Fork (Software)

What Is a Fork (Software)?

In software development, a fork refers to developers creating a new project using the source code from an existing software package.

This process results in a divergent path, splitting the software into a different version.

Forking is commonly observed in the open-source community and is generally viewed as a positive practice.

Forks often occur when a group of developers decides to branch off in a different direction to improve upon an existing project or potentially replace it altogether.

Open-Source Software Forking

The process begins with developers legally obtaining a copy of the source code from a software package and initiating their own development on it, thereby creating a new version of the software.

Free and open-source software licenses permit this action, allowing forking without violating any copyright laws.

This means that such software can be legally forked without obtaining prior permission from the project managers or software distributors.

The intention behind forking is often to release the improvements to benefit the entire community.

Catalysts of Innovation

While forks are generally considered a symbol of freedom and can lead to valuable updates, they can also arise due to conflicts or differences among developer communities, leading to divergent viewpoints.

In such cases, the larger group of developers typically retains the original name and retains the majority of the user community.

Software forks can result in division within developer communities, with the split being amicable or accompanied by resentment.

Navigating Project Divisions

Competing projects can also lead to developers no longer sharing code, resulting in potential issues related to legitimacy, ownership, and project direction in the future.

In contrast to free and open-source software, proprietary software is licensed by copyright owners with exclusive legal rights.

Forking of proprietary software can only occur if the copyright owner grants permission and deems it necessary to create a new version of the software through a fork.