Facebook garners big gains from tighter management of open source

Facebook is now contributing more to external open source projects and keeping closer tabs on its own open source efforts

Blake Matheny, Infrastructure Engineering, Facebook.

Blake Matheny, Infrastructure Engineering, Facebook.

Thanks to some applied discipline, Facebook is reaping greater benefits from its efforts around open source software.

The social network has relied on open source since its inception, but it didn't formalized those efforts until 2013 when infrastructure engineer Blake Matheny started overseeing its open source projects.

The company relies almost exclusively on open source to serve its billion-plus users. Having the source code for software it uses allows it to easily make changes that suit its needs. Its engineers have modified many programs, including MySQL, JavaScript and PHP, so they can better serve its massive user base.

With so many users, "we faced a lot of new challenges that the software wasn't designed for," Matheny said Wednesday in a talk at the Linux Summit in Santa Rosa, California. "So we work hard to try to improve them."

The company's React JavaScript framework, for instance, was the result of its effort to improve JavaScript, while its Hip Hop Virtual Machine optimized PHP to run more quickly. It has made both those tools open sourced to get input from other developers.

Relying on open source also helps Facebook's new technical hires get up to speed quickly. "If you have to wait six months for an engineer to get trained on some proprietary internal system, that is time wasted, " Matheny said.

Facebook has maintained 235 open source projects on GitHub, consisting of more than 10 million lines of code. The software covers all aspects of running an Internet service, including data management, security, Web design, mobile computing, and infrastructure management.

Posting code it developed in house has helped Facebook in numerous ways. "It makes us write better software," Matheny said. Knowing their work will be exposed to other developers means its engineers write cleaner, more modular code that's less inextricably tied to other Facebook programs.

When Matheny assumed the role as open source steward, he wrote a series of scripts to get information from GitHub about how the software is being used by outside parties. He can see how many external developers a project attracts, how many suggested changes or bug reports they submit and how quickly those changes are applied.

"You can see which projects are doing well and which projects have issues," Matheny said.

This data has spurred project owners to update their code more quickly. When Matheny first started keeping tabs, the average pull request, or suggested change, was over a year. That time is now down to three months.

The company has also increased its contributions to other open source projects. In 2014, Facebook engineers contributed 214 changes to the Linux kernel, up from 6 in 2013.

Having its own modifications implemented in the Linux kernel means Facebook engineers don't have to re-implement their changes each time the kernel is updated. It also ensures that Linux-tested equipment from hardware manufacturers will be ready to operate within Facebook, Matheny said.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags open sourcesoftwareFacebook

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Joab Jackson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?