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Making good internet: The power of open-source

by Omar Mashaal

Forest
Everything I know about the web, I learned from the greater open-source community. The amount of knowledge, documentation and forward-thinking is simply beautiful. But what is open-source and why does it matter?

The open-source revolution is approaching terminal velocity. A report from performance monitoring service Pingdom looked at the world’s top 10,000 sites and their server use. What they found was that 75 per cent of these sites are served with open-source software – a pretty clear indicator that open-source rules the roost.

Whether it be Facebook, Airbnb, Instagram, Twitter, Netflix or Reddit (to name a few), most of the heavy web hitters utilise open-source in one way or another. The internet wouldn’t be the digital haven of innovation, connectivity and creativity that it is without the work of millions of contributors to the open-source community. And this community should be celebrated.

Open-what?

Source code is the part of a website or software that most users will never see; it’s the code developers manipulate to change how a piece of software – like a program or application – works. 

Open-source software allows a project's source code to be inspected, modified or enhanced by contributors, no matter their physical location. This way developers can collaborate in a decentralised manner, making it the main driver of innovation on the web.

It also allows the community to add features or fix broken parts as needed. And with the added flexibility given by the sheer range of open-source licences available, we can do all this without being locked into proprietary systems which can prevent us building the software clients actually want. 

The benefits 

Community is at the heart of open-source engineering. Building and maintaining a happy community is key, as there is power in numbers. This leads to better communication, documentation and faster feature implementations.

Customisability is the strength that sets open-source libraries apart from the rest. Looking to modify or add a new feature to an existing open-source library? With open-source you can (legally) do it yourself without being blocked by the limitations of proprietary software.

When source code is made publicly available, having hundreds (if not thousands) of eyes on the code ensures any major security issues are not only found, but they can be resolved quickly.

In addition to this, having unrestricted access to source code empowers you with a sense of freedom. It is the true antidote for vendor lock-in. Limiting the use of proprietary software in your build will ensure your project can flourish and evolve as the marketplace changes for years to come.

With these powers coming together for good, the result is developer happiness. And who doesn't want happy developers?

The costs 

While it’s true that open-source software lacks the traditional licensing fees that many proprietary solutions wield, if you’re utilising this kind of code there are several ways you can and should help support open-source communities directly.

Maintaining a popular open-source library is time consuming, and can sometimes feel like a thankless job. But there are groups out there like Open Collective that aim to make supporting open-source maintainers easy and transparent. Some maintainers rely on creative crowd-sourcing platforms such as Patreon to help with funding, allowing them to make open-source their full-time job.

The future

Many online companies are heavily investing in open-source; Airbnb maintains its own library of projects as does Facebook. It is a community we’ve directly utilised at CHE Proximity to help make the work we deliver better as it allows us to create ultra-modern web experiences quickly. A large amount of open-source code from React was used to help shape the new Mazda.com.au site and the award-winning interactive Snickers Hungerithm site.

I’m personally excited to see what the open-source community will produce next.

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