What is Open Source Software? [Features, Mechanism]

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The open source indicates some source code that can be accessed, copied, modified, and even distributed without any restrictions. This is a significant concept in the field of software development. Open Source Software (OSS) is generally developed with an intention of public collaboration and improvement. In this article, you will learn what is open source software along with its features and mechanisms.

What is Open Source Software?

Open Source Software (OSS) is a kind of software that provides publicly shareable as well as editable source code. Source code is the fundamental component of software written by programmers. It refers to the programming statements or instructions that define software and its functions. In OSS, the copyright holder of the software makes the software source code available to the public. Since anyone can view, distribute and modify the software with original rights, programmers can make desirable changes and fix bugs that are present in the software. OSS organizations provide a license to ensure the public modification and improvement of the software.

Open Source Software Vs Closed Source Software

Contrary to Open Source, software can be closed source or proprietary as well. Closed source software is exactly the opposite to open source as only the author has permission to view and modify the source code. Below I have described the vital differences between Open Source and Closed Source software.

Properties Open Source Closed Source
Cost The source code is free of charge. However, security hardening and support cost nominal fees. Cost varies from software to software as per its scale.
Flexibility Allows the implementation of new solutions depending on the open-source license. Changes in the software require requesting the software authority.
Security More secure than proprietary software as continuous improvement in the source code solves security issues if they are available. Software companies offer a certain level of security and only the authority is responsible for fixing security risks.
Stability Depends on the users and the period of time it spends on the market. Depends on the software company. Software is available as long as some company permits it.
Vendor lock-in No vendor lock-in. The user has the freedom to move the source code anywhere. Vendor switching is costly since a large number of investments are associated with each software.

Open Source Software Vs Free Software

Free software is a concept that focuses on the liberty of using software, not the price. Although the main idea of OSS  and Free software seems to overlap, there are differences in the underlying values. Every Free software is Open source, but not necessarily every OSS is Free software. Following are some basic differences between OSS and Free software.

Facts Open Source Software Free Software
Idea The main idea of OSS is to gain benefits from wide sharing and improvement of source code. Focuses on ethical and moral freedom of using the software.
License Provides license to modify and distribute the software under the same license. The license ensures the modification and distribution of source code without restrictions.
Restriction OSS may come with licenses offering limited access. Users do not have any restrictions on software usage.
Community The OSS community is focuses commercially on the improvement of the software. The free software  community is more focused on the ideology of software freedom.

Linux: Characteristics of Both Open Source and Free Software

Linux is an operating system that is also a prime example of OSS. It follows the ideology of the free software community as well. Linux is developed in a transparent and collaborative manner giving access to public view, modification and distribution. Moreover, it offers software freedom that emphasizes on underlying moral and ethical values. Thus, the Linux operating system is a combination of both open source and free software.

Features of OSS

A software is an Open Source Software only when it follows certain rules. Below are the must have features of an OSS.

  • Free Redistribution: The license of OSS must enable users to share the software without any restrictions. The license has to be free of charge.
  • Source Code: The software must provide the source code in such a format that is both readable and supports modification.
  • Derived Works: The modifications made in the software must also be allowed to redistribute under the license of the original software.
  • Integrity of The Author’s Source Code: Distribution of modified source code is restricted to keep the original code intact. Modified codes must be shared under a different name or version.
  • No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups: The license must not acknowledge any discrimination against any person or group.
  • No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor: The license must not restrict the application of the software to any specific field or endeavor.
  • Distribution of License: The rights that come with the software is applicable to all the users of the software.
  • License Must Not Be Specific to a Product: The license of the program is applicable to all distributions regardless of its usage.
  • License Must Not Restrict Other Software: The license is not applicable to the other software that is used along with the OSS.
  • License Must Be Technology Neutral: The license must not specify the technology where the software can be distributed.

Working Mechanism of OSS

The OSS is developed by a community of programmers who collaborate to maintain and improve the software. This development is often done transparently for getting a public review. When a new version of some OSS is prepared, it is released under a certain open source license. There are several types of open source licenses available.  I have listed some of the most popular licenses here.

  • MIT License
  • GNU General Public License (GPL)
  • Apache License
  • BSD License

Upon release, the OSS is available to anyone for modification and use. Because of the availability of the source code developers customize the software according to their needs.


This article presents a detailed discussion of Open Source Software. It is a revolutionary concept for the developers and programmers working in the technology industry. The Open Source community is very active in developing as well as providing assistance with the software. I hope, knowledge about Open Source aids your experience with programs and software.

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Anonnya Ghosh

Hello there! I am Anonnya Ghosh, a Computer Science and Engineering graduate from Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology (AUST). Currently, I am working as a Linux Content Developer Executive at SOFTEKO. The strong bond between Linux and cybersecurity drives me to explore this world of open-source architecture. I aspire to learn new things further and contribute to the field of CS with my experience. Read Full Bio

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