Open Source Software Is Winning. How Does That Relate To Bitcoin, Though?

Open source has revolutionized tech, powering platforms like Linux, Android, and Bitcoin. Learn about what open source relevance and explore Blink's open-source stack and see how community collaboration drives innovation.

Open Source Software Is Winning. How Does That Relate To Bitcoin, Though?
May 27, 2024
Eduardo Prospero

Who would’ve thought the open source philosophy would become one of the prevalent schools of thought in the world? At first, the idea of open source software - also known as OSS - felt so counterintuitive that most people thought it would be a footnote in history. Look at us now, though.

On the one hand, most of the Internet runs on Linux servers, Android is the most popular operating system, and all the cool people use the VLC media player. Not only that, Microsoft paid $7.5B for the collaborative developer platform GitHub and Google open-sourced its machine learning platform TensorFlow and spends considerable resources to keep its worldwide community of developers engaged.

On the other hand, the open source philosophy is at the mere center of the Bitcoin network. We could even argue that Bitcoin would not be viable if it wasn’t open source. The fact that everyone can audit the code is central to the network not needing a trusted third party to authenticate transactions. 

Wallets - including Blink - and related software inherited these characteristics and adopted the open source way of doing things. And, not to brag, but the Bitcoin network is the most important development the world has seen since the Internet.

So, we could definitely say that open source is winning, however…

What is Open Source Anyway?

Traditionally, software is mostly “proprietary” or “closed source.” That means the organization, team, or person who created it retains total control over the software. Only they can modify it, study it, or even read it to make sure that it does what it’s supposed to. At the other end of the spectrum, open source software surrenders control and encourages total strangers to collaborate.

Or, as Oracle puts it:

“Generally speaking, open source refers to the design and engineering of a product or solution that’s made open and accessible for community involvement. It’s a decentralized method of working that leverages communities to find new solutions to problems within their industries and their communities.”

That’s right. Decentralization didn’t start with Bitcoin, the network inherited it from the open source movement. In fact, read what IBM has to say about the topic and see if it reminds you of something:

“The term "open source" also refers more generally to a community-based approach to creating any intellectual property, such as software, through open collaboration, inclusiveness, transparency and frequent public updates.”

Bitcoin is inextricably linked to the open source philosophy. Let’s expand on that idea. 

How Do Open Source And Bitcoin Relate?

In his magnum opus “Mastering Bitcoin,” Andreas Antonopoulos acknowledges the openness of the Bitcoin network and how the open source philosophy is the magic glue that holds it all together:

“Bitcoin is an open source project and the source code is available under an open (MIT) license, free to download and use for any purpose. Open source means more than simply free to use. It also means that bitcoin is developed by an open community of volunteers.”

That “open community of volunteers” collaborates through developer platforms like GitHub. Through public repositories, they organize the software’s development transparently. The code and its history are always available. The whole setup has similar characteristics to the blockchain, the open ledger at the heart of the Bitcoin network.

The open source ethos is present all over the Bitcoin ecosystem; from clients like Bitcoin Core and Bitcoin Knots, to DYI miners like the BitAxe, to wallets like Wasabi, Green Wallet, or Blink.

Rules Without Rulers

For open source systems to work, rules must be in place. The main set is the distribution license the project decides to use. While some might go all out and grant permission to use the created software for “any purpose they wish,” presents other options:

“Some open source licenses—what some people call "copyleft" licenses—stipulate that anyone who releases a modified open source program must also release the source code for that program alongside it. Moreover, some open source licenses stipulate that anyone who alters and shares a program with others must also share that program's source code without charging a licensing fee for it.”

The development process for open source projects also has its own set of rules. The code is freely available, but “the main codebase is maintained by a single individual or a group of individuals.” How do they accomplish that? Let’s quote Oracle again for an explanation:

“Versioning is the practice of maintaining and iterating on source code for the benefit of collaborative development efforts. A central repository is used by open source collaborators—GitHub, for example—for uploading and maintaining source code. When a developer makes a contribution to the code, it’s uploaded to the main code base where it’s then inspected before being merged into the main source code.”

That’s just a general explanation, of course. However, believe it or not, the whole open source ecosystem basically works like that. And that collaborative way of operating is taking over the world. 

Possible Problems with Open Source

Nothing is perfect. Even though open sourcing a project could potentially turbocharge it and get many developers from all over the world to tackle it from most possible angles, there are blind spots. Let’s go to “The WIRED Guide to Open Source Software” for a real-life story that’ll make your hair stand on end:

“In 2014, security researchers revealed serious vulnerabilities in two crucial open source projects: OpenSSL and Bash, which are part of many major operating systems. No software is free of potential security problems, but the fact that these issues went undetected for so long highlighted a big problem for open source: Many big-name open source projects rely on lesser-known open source components run by volunteers who have little time to fix problems and no money to hire security auditors.”

Is that a risk in Bitcoin, though? Potentially. Keep vigilant. Don’t trust, verify.

You can check Blink Open Source stack here

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