How To Open Source Code Of Any Software

Open source software (OSS) is software that is distributed with its source code, making it available for use, modification, and distribution with its original rights. Source code is the part of software that most computer users don’t ever see; it’s the code computer programmers manipulate to control how a program or application behaves. Programmers who have access to source code can change a program by adding to it, changing it, or fixing parts of it that aren’t working properly. OSS typically includes a license that allows programmers to modify the software to best fit their needs and control how the software can be distributed.

What is the Open Source Initiative?

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) was created to promote and protect open source software and communities.ii In short, the OSI acts as a central informational and governing repository of open source software. It provides rules and guidelines for how to use and interact with OSS, as well as providing code licensing information, support, definitions, and general community collaboration to help make the use and treatment of open source understandable and ethical.ii

How does OSS work?

Open source code is usually stored in a public repository and shared publicly. Anyone can access the repository to use the code independently or contribute improvements to the design and functionality of the overall project.

OSS usually comes with a distribution license. This license includes terms that define how developers can use, study, modify, and most importantly, distribute the software.iii According to the Synopsys Black Duck® KnowledgeBase, five of the most popular licenses are:

  • MIT License
  • GNU General Public License (GPL) 2.0—this is more restrictive and requires that copies of modified code are made available for public use
  • Apache License 2.0
  • GNU General Public License (GPL) 3.0
  • BSD License 2.0 (3-clause, New or Revised)—this is less restrictiveiv

When source code is changed, OSS must include what was altered as well as the methods involved. Depending on the license terms, the software resulting from these modifications may or may not be required to be made available for free.iii

What are some examples of OSS?

  • GNU/Linux
  • Mozilla Firefox
  • VLC media player
  • SugarCRM
  • GIMP
  • VNC
  • Apache web server
  • LibreOffice
  • jQuery

How to Find the Source Code

Once you’ve found a piece of open-source software that you would like to view the source code of, the first step is to actually find out how the project’s source code is made available.

In the majority of cases, the source code will be hosted on the web’s largest version control platform, GitHub.

What Is GitHub?

GitHub was founded in 2008 and purchased by Microsoft in 2018. It’s a global software development platform that offers all of the source code management functionality of Git, along with its own features that enhance its collaboration capabilities and version control features.

More often than not, developers will host their open-source code on GitHub. A few examples of software that you’ve probably heard of which have source code available on GitHub are LibreOfficeGIMP, and VLC media player.

Using GitHub’s search feature, you should be able to find and view the source code for practically every major software project that’s open-source.

How to View the Source Code

Once you’ve found the GitHub repository that hosts the software’s source code, you’ll find that everything is organized in a basic directory tree. For files, GitHub makes viewing code very easy.

As a development platform, GitHub neatly formats source code through its web interface. Almost all reputable projects will include a, which is a markdown file that displays helpful information about the repository and its structure. When you navigate to a repository, scroll down and you’ll see the contents of this file.

The repository’s is important to check out because it often points users in the direction of the source code that they may be interested in. A repository can be filled with all sorts of code and other data, some of it completely useless to you, so this file is your roadmap.

Once you figure out where in the repository the code that you’re interested in is located, all you have to do is click through the repository’s directory tree to get where you want to go.

Clicking on a file will display it with the proper syntax highlighting.

For quick inspecting, GitHub’s web interface is great. However, for more complicated source code, you may want to view multiple files at the same time or over a long period of time. In this case, we recommend downloading and viewing the source code through a text editor, such as Sublime Text.


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