Open Source Platform Essentials

published on 13 January 2024

Finding the right open source platform can be challenging for those new to open source software.

This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of open source platform fundamentals, components, and adoption considerations to help you make an informed decision.

You'll learn key aspects like licensing, governance, integration, and participation so you can fully leverage the benefits of open source.

Introduction to Open Source Platforms

What is Open Source?

Open source platforms and software provide users access to the source code. This allows the code to be freely used, modified, and shared. Some key aspects of open source platforms include:

  • Source Code Access: The source code is publicly available for anyone to view, use, modify, and distribute.

  • Open Collaboration: Open source projects encourage collaboration from a global community of developers who can contribute code, spot bugs, suggest improvements, etc.

  • Flexible Licensing: Open source platforms use licenses that allow the software to be freely used, modified, and shared. Popular licenses include GPL, MIT, Apache, etc.

  • Cost Savings: Access to the source code allows organizations to host and manage open source platforms themselves, reducing reliance on vendor lock-ins.

Some popular examples of open source platforms include Linux, WordPress, MongoDB, Drupal, etc.

The Open Source Way

The open source philosophy is guided by principles of open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, and community-oriented development. Some of the guiding ideologies include:

  • Freedom: Users have the freedom to use, modify, and share the software for any purpose they wish.

  • Transparency: With the source code publicly available, users can inspect the codebase themselves to understand how the software works.

  • Rapid Innovation: The collaborative development environment enables rapid prototyping, testing, and release of innovative features.

  • Community: Open source projects are driven by a community of developers collaborating on the codebase to drive progress.

History of Open Source Software

The origins of open source software can be traced back to the free software movement launched in 1983 by Richard Stallman with the GNU operating system. Over the years, some landmark events include:

  • Launch of Linux Kernel (1991): Linus Torvalds open sourced the Linux kernel under the GPL license, enabling growth of Linux OS.

  • Netscape Open Sources Mozilla (1998): Netscape open sourced its web browser to engage an external community of developers.

  • Launch of Apache HTTP Server (1995): Rob McCool created the Apache server, which went on to dominate the web server market.

  • Founding of OSI (1998): Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond founded the Open Source Initiative to promote and protect open source software.

Comparison of Open-Source and Closed-Source Software

Open Source Closed Source
Source code is publicly available Source code is proprietary
Developed collaboratively by global community Developed within the vendor organization
Flexible licensing models like GPL, MIT Restrictive licensing terms
Can be hosted, managed internally Hosted on vendor cloud or servers
Generally free access Usage often requires per user/server licenses

Open Source Business Models

While open source platforms can be freely accessed, several business models exist to drive revenue, including:

  • Support & Maintenance: Providing expert support, maintenance, security updates, and SLAs for enterprise use of open source software.

  • Cloud Hosting: Hosted cloud versions of open source software with added security, scalability, integrations, and features.

  • Open Core: Having an open source core version along with proprietary advanced tools/plugins/modules that offer added capabilities.

  • Dual Licensing: Offering open source licenses for community usage and commercial licenses for enterprise use cases.

  • SaaS Delivery: Delivering open source software as a managed Software-as-a-Service model with automated updates and tooling.

What is open source platform example?

Prime examples of open-source platforms include:

The Apache HTTP Server

The Apache HTTP Server is the most widely used web server software. Developed and maintained by the Apache Software Foundation, it is open-source software available for free.

The Apache HTTP web server accounted for 37% of all active websites as of August 2022. Its high performance, stability, and extensibility make it a popular choice to host web sites and web applications.


osCommerce is a popular open-source e-commerce platform. It offers an out-of-the-box solution to set up an online store with features like product listings, shopping cart, order management, and payment processing.

Over 7,000 addons and 150 payment gateways integrate with osCommerce. Small businesses worldwide rely on its simplicity, customization options, active community support to sell products online.

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox is a free, open source web browser descended from the Mozilla Application Suite. It is maintained by the Mozilla Foundation and hundreds of volunteers.

Firefox has roughly 8.72% desktop browser market share globally as of August 2022. It focuses on user privacy and control while offering speed, personalization features, add-on support, and frequent security updates across devices.

What is open source digital platform?

Generally, an open source digital platform refers to a software platform with publicly available source code that can be used, modified, and distributed by anyone.

Some key things to know about open source digital platforms:

  • The source code is made available under an open source license that allows users to freely use, modify, and distribute the software. Common open source licenses include GPL, MIT, Apache, etc.

