How to build a Free and Open-source Software Project

This post provides some hints to do a free and open source (FOSS) software project.

Aspects to consider when building a Free and Open-source Software Project

Aspects to take into account when making a free and open-source software (FOSS) project:

  • Use open licenses
    • Use free and open-source software licenses
    • Use open licenses for multimedia
    • Use open licenses for documentation
    • Use open standards and formats
  • Use a public code repository
  • Use free and open-source software tools
  • Set a free and open software development environment

Use Open Licenses

Use Free and Open-source Software Licenses

If you want to create Free and Open-source software (FOSS), you should consider the software license you are going to use.

First you should choose which type of license you want to use, distinguishing between:

  • Public-domain-equivalent: owner does not keep copyright
  • Permissive: owner does not keep copyright except to provide some protection to developers and users, like patents grants or author recognition
  • Copyleft: it compels to use the same license if the code is modified.

Considering recommendations from both OSI and FSF and extent of use, I would recommend to stick to these popular licenses depending on its use:

  • Public-domain-equivalent: Unlicense
  • Permissive: MIT (libraries), Apache-2.0 (projects)
  • Copyleft: LGPL-3.0-or-later (libraries), GPL-3.0-or-later (projects)

Unless you want explicitly a public domain-equivalent license, it is recommended to use MIT instead of Unlicense to include minimum disclaimers.

If you want to read an introduction to open-source software licenses, please read this post.

Take into account that you may need to check the software license compatibility. For example, if you want to reuse code from a GPLv2-only project, you cannot use it on any software released under GPLv3 (only or later) license, as they are incompatible as both of them are restrictive with each other.

Use Open Licenses for Multimedia

Software projects may make use of multimedia content like images, graphics, music or sounds.

Remember that before using this material from third-parties within your project, you need to identify the license under which it is released and whether it is compatible with the licenses within your project.

If you create your own multimedia content, you need to decide the license under you want to release your work. It is recommended to use open content licenses. To find a list of common open content licenses, read this post.

Some popular open content licenses are Creative Commons. Take into account that they are a group of licenses that are very different among them. For example, CC0 is public-domain-equivalent, CC-BY (Attribution) is permissive, CC-BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike) is restrictive, and CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike) is not considered open.

Remember to make explicit the license under which you release the multimedia content. When stating the license of a multimedia file within a FOSS project, it is essential to provide clear and concise information to ensure proper attribution and legal compliance.

Some ways to state the license of a multimedia file:

  1. Decide where to store the license information. You can store the license information in:
    1. Project documentation.
    2. Metadata, such as EXIF data in images or ID3 tags in audio file.
    3. Alongside the multimedia file
  2. Include License Information:
    1. License Name: Clearly state the name of the license under which the multimedia file is released.
    2. License Text: Include a brief summary or a link to the full text of the license.
    3. Attribution Requirements: If the license requires attribution, mention the attribution requirements explicitly. Specify how the creator of the multimedia file should be credited. For example, “Attribution: [Creator Name], [License Name], [Link to License].”
    4. Modifications and Derivatives: If the license permits modifications or derivatives of the multimedia file, clarify the conditions and any additional requirements for distributing modified versions. For instance, “Modifications and derivatives of this file must be released under the same license.”
  3. Provide consistency: Ensure consistency in the way you state the license across all multimedia files and project assets. This helps maintain clarity and avoid confusion regarding the licensing terms.
  4. Use a Licensing File: In addition to stating the license alongside each multimedia file, consider including a separate licensing file in your project’s root directory. This file can contain the license information for all multimedia files and other project assets. This approach centralizes the licensing information and makes it easier for users and contributors to access and understand the licensing terms.

Use Open Licenses for Documentation

When generating the documentation, remember to also use open licenses.

You can use the open content licenses (again, you can check them on this external link) or documentation specific licenses, like GNU Free Document License.

Use Open Standards and Formats

If you are making a free and open-source project, it is advisable to use open standards and formats to not limiting the project openness to the source code.

For example, when working with audio files, you can opt to use the open standard OGG Vorbis instead of MP3. Though since 2017 there are no risk of patent infringement when using MP3 since the patent expired, you can use OGG Vorbis as a gesture of support towards the FOSS community.

Use a Public Code Repository

As you are making a free and open source software (FOSS), you will want (or even be legally required) to share your code to the community.

You can find a list of code repositories in the cloud on this link.

Use Free and Open-source Software Tools

This step is optional, as either using free or paid tools does not impact on whether the software or work you can be open or not.

However, it may be coherent that you try to use free and open-source software (FOSS) tools to create FOSS, so it is just another aspect to consider.

You can find a list of FOSS UML tools on this post.

Set a Software Development Environment

You must set a software development environment, taking into accound the previous steps.

You can read about how to set a software development environment on this post, though it is general and not focused on either proprietary or FOSS software.

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External references

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