of hundreds or thousands in your monorepo, any feedback on other services is just noise. Feedback, such as automated code comments, should only be provided for the resources or blocks of code that have been modified. For example, if you open up a pull request that modifies a single resource block, you shouldn't be receiving feedback for other resource blocks in that file or, even worse, in a separate directory unless directly impacted by your code changes.

3. Compartmentalize builds

In the next phase of testing, during the CI/CD phase, when you build the code for further testing, focus those builds on the minimum necessary for testing. Focus on just the pieces of code and their dependencies that are being modified. For compiled languages, directed graph systems like Buck (Facebook) and Bazel (Google) help by only focusing builds and testing on the code under construction in a build system and other optimizations like parallelizing dependency gathering and caching artifacts. For microservices, you shouldn't need to redeploy the entire application and all of the services for testing. Focus initial testing by building just the modified container, testing that, then if it passes, move to a staging environment for more integration testing that does require dependent microservices to be included.

4. Leverage git's metadata and tagging tools for searchability

A monorepo can get massively large, making it challenging to find relevant code. Leveraging metadata like git blame will help filter code to the parts you or your teammates modified.

Additionally, automated tagging makes tracing from runtime environments back to the relevant code easier. In the event that a vulnerability or misconfiguration was found in runtime, that tagging is an invaluable time-saving tool.

5. Trust but monitor your team

Strictly speaking, this isn't a tuning recommendation, but it is important. Trust is still crucial to being successful with monorepos. As mentioned before, git doesn't have a good way to block read access. Therefore, you'll have to trust your team that they won't steal your trade secrets. Additionally, monitor and audit behavior to watch for insider threats.

The Future of Monorepos

Relying on a monorepo is not for everyone, but for some, the benefit of having a single source of truth outweighs the costs. Oftentimes what it comes down to is whether the time saved from better searchability and easier traceability over time is worth having to deal with the upfront complexities.

Monorepos are back in popularity, at least they appear to be, but who knows. Maybe in a few years, we'll be discussing the hot new "microrepo" trend. Regardless, your security testing should be tuned to operate with your specific environment.

Share this

Industry News

June 01, 2023

Couchbase announced a broad range of enhancements to its Database-as-a-Service Couchbase Capella™.

June 01, 2023

Remote.It release of Docker Network Jumpbox to enable zero trust container access for Remote.It users.

June 01, 2023

Platformatic launched a suite of new enterprise-grade products that can be self-hosted on-prem, in a private cloud, or on Platformatic’s managed cloud service:

May 31, 2023

Parasoft announced the release of C/C++test 2023.1 with complete support of MISRA C 2023 and MISRA C 2012 with Amendment 4.

May 31, 2023

Rezilion announced the release of its new Smart Fix feature in the Rezilion platform, which offers critical guidance so users can understand the most strategic, not just the most recent, upgrade to fix vulnerable components.

May 31, 2023

Zesty has partnered with skyPurple Cloud, the public cloud operations specialists for enterprises.

With Zesty, skyPurple Cloud's customers have already reduced their average monthly EC2 Linux On-Demand costs by 44% on AWS.

May 30, 2023

Red Hat announced Red Hat Trusted Software Supply Chain, a solution that enhances resilience to software supply chain vulnerabilities.

May 30, 2023

Mirantis announced Lens Control Center, to enable large businesses to centrally manage Lens Pro deployments by standardizing configurations, consolidating billing, and enabling control over outbound network connections for greater security.

May 25, 2023

Red Hat announced new capabilities for Red Hat OpenShift AI.

May 25, 2023

Pipedrive announced the launch of Developer Hub, a centralized online app development platform for technology partners and developers.

May 25, 2023

Delinea announced the latest version of Cloud Suite, part of its Server PAM solution, which provides privileged access to and authorization for servers.

May 24, 2023

Red Hat announced Red Hat Service Interconnect, simplifying application connectivity and security across platforms, clusters and clouds.

May 24, 2023

Teleport announced Teleport 13, the latest version of its Teleport Access Platform to enhance security and reduce operational overhead for DevOps teams responsible for securing cloud infrastructure.

May 24, 2023

Kasten by Veeam announced the release of its new Kasten K10 V6.0 Kubernetes data protection platform.

May 23, 2023

Red Hat announced Red Hat Developer Hub, an enterprise-grade, unified and open portal designed to streamline the development process through a supported and opinionated framework.