One of the many applications of Blockchain technology relates to open source development, which is becoming a growing phenomenon.
Before going into how the Blockchain and the development of open source software impact each other, take some time to get a feel for the definition of "open source." To be considered open source, software should be produced as a result of collaboration, shared freely, have transparent publishing, and be developed with the goal of community good instead of benefiting a specific person or company.1
Similarities between Open Source and Decentralization
When you take a closer look at what it means to be open source, multiple similarities with the Blockchain become obvious. With open source software, for example, there is no single individual or company responsible for making, owning, and selling the product, so no there is single point of failure or entity in control. Similarly, there is not a single company powering Bitcoin's network or creating that network.
Determining if Blockchain is Open Source
While there are many similarities between open source projects and the Blockchain's decentralization, there are some caveats to the term "open source" that lead to the debate as to whether Blockchain is truly open source.2 Some argue that the only thing that can truly be open source is software since the "source" part of "open source" refers to the source of the code. This does not stop the fact that we regularly use "open source" to describe a range of non-software items. In these cases, the term "open source" is not completely accurate, but it is used to indicate that there are no patent claims on it that bear royalties or it is publicly available.
Based on the strict definition that the only things which are truly open source are software, the Blockchain cannot be open source. After all, Blockchain implementation comes through software, but the Blockchain itself is either an ecosystem or technology. That said, most Blockchain software projects do in fact have open source licenses, something that strengthens the link between Blockchain and open source development.
Benefits of Open Source
The idea that Blockchain can be used to enhance open source development is a positive thanks to the long list of benefits associated with open source software. The open source model typically relies on developers who are motivated by curiosity or a real desire to create the project, not just because they want a paycheck. Even so, open source projects do not rely on a single individual maintaining interest or motivation; they are easy to hand off. Additionally, the nature of open source programming makes it easier to avoid redundancy, as well as complicated or problematic code.
The benefits also extend to debugging, since more co-developers have a higher chance of finding issues, particularly since they will likely test out the code due to a real interest in it. Essentially, the co-developers of an open source project act as beta testers, as well, allowing for the quick resolution of issues.
Open Source in cryptocurrency
To see the impact of open source in Blockchain technology, you do not need to look further than most projects. Many major Blockchain and cryptocurrency projects are open source, with software that lets participants connect to the network. One example is the Bitcoin Core reference client, which includes more than 15,000 unique contributions of code that came from more than 450 individual developers without affiliation. The software is free to use and modify with the MIT copyright license, and you can easily view the full history on GitHub.
Why keeping cryptocurrencies Open Source is important
The fact that many cryptocurrencies are open source is not only useful but also an essential part of their structure. If a single corporation provided the same functionality as a cryptocurrency or Blockchain network, it would likely face regulations that cryptocurrencies do not. Centralized digital currencies have to register with regulators and need licensing to operate. If the issuer of these centralized digital currencies wants to sell the token in the form of an investment, they will face additional regulation due to the new status of the token as securities. By contrast, the combination of being open source and decentralized means that cryptocurrencies do not face these regulations, despite delivering the same result.
A look at some Open Source Blockchain projects
Because of the previously mentioned overlap in traits of open source software and decentralization, it is natural to create open source Blockchain projects, and many of the most popular Blockchain platforms pride themselves on being open source.3
Consider just a handful of these platforms:
- Eris lets anyone within the platform create and run applications no matter where they are. The software is free as well as open source, and it lets users create low-cost apps.
- HydraChain is an extension of Ethereum that includes a high level of customizability.
- OpenChain provides open source technology of a distributed ledger, and it is possible to set up new instances of OpenChain in just seconds.
- Quorum provides a permissioned version of Ethereum, supporting data privacy via its voting-based consensus algorithm.4
- Corda records, manages, and automates legal agreements of a business-to-business nature.
A closer look at Hyperledger
Hyperledger is hosted by the Linux Foundation and is an open source project with the goal of advancing Blockchain technologies across industries. Hyperledger features global collaboration and includes leaders in a range of industries, including technology, manufacturing, supply chains, IoT, banking, and finance.5 The team behind Hyperledger feels that the Blockchain technologies are capable of building a new generation for transaction applications and that this is only possible via an open source approach. Hyperledger argues that open source development is crucial for delivering interoperability, transparency, and longevity, all of which the future of Blockchain will need.
Some Blockchain projects encourage Open Source collaborations
There are also some rising Blockchain projects that are designed specifically to encourage open source collaboration, leading to additional development. One example is FundRequest, which is a relatively new marketplace powered by the Blockchain.6 This project makes it possible for developers to receive rewards for solving issues on open source projects.
The idea is that projects can provide funding for issues. Developers will select an issue to work on and resolve it, advancing open source development, and earning cryptocurrency in reward. The projects funding requests get to resolve their software problems, while developers can contribute to projects they feel are important and earn financial rewards. At the same time, the platform should provide a way for experienced developers to enter the world of the Blockchain.
How the Blockchain can change Open Source
Many experts also see the potential of the Blockchain to further change the world of open source development.7 Via smart contracts and Blockchain technology, it is possible to fuel interactions between developers and users, help directly fund open source projects, influence project direction via voting, and allow for bounties for bugs. There will also be the ability to tokenize open source development, with multiple projects already in place, including Gitcoin, Open Collective, and CanYa.
1) What Is "Open Source" and Why Is it Important for Cryptocurrency and Open Blockchain Projects?
2) Open Source Money: Bitcoin, Blockchain, and Free Software.
3) List of Best Open Source Blockchain Platforms.
4) The Beauty of the Blockchain.
5) About Hyperledger.
6) FundRequest Platform Rewards Open Source Software Fixes.
7) How Blockchain Will Influence Open Source.