The end of an open source era

No more open source for Reddit: Website discontinues access to its main code

Jane Elizabeth
© Shutterstock /  Julia Tim

The “front page of the internet” was one of the first sites to adopt an open source ethos. So, it comes with some shock that Reddit announced last week that it is archiving and no longer updating its GitHub pages.

The Friday before Labor Day is something of a great time to dump unwelcome news in the US. People are busy getting ready for the long weekend; they’re not paying attention to the news that hits the wires. This puts Reddit’s important announcement last Friday in its proper context.

After nine (yes, nine!) years of running on open source, Reddit announced on Friday that they are archiving reddit/reddit and reddit/reddit-mobile on GitHub. They admitted that these repos were “playing an increasingly small role in day to day development at reddit”, which has helped lead to this decision.

No more open source for Reddit

KeyserSosa, a Reddit admin and founding engineer for the site, pointed out that anyone paying attention could see that they’ve done a poor job of keeping their open source repos up to date.

Here are the reasons they gave for moving away from open source:

  • Open source makes it hard for Reddit to develop features “in the clear”, such as their recent video launch. Reddit wants to be able to make strategic plans without having everyone see what code they are committing.
  • Because of this reason, the development, production, and “feature” branches are moving away from the “canonical” open source depository. Merges are getting more difficult as the company grows.
  • The “monolithic” version of Reddit has fallen out of fashion. Reddit is now divided into many smaller repositories. These smaller repositories are often under active development. This means any 3rd party that tries to run a functional Reddit install has a more difficult time.

So, in light of all these reasons, Reddit has decided to close their open source repositories.

SEE MORE: Open source and DevOps aren’t mandatory, but neither is survival

“We believe in open source, and want to make sure that our contributions are both useful and meaningful,” wrote KeyserSosa. So, Reddit’s open source tools will continue to be available and supported, including baseplate, rollingpin, and mcsauna.

“Again, those who have been paying attention will realize that this isn’t really a change to how we’re doing anything but rather making explicit what’s already been going on,” KeyserSosa concluded.

Redditors react

Unsurprisingly, the world’s loudest peanut gallery had a lot to say. This logic did not sit well with many Redditors. Even more expressed serious disappointment with Reddit’s reasons for ending their open source commitment.

The top comment from VonTech:

Reasoning is pretty poor. Open source doesn’t mean there has to be a github repo accepting pull requests. It doesn’t mean that all changes need to be available immediatelly.

 Source code tarball released after deploying your releases (so that you can still develop “in the clear”) would still be open source and would solve your problems.

It looks like you don’t really want to solve these problems though, they are just useful fake reasoning while the real reason to go closed source can remain hidden.

allthefoxes wrote:

Extremely disappointed with reddit on their move away from open source. I understand the reason, I respect the reason, but I am still very disappointed it has to be like this.

This new approach is not a commitment to open source. That’s too bad.

Several redditors pointed out that this move may benefit shareholders and investors more than users. Others were more practical about the general trajectory Reddit has taken. But most, of them said “Stallman was right” and shrugged.

Wider implications for the future of open source

Open source is more than a one-time commitment. As seen by the Reddit case, it requires a sustained level of buy-in from organizations. But open source advocates and fans will surely be watching with a wary eye.

Reddit was an early open source adopter and a loud advocate since 2008. This explicit move away from open source may be a game-changer, but it not surprising from their sustained trajectory over the past few years. Only time will tell if Reddit is rewarded by investors or punished by users for this decision.

If Reddit – one of the early adopters of open source – has decided to close its repos, who’s next?

Jane Elizabeth
Jane Elizabeth is an assistant editor for

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