  • Anyone can access the source code, make changes to it, and distribute their own versions. This facilitates collaboration and rapid innovation.

  • Open platforms often have a community of developers who contribute code, fix bugs, add features, etc. This is the "open collaboration" aspect.

  • Well-known examples of open source digital platforms include Linux, Android, WordPress, Drupal, OpenStack, etc.

  • Being open source allows platforms to be more transparent, flexible, and secure since the code is accessible for review and audit.

  • Open platforms can enable developers to build custom solutions on top of them through published APIs. Popular examples include Twilio, Stripe, etc.

So in summary, an open source digital platform provides the underlying infrastructure to build solutions on, while empowering users to freely use, modify, extend, and distribute it through exposed source code and developer communities. The open model facilitates transparency, collaboration and widespread adoption.

What is an open source website?

An open source website is one that is built using open source software and makes its source code freely available for others to use, modify, and distribute.

Some key characteristics of an open source website include:

  • Publicly accessible source code: The website's underlying source code is made available under an open source license, allowing anyone to access, view, use, modify, and redistribute it.

  • Community collaboration: Open source websites often have a community of developers and users who collaborate to improve the website, fix bugs, add features, etc. Anyone can contribute.

  • Customizability: Users have the flexibility to customize and modify open source websites to suit their specific needs since the source code is accessible.

  • Cost savings: Open source software is free to use, so developing on open source platforms can significantly reduce website building costs.

  • Enhanced security: With many developers able to view and improve code, security vulnerabilities may be spotted and resolved faster.

Some popular open source content management systems used for website building are WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. The source code for these platforms is freely available for anyone to build on.

So in summary, an open source website transparently shares its underlying source code publicly to enable community collaboration and customization. This open model allows sites to be developed and enhanced in a decentralized manner.

What is open source vs closed source platforms?

Open source platforms have publicly available source code that anyone can view, use, modify, and distribute. Closed source platforms keep their source code private and do not allow others to access or change it.

Here are some key differences between open source and closed source platforms:

  • Access to source code - Open source platforms publish their source code for anyone to see. Closed source platforms keep their source code private.

  • Freedom to modify - Open source platforms allow users to modify, customize, and enhance the source code if they wish. Closed source platforms do not allow this.

  • Community collaboration - Open source platforms benefit from a community of developers working together, reviewing code, fixing bugs, and adding features. Closed source platforms rely solely on the vendor's internal developers.

  • Security - Some argue open source platforms are more secure because the code is exposed for anyone to audit. But others counter that keeping source code private enables more control.

  • Cost - Open source platforms are generally free to use. Closed source platforms usually charge licensing fees and require paid support subscriptions.

In summary, open source platforms emphasize transparency, collaboration, and flexibility while closed source platforms prioritize control, security protections, and generating revenue from licensing. Understanding these key differences can help guide your choice between open or closed solutions.


Exploring Open Source Platforms and Their Components

Open source platforms are built on a foundation of components that enable collaboration, customization, and community-driven development. Understanding these building blocks provides insight into how open source projects operate.

Core Components of Open Source Platforms

The core components of open source platforms include:

  • Kernels - The kernel manages hardware resources for the operating system. Linux is a popular open source kernel.

  • Servers - Servers run services and applications. Some common open source servers are Apache and Nginx.

  • User Interfaces - The UI provides an interface for users to interact with the system. Open source UI options include GNOME, KDE, and Xfce.

  • Package Managers - Package managers install and manage an operating system's software packages. Examples include APT, RPM, and Flatpak.

  • Licenses - Open source licenses allow the distribution and modification of source code. Common licenses are GPL, MIT, and Apache.

  • Code Repositories - Public code repositories like GitHub and GitLab facilitate collaboration through version control, code hosting, and issue tracking.

Open Source Platform Examples

Notable open source platform examples include:

  • Linux - Linux is an open source operating system kernel used in distributions like Ubuntu, Debian, Arch, and Red Hat. The Linux kernel is used across servers, desktops, mobile devices, and embedded systems.

  • Apache - The Apache HTTP server hosts over 30% of all active websites. The Apache Software Foundation supports other open source projects covering big data, cloud, IoT, machine learning, and more.

  • OpenStack - OpenStack provides open infrastructure for public and private cloud deployments. It offers compute, storage, and networking resources via a self-service portal and APIs.

