What Is Open Source Software and How Does It Work?

open source
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Open source software (OSS) is distributed with its source code, which means it can be distributed, modified, and used freely with the original rights. Most users never see the source code, a critical part of the software. Developers alter the code to control how an app or a program behaves. Anyone with source code access can modify an app by making additions to it or fixing components that aren’t working properly.

OSS usually includes a license that lets developers change it to suit their needs and control the distribution of the software.

How it works

One typically holds open-source code in a public repository and shares it publicly. The repository is universally accessible. You can use the code independently or improve its functions and design to achieve the best possible outcome of a project.

The OSS’s distribution licenses include terms defining how programmers can use, change, study, and distribute the software. Below are the five most popular OSS licenses:

  • GNU General Public License (GPL) 2.0
  • MIT License
  • Apache License 2.0
  • BSD License 2.0 (3-clause, New or Revised)
  • GNU General Public License (GPL) 3.0

When you change the source code, the OSS must present what was modified and the methods involved. Depending on the terms of the license, you may or may not make the changed software freely available.

What are some examples of OSS?

The following types of OSS exist currently:

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

Apache web server

Open-source hosting

One example of open source web hosting is Apache. The United Nations and other leading international organizations use this highly popular web server. NGINX is another example of an open-source web server. It is newer than Apache, but its popularity is increasing due to its low resource use and high performance. 

The details

As the name suggests, open-source web hosting uses open-source software, which means anyone can change the source code. WordPress is a popular example of open-source web hosting software. Usually, open-source web hosting is cheaper than conventional hosting. It’s also more flexible in terms of website functionality and design.

Many open-source web hosting providers have a vast user community that can offer advice and support. This makes this type of hosting appealing to many individuals and small business websites.

Is open-source software safe?

With anyone being able to make changes, performance, quality, and security issues are inevitable. At the same time, the large number of contributors often leads to identifying and resolving issues quickly. Code flaws exist in open-source and commercial software. The main difference lies in whose responsibility it is to fix them. It is that of vendors for commercial software and consumers for OSS. It’s easy to secure OSS with a solid set of reliable tools and tried-and-true practices.

OSS Pros

OSS is free and flexible. You can study the code and change problematic or dysfunctional aspects. It is stable; one distributes the source code publicly. You can use it knowing the creators can’t just decide to end support for the project.

Open-source software communities make continuous improvements to the source code. Developers use preexisting code to improve OSS and are able to innovate, facilitating ingenuity.

Finally, OSS gives inexperienced developers great learning opportunities.

OSS Cons

Open-source software can be challenging to use and adopt due to setup issues. It rarely contains any liability, warranty, or infringement protection. The user is responsible for complying with legal obligations.

It can present compatibility issues. If you try to program proprietary hardware using OSS, you will usually require specialized drivers, which only the hardware manufacturer makes available.

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