What is Open source? Why should you contribute to it?

Santhusha Janana Mudannayaka
6 min readJan 27, 2023

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Understanding Open Source
  3. Why you should Contribute to Open Source
  4. How to contribute to Open source

Introduction

Open source refers to a type of software whose source code is available for anyone to use, modify, and distribute. The concept of open source has its roots in the late 1960s and 1970s, when software developers began sharing their code with one another in order to collaborate and improve it. This idea of collaborative development was formalized in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the creation of the Free Software Foundation and the launch of the GNU Project.

Open source has a number of benefits for both individuals and organizations. For individuals, it allows them to learn new skills by studying and modifying the source code of existing software. It also allows them to contribute to and shape the development of software they use, and potentially gain recognition for their contributions. For organizations, open source can help reduce costs associated with software development and maintenance, and also allows them to build on the work of others to create new and innovative products and services. Additionally, open source has been a catalyst for the emergence of new industries and has greatly impacted the way software is developed and distributed.

Overall, open source has played a major role in the software industry and it continues to be a powerful force for innovation, collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Understanding Open Source

Open source software is software means that anyone can access the underlying code that makes a program work and make changes to it. This is in contrast to proprietary software, which is typically closed off and only available to the company that created it.

There are different types of open source licenses, each with its own set of rules and conditions. Some popular open source licenses include the General Public License (GPL), the MIT License, and the Apache License. The GPL, for example, requires that any changes made to the software must also be made available under the GPL. The MIT License, on the other hand, is more permissive and allows for the software to be used, modified, and distributed without any additional obligations.

There are many examples of popular open source software that are widely used today. Some of the most popular open source software include:

  • Linux: a widely-used operating system that powers servers and desktops
  • Firefox: a web browser that is considered as an alternative to Google Chrome or Safari
  • Apache: a web server software that is used to host websites
  • Python: a widely-used programming language for web development, data analysis, and artificial intelligence
  • VLC: a media player that can play a variety of video and audio formats

Overall, open source is a powerful tool for innovation and collaboration. It allows for greater flexibility, transparency, and community engagement in the development of software.

Why you should Contribute to Open Source

Contributing to open source can offer a number of benefits for individuals. One of the main benefits is the opportunity to build a portfolio of work, which can be used to demonstrate your skills and experience to potential employers. Additionally, contributing to open source can provide opportunities to gain recognition and make connections within the industry. Participating in open source projects can also be a great way to learn new skills and technologies, and to gain experience working in a collaborative environment.

In addition to the benefits for individuals, contributing to open source can also have a positive impact on the community and the industry as a whole. Open source allows for collaboration and innovation, and contributions from a diverse group of individuals can lead to new ideas and solutions. The use of open source software also promotes competition, which can lead to better products and services for the end user.

If you’re interested in contributing to open source, there are a few ways to get started. One way is to find an open source project that aligns with your interests or skills and start participating in its development. Another way is to start your own open source project and invite others to contribute. There are also many open source organizations, such as Google Summer of Code, that offer mentoring and resources to help individuals get started with contributing to open source.

How to contribute to Open source

There are many ways to contribute to open source, and you don’t have to be a software developer to get involved. Here are a few examples of ways to contribute:

  • Coding: This is the most common way to contribute to open source. As a developer, you can fix bugs, add new features, and improve the performance of existing software.
  • Documentation: Many open source projects are in need of clear, concise, and easy-to-understand documentation. This can include writing user manuals, tutorials, and guides.
  • Testing: Testing is an essential part of software development, and open source projects always need people to test the software and report bugs.
  • Design: If you’re a designer, you can contribute to open source by creating logos, icons, and other visual elements for projects.

There are many open source projects that are suitable for beginners, and starting small is the best way to get involved. Here are a few examples of open source projects that are suitable for beginners:

  • OpenHatch: A platform that makes it easy to find open source projects that are suitable for beginners and to get help with your first contributions.
  • First Contributions: A project that helps you get started with contributing to open source by providing a list of open source projects that are suitable for beginners.
  • GitHub: A platform that allows you to find open source projects that align with your interests and skills, and also provides resources to help you get started.

Once you’ve found an open source project that interests you, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the project’s code and community. You should also read the project’s documentation and guidelines, and reach out to the community with any questions you may have.

In conclusion, open source is a powerful concept that allows for collaboration and innovation in software development. Open source software is freely available for anyone to use, modify, and distribute, and it has many benefits for both individuals and organizations.

I encourage readers to explore open source, and to consider contributing to open source projects. There are many resources available to help you find open source projects that align with your interests and skills, such as OpenHatch, First Contributions, and GitHub.

In my previous article, I discussed the topic “What is a Hackathon? Why should you try one?”. If you didn’t read it yet, click here.

Open to your responses. I hope to talk to you in my next article . . .
Welcome to my Blog: www.santhushajanana.cf

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Santhusha Janana Mudannayaka

Engineering Undergraduate at University of Moratuwa | Tech & Startup Enthusiast | Writer | Volunteer