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The Importance of a Bill of Materials in Software Development

With the rise of open source and third-party components, it can be challenging to keep track of all the parts that make up your software. This can lead to security vulnerabilities and license risks.

A system-level bill of materials (SBOM) provides centralized design management with full traceability, and can decrease risk by bringing hardware and software teams together.


In software development, a bill of materials is an inventory of the components and libraries used to build a complete application. It’s a concept borrowed from manufacturing, where it helps document the parts and raw materials needed to make a product. A BOM helps manufacturers avoid using vulnerable or non-compliant parts in their products, and it also makes the process of identifying flaws easier.

The growth of open-source and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) code has made it difficult for developers to keep track of all the parts that go into an app. This has led to security vulnerabilities and licensing compliance issues in the past. The adoption of SBOMs, which are an important part of any software composition analysis (SCA) strategy, will help mitigate these issues and ensure that all components in an application are safe and compliant.

A typical SBOM includes all dependencies and their version numbers. It also provides information about the licensing of each component, as well as any known risks. The data is available in a machine-readable format, such as CycloneDX or SPDX, and can be parsed by tools like OWASP Dependency-Track, GitLab, and JFrog Xray.

An SBOM is a valuable asset during a cyberattack. Using the SBOM, security teams can identify all affected components and understand how they interact with each other. This will help them prioritize remediation efforts and assess the impact of a threat.


A software bill of materials (SBOM) is a centralized record that provides details about the third-party libraries, components, scripts, dependencies, licenses, and versions used to create a particular software application. It plays a crucial role in managing dependencies, ensuring legal compliance, mitigating security risks, and providing transparency within an organization. It is a subset of software metadata, and it helps organizations track the open source components they use.

Just like a bill of materials (BOM) used in supply chains and manufacturing, an SBOM allows an organization to see the internal underpinnings of a specific application so they can identify areas where there could be a potential risk. This approach is especially important for software development projects, where multiple engineering teams are working in parallel to create and deliver a single product.

The high-profile security breaches caused by the use of malicious software in 2021 led to the US Government issuing guidelines in an executive order that recommends all departments, agencies, and contractors that do business with the government require SBOMs from vendors. The resulting transparency will help the government better manage security, compliance, visibility, and maintenance of its software applications.

However, generating an SBOM manually is not feasible, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has recommended that the process be automated. This means that an organization should implement processes and tools that enable the continuous collection of open source information so that it can generate an SBOM on a regular basis.


In the same way that manufacturers maintain a detailed Bill of Materials to track components, parts, and raw materials that go into a finished product, software engineers need an equivalent tool to keep tabs on all the software they use. That’s where a software bill of materials (SBOM) comes in. A machine-readable inventory that tracks a program’s dependencies, an SBOM makes it easier to assess and manage licensing requirements as well as other risks.

SBOM adoption benefits engineering teams by enabling them to keep an eye on the license compliance, security, and quality risks that come with using open source components in their software applications. Since modern software applications are often built with a mix of proprietary code and third-party libraries, ensuring legal compliance, security, and streamlined management is essential for engineering leaders and CTOs.

In addition to easing licensing governance, an SBOM helps address supply chain vulnerabilities by providing visibility into the software’s dependencies. In the case of the Takata airbag recall, for example, car manufacturers knew exactly which vehicles had defective parts because they were able to pull up a list of components built by their supplier. Similarly, software engineers can use an SBOM to quickly identify which components are susceptible to certain vulnerabilities so that they can patch them before they are exploited by bad actors.


Modern software systems are complex and interconnected. They rely on a variety of proprietary code, open-source libraries, and third-party components. Ensuring legal compliance, security, and streamlined management is fundamental for engineering leaders. To help them do so, software engineers use a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM).

SBOMs are challenging to create and manage. They must be accurate and up-to-date throughout the product development process, production and deployment phases. Failure to do so could lead to errors, missed milestones and disruption of the supply chain. Inaccurate BOMs can also expose companies to potential liability claims from customers who experience problems with products that aren’t made according to specifications.

Traditionally, BOMs were used to create physical prototypes or manufactured goods. But with the advent of software-enabled IoT and artificial intelligence, a BOM can now enable companies to create and test digital prototypes. This is known as agile manufacturing.

Small- and mid-sized manufacturers face a number of challenges when managing BOMs. These include ensuring accuracy, minimizing the time it takes to generate and update them, and streamlining production management. To overcome these challenges, small- and mid-sized companies need a cloud-based BOM software system that can streamline information flow among product development teams, contractors, and manufacturers and is tuned for production management. They also need a tool that can synchronize consumption of parts with recorded inventory levels to ensure efficient Just-in-Time production.