Although its generally agreed by organisations like the OSI and the FSF what is and isn't an open source software (basically, the the terms of the source code license) what are the guiding principals for open source projects?

Other software movements have principals like the Agile Manifesto. It seems as though open source share some common values (such as transparency, collaboration, etc.). Are these documented somewhere?

closed as too broad by gnat, Simon Bergot, Robert Harvey, Dan Pichelman, Bart van Ingen Schenau Mar 18 '14 at 19:48

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  • Not sure how to make the question more narrow, or what alternative forum would be appropriate for asking it. – Ricardo Gladwell Mar 18 '14 at 17:41
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    I think the assumption that open source projects follow the same principle is wrong. Just take the BSD vs GPL debate. I would say that the best piece of "documentation" are the licence themselves, or some books. – Simon Bergot Mar 18 '14 at 17:55
  • oh ffs please just delete the question, cba with your nonsense – Ricardo Gladwell Mar 18 '14 at 20:25

As you said, it depends on the particular license of the software. The license really goes a long way in terms of what you're allowed to do or not, and many debates ensue as to which open source license really respects the spirit and ideals of the OSS movement. Even the FSF actively maintains two versions of the GNU License (GPL and LGPL which are very different). As Josh kelley points out, the Free Software Foundation has a whole bunch of stuff related to this philosophies (as Linus Torvalds put in once, Stallman is the philosopher and he's the engineer.

However, the very definition of open source software, as broad as the term can be, is very straight-forward. Can you legally see the source code and modify it? Then it's open source. Is this documented somewhere? I'm very sure it is, be it a dictionary, an encyclopedia or the documentation of an open source license. Take your pick.

Open source licenses deal with distribution details of both the original work and your contributions, they already assume that the source code is open to see and modify.


"Open source" is a broad term. Its approach can be more pragmatic ("this is a useful approach for doing development") than philosophical, and it includes people from a variety of perpsectives, so I doubt you'll find a list of principles for it.

For free software in particular, the Free Software Foundation has an extensive description of the philosophy and principles behind it.

For open source in general, your best source would be something like The Cathedral and the Bazaar, by Eric S. Raymond, which had a lot of influence on the early open source movement. More recently, there's Producing Open Source Software, by Karl Fogel, and Red Hat and others have put together opensource.com and theopensourceway.org, giving their own perspective on the movement.

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