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In the separate document My Open Source Projects I describe more detailed what Open Source projects I've spent the most time and energy on.

Also, the article Working Without Copyleft that I co-wrote with Bjorn Reese should make my position on BSD vs GPL clear.

Open Source Experiences
Author:  Daniel Stenberg
Version: 0.3
Date:    9 May 2000

I started back on the 25th of March 1999 to write this document which is meant to grow and evolve in time. I plan to gather my thoughts around Open Source projects here. What makes them succeed, what makes them fail and what makes them pleasent to be part of. From a user's view, from a "contributor's" (not being one of the main developers) view and from a project maintainer's view.

As much as it may bring some lights to others, it is very much a way for me to truely clear my head and understand it myself!

I do assume some already achieved knowledge in this area.

Release Often and Public is Required

Many words have been spoken around this since the beginning of time and especially since Eric Raymond's article series. I can't but agree and stress that this item is vital for a project to strive.

Makes good patches

With very recent source files available at all times, contributors can always make patches to very late sources, and thus they are less likely to cause problems when the maintainer attempts to apply them to his latest version. Many are those patches that have caused grief to overloaded Open Source programmers just because they were made before X large modifications to the source base.

Current bugs

Ever got a reply from someone involved in a project, to a bug report you posted, that said something about this is already fixed in their "in-house" version? Bug reporters get annoyed, developers get obstructed.


One of the first things I do nowadays when I start a new (open) project, is to make an automatic archive build script. It creates a release-archive automatically. I use only that to create release archives, and thus it must be correct or people will complain. If it works well, there's nothing that prevents you from using that script as frequent as you please. It is good to remove all involved obstacles that might prevent you from the "release often" paragraph. Of course keeping the source on a publicly available CVS server is a great service and even better. Just make sure the repository is kept as updated as you can! You can although not limit yourself to the CVS server since the amount of people unwilling or unable to use cvs is quite large.

Bazaar with No People?

The world is full of Open Source projects. Sometimes you are lead to believe that once you start an open project people will come knocking on your door asking to join and do their part. That's not how it works out there in the real life. Many many projects are initiated, created, built and programmed by a very small core of people, or even by a single person. Mostly, the contribution from other people is limited to a steady stream of bug reports, ideas and suggestions. I'm not saying those are bad. Those are really useful and very often the stream of ideas from other people shapes the product into something that perhaps the original author(s) did not have in mind. I am merely pointing out that you won't find seriously creating main contributors easily.

Is it still a Bazaar then?

Yes, it is not limited to people actually submitting code or creative work, being open to ideas, new angles and visions is part of an open source and it sure proves to be Bazaar-style if you are.

Attracting People to Your Project

Programming is What Drives

It is very hard to run an open source project if there's no source! I think the term "open source" really serves its purpose when put in this light. If your project is not involving code and source to download, try, fix and patch, you are much more likely to lose projects participants faster than if you did. Evidently, we who participate in open projects very very often do that because we like programming. If there isn't enough programming involved, a huge share of us dissappear to somewhere else where there is source!

Acknowledge contributions

It is important to give credit where credit is due. To get credit is the main driving force for many people to do anything at all in an open source project, and therefore it is utterly important to point out who did what and to carefully avoid taking the honour from someone else's hard work. It is better to overdo this than to forget people.

This goes all the way from bug reports and tiny patches to big changes and new functionality. Remember that it may be hard for you to judge which changes that actually are "hard work" since even smaller changes may be tricky and that we all have different experiences and levels of skill. Don't underestimate the power of keeping even the small contributors happy.

Sharing is Caring

No open source project can live and prosper without a decent web page and mailing list. I don't know how many projects I've started in the small, that receives a lot of attention and interested people as soon as it appears on a web site.

The mailing list option is quickly a good thing. As soon as you start having a private conversation with two, three other interested parties about how things could be done, improvements or entirely new things, it is better to have that chat in a more public way so that others can pop in and share their ideas more easily while being able to read all the others'.

Projects won't get known until they're public enough for other people to pop in by mistake or to find your project using a normal search engine.

Docs is Doomed to Lag

I do not know the answer to this, but maybe it is a global programmer syndrome: the "Writedocophobia". We don't like to write documentation, manuals, howtos, descriptions, explanations. Or if we do, we always put focus on the development of the product itself, leaving the documentation for "later", for "a rainy day" or something. Few are those open projects who are well documented. The older the projects get, the larger amount of docs there is of course, but very often large parts of that docs is oudated too...

Complete Release Archives

I am a firm believer that all files that are required to make a release archive should themselves be included in the archives (of course this doesn't include tools or things you can download freely from somewhere else). When the maintainer takes a long vacation, gets sick, drops interest or whatever, it is great value that others have the opportunity to continue the development without having to rewrite even a single file.

Therefore, the automatic archive builder, the tiny help-scripts or whatever that is done to build releases should be included.