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Open Source Development

There is more to open source than a licence. It is also a development methodology. This page links to various resources about different aspects of open source development.




User Documentation

User documentation is aimed at those people wishing to either use the software in a production environment or wishing to quickly evaluate the software before using in a production environment or becoming a developer on the project.

The kinds of documentation we would expect to find in this section are:

Developer Documentation

Developer documentation is aimed at those people wishing to work with the source code of the project. They may be motivated by the need to work with the latest and greatest code, or they may be motivated by the need to add features or fix bugs. Developers are also users, so they will be interested in user docs as well as developer docs.

The kinds of documents we would expect to find in this section are:

Mailing Lists

Code Development

SoftwarePatch - Working with patches

IPR Management

ContributorLicenceAgreements - a contributor licence agreement helps ensure that all contributions to the project can legally be included

Build Automation

Dependency Management


Issue/Bug/Patch Tracking


Release Early, Release Often

An important part of open source development is the creation of a release for users of the software. Whilst the source code is freely available and usually developed in an open manner, potential developers and users will usually want to be able to evaluate the code quickly and easily. Therefore, projects should frequently release their software in a form that is easily accessible.

"Release early, release often" is a well known mantra of open source development. There are many reasons why it is important to release early and release often. Some of the more important ones are:

Release Early, Release Often is part of building a sustainable open source project, releases produce users, users sometimes become contributors, contributors make the project stronger. The downside of releasing early and often is that you need to manage your user expectations. Be clear about the true status of your release and make any known bugs clear in your documentation.

Release Management

Release Management is the process of building, packaging, and deploying of software for consumption. It is a process that is controlled by a Release Manager. A Release Manager is:

The stakeholders in a release include:

Building a version of the software to be considered for release should be a fairly easy process since the software build ought to be an almost fully automated process. However, some aspects of the release build process will be difficult if not impossible to automate.

There are likely to be multiple release candidates packages, for different platforms.

Each release candidate is identified by a [wiki:ReleaseVersionNumber version number].

Before becoming an official release a build of the software will undergo a phase of prerelease testing. Often the package being tested will be indicated in the [wiki:ReleaseVersionNumber version number], for example, it may be designated as a release candidate with the letters RC1, for release candidate one.

Once a release candidate has been fully tested it will be approved for release. This approval process will be dependent on the governance model adopted by the project.

Signing of the release package. Users need to be assured of the integrity of the downloaded package. Therefore the release should be signed.

Once a release has been approved it must be made available to users via the projects distribution channels. These channels should be capable of handling the expected demand for the release.

Of course, making a release available is not enough. They must be made aware of the new release via news announcements.

Additional Resources on Release Management

[wiki:ReleasingOpenSourceSoftware Releasing Open Source Software]

[ Wikipedia on Release Management Method]

[ Release Management Within Open Source Projects by Justin R. Erenkrantz]

[ Software Release Practice HOWTO by Eric Steven Raymond]

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OSS Watch is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and is situated within the Research Technologies Service (RTS) of the University of Oxford.