GitHub will store code near North Pole for 1,000 years
Nothing lasts forever, except maybe code mistakes? On February 2, 2020 a GitHub snapshot will take a trip near the North Pole and enter the Arctic Code Vault. All active, public repos on GitHub will join the endeavor to help secure open source code for future generations, so it is time to triple check your projects before they go into cold storage.
Will anything from 2020 still be around in 3020? Well, the paper milk carton you finished off this morning will be long gone and barring a miraculous cure for aging, you will be too. But your open source code just might stick around. With GitHub’s latest endeavor, future humans might read your Java code hundreds of years from now.
The GitHub Archive Program plans to preserve publically available code so that future generations can access them via a long-term archival solution. Open source software is about to be put on ice.
Isn’t the Internet forever?
Why should we care? For one, what’s uploaded to the Internet does not last forever. Despite the warnings, not everything online remains there. While your embarrassing 21st birthday party photos might continue to resurface on Facebook, it’s common to lose media because of server shutdown, unsupported file formats, or other unforeseeable mishaps. Despite best efforts from associations such as the Internet Archive, humanity is losing a lot of its technological history.
The Lost Media Wiki is a prime example of how easily media can be lost to time. It isn’t just lesser-known media that has disappeared without a backup. There are even missing episodes of the incredibly popular Doctor Who.
Archive.org collects a vast amount of media, from radio programs, hip hop mixtapes, to video game speedruns. As for open source and public domain software, it archives data in The Open Source Software Collection, which currently contains 47,785 items.
Now, GitHub is joining the archival efforts. The difference is that they are preserving it in the Arctic World Archive in a physical format.
Future-proof open source code
The Arctic World Archive is much more remote than a server room or your local library. Located on an Arctic mountain close to the North Pole, the archive exists in a decommissioned coal mine in the Svalbard archipelago. The average January temperature here hovers between −16 to −12 °C and polar bears are frequent sightings.
Svalbard is one of the few demilitarized zones on earth, ensuring that the data will not become a casualty in a military conflict.
No one knows what the future holds, so the archive does not require any electricity to open. It is proofed against potential climate disasters such as flooding and relies upon a self-contained, future-proof storage medium. The data in the Arctic World Archive is stored offline, immune to potential cyberattacks. For all intents and purposes, data stored here will survive whatever the future throws at humanity, even as climate change continues.
On February 2, 2020, an archived snapshot of all active GitHub repositories will be preserved in the Arctic Code Vault. Thus, if you have an active repo, your code will be included in the snapshot.
Unusual one here. Went to Svalbard with the CEO of GitHub because they’ve stored the world’s open source software in an ice cave for safe keeping https://t.co/XdItVeT8C4
— Ashlee Vance (@valleyhack) November 13, 2019
What about bugs?
Everyone knows cockroaches will survive a nuclear war, but what about the other kind of bug? Does this mean that your great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren will see all of your code errors? Will future generations laugh about the simple mistakes you didn’t catch during code review?
According to GitHub’s Archive Program:
This data will be stored on 3,500-foot film reels, provided and encoded by Piql, a Norwegian company that specializes in very-long-term data storage. The film technology relies on silver halides on polyester. This medium has a lifespan of 500 years as measured by the ISO; simulated aging tests indicate Piql’s film will last twice as long.
The FAQ states that GitHub plans to evaluate the film reels and their current state every five years. Depending upon the results, another snapshot may be taken and archived in cold storage. However, this is not guaranteed or yet known.
So, make sure you clean up your code and spell check your README, unless you want a distant relative to see all your late night coding mistakes.
Most likely, your Python 2.7 code will not be used actively by future programmers. Instead, it will be a time capsule providing a glimpse into the history of technology, programming, and open source software.
But who knows? Maybe in a few hundred years some programmer will stumble upon your code and find exactly what they’ve been looking for, right under the Northern Lights.