How Does Open Source Code Work

Open source code is unique in the way it’s distributed to the world. It requires developers who are willing to give their time and make changes to code that impacts everyone. Open source code is built by a community as something that works for them, not just as a product or brand. On this page, you’ll get an overview of how open source code works, see examples of open source developer tools, tips on how to get started building with open source code, and find out where you can go next to keep going with building software in the open.

The word “open source” is widely used, but what does it mean? How did it get its start? How is it different than the method of creating non-software products? Open source code works the same way as any other type of open collaboration. You just need to know how to look for it. Anyone can take advantage of open source code by taking part in and contributing to an existing project or creating their own step-by-step video tutorials .

Personal benefits

If I say that open source developers are driven by altruism and the desire to help others, a lot of people reading this article may smile in disbelief. But this intrinsic motivation is the primary reason most people work on open source projects.

Don’t underestimate the importance of personal benefits – those feelings of being helpful and self-accomplished.

Why contribute to open source projects?

There are a number of reasons to contribute to OSS (open-source software). Let’s see what motivates developers to contribute.

First, there are a lot of enthusiasts who simply believe that code should be open. They’re idealists who want to make the world a better place, and it drives them to contribute code. The desire to share can be a powerful motivator.

Second, OSS gives you a great start. Beginners might start by fixing minor things, such as a bug in a library, sending a pull request, or even writing a piece of documentation. However, beginner developers can also learn to write so-called “clean code” – code that is readable and maintainable – while contributing to open source projects. When developers realize that their code is exposed to the world, it makes them focus on making that code easy to understand and support. Programmers stick to generally accepted rules within a team, which include norms for indents, descriptions of methods and classes, variable names, and following the don’t-repeat-yourself rule. In a nutshell, when contributing to free projects you’re obliged to conform to the norms of a project.

Third, you get the chance to be part of an active open source community where you can meet like-minded people and supporters. Moreover, if you’re a freelancer and actively contribute to open source projects, you increase your chances of being noticed by potential employers.

The main reasons why developers go for free-for-modification projects are to be recognized, to sharpen their programming skills, and to become part of the vibrant community. Now let’s look at what you should consider before you start contributing.

Community recognition

Scientists and doctors share their experience by writing scholarly articles and participating in scientific conferences. UI/UX designers share their experience on Behance or Dribbble. Writers print their books or share them via online platforms. Musicians and moviemakers share their work with the world via different streaming services. Why would software developers be any different and want to miss their opportunity to get recognition?

When working on or running open source projects, you can get recognition from the developer community in a number of ways, such as creating a great GitHub-profile and participating in events like Hacktoberfest.

You might also get discounts, free admissions to events, and a well-developed infrastructure to run your projects. Not only does working on open source projects save you money, but also it inspires you to use all the greatest tools available to you in your own projects.

Programming language

The most fundamental technology behind any application is a programming language. The most popular languages on GitHub (a collaborative code hosting platform) are JavaScript, Python, Java, Ruby, and PHP. There are a multitude of projects that might suit your skills and taste.

Since we at RubyGarage love Ruby and its ecosystem, we’d like to share several live OSS codebases for beginners:

  • Sinatra, a Ruby-based library that helps create Rails-free apps;
  • Hanami, a modern web framework built with Ruby;
  • Chef, a Ruby-based framework used for automating your work with the server;
  • Goby, a framework that lets you build text role playing games;
  • JRuby, a second top Ruby interpreter.

Although we mentioned only five active open source projects that need help, you can start your jorney as a Ruby contributor with them.


If you or your company actively participate in the open source community, you can earn a great reputation. This way, if you are an individual or self-employed developer, it will be easier for you to find a job as a freelancer or a full-time employee. If you represent a software development company, it will be easier for you to find people willing to work for you, partners willing to cooperate, and clients willing to request your professional services.

This is why developing open source software creates a perfect advertising opportunity – a win-win situation both for developers and development agencies.

What’s the difference between free software and open source?

These are two terms that get confused with one another in practice,and even get used as equivalents. All free software is open-source, but not all open-source software is free.

Open source is considered to have more flexible rules than free software, since it allows companies and developers to impose certain usage restrictions and licenses in order to protect the code’s integrity. On the other hand, free software, strictly speaking, must literally adhere to the four points of freedom, according to Richard Stallman:

  • There is freedom to execute the code however one wishes and for whatever purpose one wishes.
  • The source code can be known and modified in its entirety.
  • The code can be distributed freely (either without cost, or with a charge).
  • Modifications to the code can also be freely distributed (with or without cost).

Software quality

Open source code is often higher quality. A piece of software created by a team of developers can be lower quality than that developed by thousands of developers from all over the world with experience in different technologies, industries, and projects. And bugs in open source software are identified very quickly as the code is being constantly reviewed by multiple developers.

Even code written by a single developer is often higher quality if it is open sourced. If you write code that only you or your close colleagues will see, you may not care much about code style. But if you write code that everyone can see, you will do all you can not to look like a code monkey. Reviews, contributions, and refactoring from the community are all helpful here.

Get to know GitHub

GitHub is the most popular platform for open source collaboration, so you’ll probably use it when exploring the world of OSS. First, you need to create a GitHub account and read the guide that helps you get started. On GitHub, you can contribute to projects by submitting issues and contributing code. Submitting issues means sending messages about errors in applications and suggesting ways to fix them. Contributing code involves sending pull requests with your corrections and improvements.

Data security

You should use open source software for application development because it is more secure. The community promptly finds and reports security flaws which the software owner usually fixes right away.

In turn, if there is a security flaw in a proprietary software product, nobody is going to know until someone falls victim to the threat it poses.

Also, open sourced products cannot misuse and abuse users’ data intentionally like some proprietary software companies do. The community would discover this abuse, and the reputation of the software and its owner would be ruined.

Examples of open source programs

Some widely used programs, platforms, and languages which are considered open source are:

  • Linux operating system
  • Android by Google
  • Open office
  • Firefox browser
  • VCL media player
  • Moodle
  • ClamWinantivirus
  • WordPress content management system

This means that any person can access the code and modify it to create new extensions, patches, or solutions. Linux, for example, is the example par excellence of open source, and new programs can be created from its nucleus or kernel.

Another example, the opening of Android, is exactly what permits any developer to create compatible applications. Consequently, thousands and thousands of applications exist to meet almost any need.

The fact that WordPress and Firefox are open source implies that there exists an enormous variety of compatible plug-ins that were independently developed.


Developing open source software usually means you are developing an easily customizable software. Since the source code is open, a developer can easily add changes to the functionality of the interface.

For instance, Apache CloudStack is an open source software that facilitates cloud computing. Another example is the open sourced platform Botpress, which allows developers to easily create custom chatbots. KeenEthics developers who are Botpress contributors feel delighted when they’re able to make somebody else’s life simpler.

Open source is about gaining and sharing experience. Sometimes, you see that an open source software project is lacking something and you fill this gap by contributing your code. Other times, you understand that you could do something better. Open source helps you deal with boredom and earn recognition from peers.


Code is the lifeblood of the internet. Open Source code powers the majority of the software, hardware and devices on the network. It’s also free to use and modify for everyone, so what exactly is it? What does it look like, who makes it and how does it all work? This mini-case study answers these questions and more.

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