Open source software development refers to a process where the source code for a program is publicly shared, and various independent developers contribute to make the software workable in a desired manner.

Open Source Software Development at a Glance

Software is commonly licensed and copyrighted. As a result, the company that owns the rights to the software tends to depend on internal in-house teams of software developers to design and test a product. Such software is called closed source or, more commonly, proprietary software. Software companies keep the source code of proprietary software highly secret. Doing so can prevent hackers from knowing the inner workings of a system. More importantly, closed development of software can prevent rivals from stealing design ideas for popular programs. Examples of proprietary software include Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and Windows operating system.

Open source software stands in contrast to such proprietary software. The source code of open source software is open to the public. Anyone with access to the internet can view this code. Users are not required to sign an agreement not to illegally copy and distribute the software. Anyone can copy or modify the code of open source software. However, the original developers may demand new users to agree to not use the software for malicious or harmful purposes. Open source software does carry legally- binding licenses, but these are drastically different from those of proprietary software. Examples of open source software include, Mozilla Firefox, LibreOffice, Linux OS, and the GNU Image Manipulation Program.

Open source licenses are designed to promote sharing and collaboration. Users are welcome to modify the source code of software for use in independent projects. Some open source software is free of charge, and some charge a fee or accept donations.

How Open Source Software Development Works

Open source software development is based on at least four key stages. The first stage is where the original software developer shows intent for sharing the source code with the public. This could be due to a desire for taking the software public. Alternatively, the original developer may encounter a problem and might seek help from the public to solve it.

The second stage occurs when the original developer releases the source code to the public. This is usually referred to as the first version of the software. Then, independent developers begin to modify the software and fix problems. These developers will use various tools for debugging and fixing errors in code. There could be a handful or even hundreds of developers working on single open source software. Everyone collaborates, and during the third stage releases a newer version of the software to the public. The fourth stage occurs when outside developers form specialized teams to work on the software project.

Open source software has initiation, execution, and releasing development stages similarly to formal software development projects. Different types of open source software development projects also exist. Most open source software development projects are focused on writing and fixing single pieces of code. Software like Mozilla Firefox depends on open source developers who work on standalone pieces in this manner. The other major type of open source software development is distribution development. Here, teams of developers work together to produce mature versions of the same software. The Linux OS is a prime example of open source distribution development. Examples of Linux “distributions” include Ubuntu, Debian, and Fedora Core.

Benefits of Open Source Software for Developers and Users

The biggest advantage of open source software development is that there is no limit to how many developers can work on a project. Proprietary software depends on a handful of developers. For open source software, many can participate. As a result, the final product tends to be more polished than proprietary software.

Open source software development can lead to more innovative and secure programs that meet the needs of customers. People who are not developers can also pitch in to provide valuable feedback that results in effective programs.