Open Source Operating System Examples

In addition to Linux distributions, other open source operating systems include:

  • FreeBSD - A Unix-based OS optimized for web serving, networking, and data centers.

  • OpenBSD - Focuses on portability, standardization, correctness, proactive security and integrated cryptography.

  • ReactOS - Aims for binary-level compatibility with Windows applications and drivers.

Repositories and Revision Control

Code repositories enable developers to collaborate by:

  • Tracking code changes
  • Managing software versions
  • Facilitating code reviews
  • Coordinating tasks

Popular repositories like GitHub and GitLab integrate with revision control systems like Git to manage workflows for software teams.

Open Source Platform GitHub Integration

Many open source platforms utilize GitHub for community-driven development:

  • Issue Tracking - Users can report bugs, request features, and discuss roadmaps.
  • Pull Requests - Developers submit code changes that undergo peer review before getting merged.
  • Documentation - GitHub wikis, Markdown files, and readmes provide platform guides.
  • Visibility - Public development increases transparency and engagement around the open source project.

Understanding Open Source Licenses

Open source licenses allow the source code of software to be freely used, modified, and shared under certain conditions. There are many types of open source licenses, with some key differences:

  • Permissive licenses (like MIT and Apache) allow software to become proprietary (closed-source) by downstream users. Restrictive licenses (like GPL) require derivative works to remain open source.

  • GPL-style copyleft provisions require modified versions to use the same license. Non-copyleft licenses like MIT have no such requirements.

  • Some licenses (like GPLv3) expressly forbid use in hardware restrictions and DRM technologies. Others are compatible with these technologies.

When choosing an open source license, developers weigh factors like commercial use permissions, patent protections, compatibility with other licenses, and enforcement mechanisms.

The GNU General Public License and Copyleft Provisions

The GNU GPL is the most widely-used open source license. Under its copyleft provisions, modified versions of GPL-licensed code must also use the GPL. This helps software remain freely shareable, even as it is enhanced. Critics argue it also limits commercial adoption.

There are compatibility issues between the strong copyleft terms of GPLv2/GPLv3 and permissive non-copyleft licenses. Mixing them requires careful compliance review to avoid license violations.

Permissive vs. Restrictive Licenses

Permissive licenses like MIT have minimal restrictions, allowing software to become proprietary. This increases commercial adoption. Restrictive licenses like GPL require derivative works to remain open source. This upholds user freedoms but may limit business usage.

Developers choose between permissive and restrictive licenses based on their priorities. Businesses tend to prefer permissive licenses for commercialization flexibility. Open source purists prefer copyleft licenses to guarantee user rights.

Open Source License Compliance

All open source licenses must be followed as written. Violations can lead to termination of usage rights, lawsuits, and brand damage. Organizations using open source should have a license compliance program for tracking licenses and adhering to obligations.

Common compliance steps include license scanning, removal of incompatible licenses, following notice requirements, and employee training. Automated tools can identify and track licenses for compliance management.

Creative Commons and Content Licensing

Creative Commons (CC) licenses were created for open licensing of creative works like images, videos, and documents. CC BY is used by open source projects for documentation. CC BY-SA has copyleft requirements similar to GPL. Understanding these licenses helps manage open source content properly.

The Ecosystem of Open Source Development

Open Source Software Development Model

The open source software development model is characterized by transparency, open collaboration, and community-driven governance. Unlike proprietary models, the source code is publicly available for anyone to inspect, modify, or enhance. Developers contribute voluntarily, submitting patches and bug fixes that undergo peer review before being merged.

Open source projects typically utilize tools like GitHub or GitLab for:

  • Version control and managing code repositories
  • Issue/bug tracking to coordinate fixes
  • Facilitating code reviews/testing
  • Documentation and discussions

With open channels of communication, the community self-organizes and sets project direction based on consensus. The flexible structure allows rapid iteration and innovation.

Key Open Source Foundations and Organizations

Influential groups provide funding, infrastructure, marketing, and other support:

  • Linux Foundation - Supports Linux and other open source technologies
  • Apache Software Foundation - Manages projects like Hadoop and Spark
  • Open Source Initiative (OSI) - Stewards the Open Source Definition

These non-profits marshal corporate and volunteer resources to sustain open source commons.

Open Source Collaboration Tools and Platforms

Developers rely on sites like GitHub, GitLab, Bitbucket to host and manage open source projects. Each provides issue tracking, code reviews, CI/CD pipelines along with social coding features to enable transparency and collaboration at scale.

