What Is Smart Content Dependency Management™ All About?

[VERIFIED] Last updated by Joe Schaefer on Sun, 21 Apr 2024    source


Smart Content Dependency Management™ is about the circle of ideas related to providing support and facilitation for incremental builds, while staying true to the Content Normalization Principle — that permalinks should be the single source of truth, no matter how their content is curated throughout the source tree and resulting build artifacts.

This article presents the https://sunstarsys.com/ website as a case study for a demonstration of best practices and analysis of the associated graph topologies.


This only ever matters when you need to weigh the expense of performing full site builds every time you need to tweak the content on a webpage. If your website has less than 1K source files in it, relax, and read the following with an eye towards your future needs. You chose to use our platform, that’s designed to scale with you, not against you. For most pages, this material below is about sparse content dependency graphs for sites with more than 1K pages.

For example, the Apache https://www.OpenOffice.Org website was able to build its 40K+ files using the original Apache version of this build system, with fully integrated support for incremental builds — without any configured dependencies whatsoever — by making clever usage of traditional SSI technology alone.

By default, our build system will build only the files you changed, without concern for the intra-file dependencies (unless you specify them in %path::dependencies — more on that below). If the file you changed is in the templates/ or lib/ directory, a full site build will trigger instead.

Weaving Your Website’s Dependency Graph Together

Mathematically, a Topology τ\tau is a complete specification of the open subsets of a space XX, the purpose of which is to indicate the proximity relationships between points xx of the space XX. When XX is a graph, a topology τ\tau for XX amounts to specifying the edges connecting the vertices of the graph together (here vertices are viewed as the points of XX, and the connecting edges determine the neighborhoods of those points as basis open sets for the topology). A directed graph topology is essentially the same thing, but incorporates a reference to a topological embedding of (X,τ)(X,\tau) into a larger topological space (Y,σ)(Y,\sigma) , where the embedding’s edge connections are represented by directional, non-intersecting (Jordan) curves.

The latter concept is what we will utilize when discussing the dependency graph’s topology τ\tau associated to the space XX of source files beneath your site’s content/ subdirectory (here (Y,σ)(Y,\sigma) is Rn\mathbb{R}^n with its metric topology for n{2,3}n \in \{2,3\}, and the edges of XX are non-intersecting, directed Jordan curves connecting a file xXx \in X to its set of files upon which xx depends: {xXxx}\set{x^\prime \in X | x \rightarrow x^\prime}).

Having a clear understanding of your website’s dependency graph will ensure you can maximize the performance of our build technology at scale. We take the information you provide to %path::dependencies during the build’s load of your website’s lib/path.pm file, construct a reverse map of dependent files, and use that reverse map to determine the full corpus of files to build for any given svn commit you make to our system.

It’s important to note that the dependency relationships between source files can and should be fully captured by the %path::dependencies hash during the build-system’s startup load of lib/path.pm from your source tree, which is how the built-in views contained in our SunStarSys::View Perl package are meant to operate. The walk_content_tree, archived, and seed_file_deps utility functions importable from SunStarSys::Util are useful aids in constructing the %path::dependencies hash, with built-in support for managing a dependency cache to accelerate incremental builds at scale.

Here’s that portion of our live lib/path.pm:

our (%dependencies, @acl);

# entries computed below at build-time, or drawn from the .deps cache file

walk_content_tree {

  $File::Find::prune = 1, return if m#^/(images|css|editor\.md|js|fontawesome)\b#;

  return if -d "content/$_";

  seed_file_deps, seed_file_acl if /\.(?:md|ya?ml)[^\/]*$/;

  for my $lang (qw/en es de ru sv he zh-TW fr/) {

    if (/\.md\.$lang$/ or m!/index\.html\.$lang$! or m!/files/|/slides/|/bin/!) {
      push @{$dependencies{"/sitemap.html.$lang"}}, $_ if !archived;

    if (s!/index\.html\.$lang$!!) {
      $dependencies{"$_/index.html.$lang"} = [
        grep s/^content// && !archived,
      push @{$dependencies{"$_/index.html.$lang"}}, grep -f && s/^content// && !m!/index\.html\.$lang!,
        glob("'content$_'/*") if m!/files\b!;
  and do {

    while  (my ($k, $v) = each %{$facts->{dependencies}}) {
      push @{$dependencies{$k}}, grep $k ne $_, grep s/^content// && !archived, map glob("'content'$_"), ref $v ? @$v : split /[;,]?\s+/, $v;

    open my $fh, "<:encoding(UTF-8)", "lib/acl.yml" or die "Can't open acl.yml: $!";
    push @acl, @{Load join "", <$fh>};

Please do mull that code over for ideas on how you want your website to work. Yes there is some reasonable complexity (involving both Perl’s regular expressions and Perl’s UNIX C-shell glob interfaces, in a very precise way) around how %path::dependencies is constructed in that file, but instead of just viewing this as optimization work, instead look at it as providing the basic ingredients necessary for construcing major aspects of the link topology in an automated, dynamically generated fashion.

