For Open Source, It's All About GitHub Now

The Apache Software Foundation, steward of the world's most popular web server, has moved most of its open source projects to GitHub.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Google shuttered its source-code hosting service Google Code in 2015. Like Facebook, Twitter, and most other major technology companies, Google primarily shifted to a similar service called GitHub to host its own open source projects. Microsoft followed suit and closed its CodePlex service in 2017. It acquired GitHub the next year. Thanks to its slick collaboration features and free hosting for public-facing projects, GitHub has become by far the most popular place to host open source code on the web. But until recently there was one major holdout: the Apache Software Foundation.

You might not have heard of the ASF, but if you've ever used the web, you've used software stewarded by the nonprofit organization. The ASF was founded in 1999 as the home of the Apache HTTP Server, which is still the world's most popular web server. The foundation has about 200 other crucial behind-the-scenes software programs under its umbrella, including the popular data-crunching tools Hadoop and Spark and the cloud management tool Mesos . But as other popular open source projects flocked to GitHub, ASF project developers were stuck using the foundation's aging platform.

That's beginning to change. On Monday, the ASF announced that it had migrated the majority of its projects to GitHub, including Hadoop, Spark, and Mesos. Many projects, including its venerable HTTP Server, that use the code management software Subversion will still use Apache's platform. But most newer projects are now on GitHub, and most new projects the organization adopts will be hosted there too.

ASF infrastructure administrator Greg Stein says the move was motivated by Apache developers who wanted to use GitHub's features. The ASF has long supported the code-management tool Git , which is GitHub's namesake but isn't related to the company. But the ASF had its own Git server that didn't have all of GitHub's features.

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The most requested feature, Stein says, was probably "pull requests," which make it easy for developers to submit bug fixes and other changes to open source code. Any GitHub user can clone, or fork, any public code repository on the service. You can use your fork to develop and test bug fixes or new features and then use the pull-request feature to submit those changes to the project's maintainers. If a maintainer approves the submission, the change is automatically incorporated into the original code base. If it's rejected, you can still keep the changes in your copy, and the original remains unchanged. It may sound trivial, but this streamlined process makes life easier for project maintainers who might otherwise receive these sorts of submission by email and integrate changes manually.

Other users wanted to make it easier to highlight the open source work they've done in a single place. "A lot of people point to their GitHub profile these days to say 'This is the sort of thing I work on,'" Stein says.

The ASF started the transition by allowing projects that wanted to use GitHub to use that instead of relying exclusively on the foundation's Git server. Then, in December, the organization asked that all Git-based projects move to GitHub. Stein says that migration finished in February.

Stein says ASF will keep copies of all the code hosted on GitHub on its own servers, and contributors who don't agree to GitHub's terms of service will be able to submit code changes through ASF's own Git server, which Stein says isn't going anywhere. But the bulk of the organization's projects will now be developed on GitHub.

The migration cements GitHub's role as the biggest and most important host of open source code in the world. But it still has competition from the older hosting platform SourceForge and the newer platform GitLab. And a few major projects, most notably the Linux operating system , still host their own code. But if anyone still thought open source developers might flee GitHub after Microsoft’s acquisition, this week’s announcement should put those fears to rest.

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