In addition, domain-specific foundations often run their own platforms tailored to community needs.

The Role of Community in Open Source Projects

The community plays a vital role in the growth and direction of open source projects. Member activities include:

  • Fixing bugs and submitting feature requests
  • Testing/reviewing code contributions
  • Creating documentation and tutorials
  • Answering questions on forums
  • Promoting the project across their network

A thriving community invests time and skills to mature the software. Passionate users ultimately become project leaders and core contributors.

Open Source FAQs, How-To Guides, and Tutorials

Resources like open source FAQs, how-to guides, and tutorials lower barriers to participation by explaining:

  • Licensing/legal considerations
  • Installation setup
  • Configuration procedures
  • Integration with other tools
  • Best practices for making contributions

Well-documented projects invite greater involvement from newcomers looking to learn the architecture and get started as users or contributors.

Adopting and Contributing to Open Source Platforms

Open source platforms provide great opportunities for individuals and organizations looking to leverage flexible, customizable software solutions. However, adopting and contributing back to these platforms does require some guidance.

How to Choose an Open Source Platform

When selecting an open source platform, consider factors like:

  • Community size and activity: Larger, more active communities generally mean better support and continued development. Check forums, GitHub issues, and StackOverflow for engagement.

  • Maturity: More mature projects are likely to be more stable and have richer documentation.

  • Customizability: Assess how easy it is to tweak the platform to suit your needs.

  • Compatibility: Evaluate integration with other tools you use like databases, DevOps pipelines, etc.

  • Licensing: Understand permissions and obligations around using, modifying and distributing the platform under its open source license.

Contributing to Open Source Projects

Contributing allows you to help improve a project you rely on. Ways to contribute:

  • Report bugs: Creating detailed, well-documented bug reports helps developers fix issues.

  • Suggest features: Reasonable feature requests improve projects over time.

  • Write documentation: Good docs lower barriers to entry for new users.

  • Code contributions: Those with development skills can submit code like bug fixes or new features. Start small by tackling simple tickets.

Here are some open source options to consider as alternatives:

  • Content Management: WordPress, Drupal

  • Analytics: Matomo

  • Databases: MySQL, PostgreSQL

  • Web Servers: Apache, Nginx

  • Operating Systems: Linux, BSD

  • Office Suites: LibreOffice, OpenOffice

Building an Open Source Community

Strategies for nurturing an open source community:

  • Set code of conduct expectations around respectful, constructive dialogue.

  • Make governance processes transparent by documenting roles.

  • Enable diverse forms of contribution beyond just code.

  • Spotlight contributors and recognize their efforts.

  • Create spaces for users to interact like forums, chat platforms.

  • Evangelize the project at conferences and meetups.

Open Source Governance and Leadership

Most projects have both business and technical governance structures:

  • Business governance oversees community, marketing, funding. Roles like community managers guide interactions.

  • Technical governance sets the development roadmap and technical standards. Roles like architects and committers define implementation.

Leadership is meritocratic. Key contributors earn influence and responsibility to align with their proven contributions.

Conclusion: Embracing the Open Source Paradigm

Recap of Open Source Fundamentals

Open source platforms and software are built on the ethos of open collaboration, transparency, and community-driven development. The open source model enables the source code to be freely used, modified, and distributed to anyone under open source licenses. This drives rapid innovation through decentralized peer production and crowdsourced testing at a global scale. Some key tenets of open source philosophy include freedom, open standards, meritocracy, and releasing early and often. Understanding these core values can help guide participation in open source projects.

The Impact of Open Source on Technology and Innovation

Open source software forms the foundation of much of today's technology infrastructure and landscape. From operating systems like Linux and Android to web servers, databases, programming languages and frameworks, open source solutions power a majority of systems and services we use daily. Their open model has enabled developer communities to build sophisticated enterprise-grade technology, demonstrate the viability of crowdsourced production, and create thriving ecosystems of collaboration. Open source will continue transforming technology and business through its adaptability, cost-effectiveness and pace of innovation.

Encouraging Open Source Participation

With open source now ubiquitous across industries, it presents more opportunities than ever for developers and tech professionals to contribute. One can participate by submitting bug reports and fixes, improving documentation, building integrations and plugins, advocating for projects, organizing events and meetups and more. Beyond coding, community participation helps sustain projects. With abundant resources to learn open source development online, it’s easier than ever to start participating. We encourage readers to explore projects relevant to their interests and find ways to constructively engage with developer communities.

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