Where do entries in %path::dependencies originate? If they are not born from an invocation of walk_content_tree { seed_file_deps ... }, (which basically dives into your markdown source files’ headers and content), then they are just hard-coded into lib/path.pm at load-time.

Cyclic Dependency Graphs Are the Norm

Our site presently consists of 240 source files in content/. Here’s an 85 vertices x 465 edges, scrollable, two-dimensional directed graph representation of a recent snapshot of the English language page dependencies on our site (using GraphViz’s dot):

English Language Dependencies

Quite complex, even for a small website like this one! Many edge intersections when taking n=2n=2 (avoidable in dimension n=3n=3). Of particular note is the core set of dense, cyclic dependencies in the non-archived files in our site’s /essays/ directory, towards the lower-center-right of the graph, which is what a good blogging site’s dependency graph should look like. These dependencies are drawn in red curves in the image.

Also note the internal, essentially isolated interconnectedness of the elements in /categories/*/* and /archives/2022/11/*. The only external dependencies involve non-archived content in /essays/*. This is by design — the archived essays should only change adiabatically, perhaps solely for adjustments to their Category headers. None of those changes materially affect the pre-existing content, so we don’t track it in %path::dependencies.

Of course, our Orion Enterprise Wiki has never had trouble dealing with cyclic dependencies.

No! In fact, the link topology of your website is an entirely separate matter from the source tree’s dependency graph. A search engine will naturally ferret out the link topology, but has no insight into the dependency graph.

Here’s a 240+ vertices x 3859 edges, current birds-eye graph of the English link topology graph for our site (using GraphViz’s twopi):

Can you spot the red edges as specified in the dependency graph? The link topology graph is qualitatively and quantitatively very different from the (dramatically smaller and less interconnected) dependency graph depicted above.

How SSI Technology Can Help

Traditional Server-Side Includes (SSI)

Template APIs

ssi tag


{% ssi `/content_rooted/path/to/source_file` %}

ssi filter


{{ content|ssi }}

Document Curation

Orion’s build system has integrated support for what we call Document Curation, which is the process of recontextualizing and reorganizing your content based on how you set the Categories and Archive headers in your Markdown source files. These features are disabled by default, but can be activated by setting a category_root (for Category support) or an archive_root (for Archiving support) in the associated hashref argument to the desired @path::patterns entry.

Archived Pages

On our site, we aggresssively archive stale essays to keep build times for new essays low, while not destroying permalinks to archived documents. The dependency graph relative to the /archives/ directory (for our site) is reasonably self-contained as-per the following rules:


HTML comments embedded in the Markdown prose form boundaries of the lede content. We use {# lede #} for this purpose.

Processing ledes is done with the lede Template filter. It is useful to combine this with the ssi filter for indexing a Category file with more than one category page within it.


There are interesting data structures and relations to yet be uncovered when dealing with a website’s dependency graph from a build performance perspective, which is a much newer area of interest than the research literature delving into the data structures and associated isssues surrounding link topology1,2.

Conventional incremental builds for pure software development projects are still a hot topic. The research covered in 3,4 was published in October 2022, about a month before this essay is expected to be complete. The pluto5 build system has features quite similar to ours (the build itself can dynamically regenerate and rebuild dependencies).

The good news is that we have you covered as our customer. We will keep you apprised of the best practices and the state of the art in this space, so you will benefit from our lessons learned over the past decade and into tomorrow.


  1. Identification of clusters in the Web graph based on link topology Seventh International Database Engineering and Applications Symposium, 2003. Proceedings.

  2. Inferring Web Communities from Link Topology Proceedings of the ninth ACM conference on Hypertext and hypermedia: links, objects, time and space — structure in hypermedia systems: links, objects, time and space — structure in hypermedia systems. 1998.

  3. On the benefits and limits of incremental build software configurations: an exploratory study ICSE ‘22: Proceedings of the 44th International Conference on Software Engineering, May 2022

  4. Towards incremental build of software configurations ICSE-NIER ‘22: Proceedings of the ACM/IEEE 44th International Conference on Software Engineering: New Ideas and Emerging Results, May 2022

  5. A sound and optimal incremental build system with dynamic dependencies OOPSLA 2015: Proceedings of the 2015 ACM SIGPLAN International Conference on Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications October 2015