Activity among China-based open source project contributors and creators surged in 2020, as Alibaba, Huawei, Tencent and other leading Chinese tech companies are playing an increasingly important role in the open source development community worldwide.
According to the recently released Open Source Contributor Index (OSCI) ranking, as of March 2021, Alibaba, Huawei, and Tencent collectively ranked in the top 20 worldwide for the first time. Rankings are based on the total number of contributors and contributions on GitHub. Microsoft, Google and Red Hat ranked first, second and third, respectively.
Alibaba, as well as China-based Pingcap, came within striking distance of reaching the top 20 worldwide open source ranking for 2020 measured in activity; the total number of forks, commits, stars, pull requests, issue comments and other metrics, according to the GitHub 2020 Digital Insight Report released in April.
Authored by X-lab in conjunction with East China Normal University, Kaiyuanshe, Shanghai Open Source Information Technology Association and other unnamed “scientific research institutions and open source community institutes,” the X-lab report revealed Pingcap’s eponymous Pingcap (a distributed relational database) and Alibaba’s AntDesign (a Microsoft React framework) activity metrics of 210 and 193, respectively, in 2020. Meanwhile, jwasham (an open source study plan detailing how to become a software engineer) ranked 20th worldwide with an activity metric of 234.
Open Elastic’s Kibana, recently forked by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Kubernetes ranked first and second worldwide with activity metrics of 698 and 602, respectively.
Torsten Volk, an analyst for Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), says the increased popularity of and activity in China-based open source projects are proof that the concept behind open source software actually works.
“This is the classic ‘one plus one adds up to more than only two’ theory, and that applies to most companies anywhere in the world. And if it was possibly to gain advantages by only using open source code but not contributing, companies anywhere else in the world would have done so right from the start,” says Volk. “Remember that the core idea behind open source software is not to give out your secret sauce for other companies to enjoy for free, but to spend the least possible amount of funding on building commodity code.”
What, if anything, China-backed open source projects means for the community worldwide — as well as China’s influence in the industry in general – remain to be seen. Tencent, which entered the top 20 in March ranked by contributors in the OSCI study, for example, has become a leading supplier of components for machine learning (ML) databases in, for example, Kubernetes and cloud-native environments.
“This is great for everyone, and there is no benefit for anyone to purposefully not contribute to a project they benefit from. The benefit comes from your own contributions, in terms of reputation and credibility gain, across your industry. This motivates others to also contribute, as there is little to no benefit in keeping your own code secret while self-serving from the GitHub buffet,” says Volk. “As in the case of Kubernetes, your own company’s differentiation needs to come from the manner your proprietary apps [integrate] on top of this platform, or from the way you are able to integrate Kubernetes clusters with machine learning databases and other elements higher up the stack. And that’s why open source works.”