What does "Open Source" mean when discussing Bitcoin?
"Open Source" or Open Source Software is a term that describes the full computer code (source code) being made available in certain ways.
One way is for anyone to be able to view (study) the code. You can download the entire code to your computer and open it up and have a look.
Another way is for anyone to change and distribute the software to anyone, for any purpose. The software is typically free to use, free to share and free to modify.
Most code is copyrighted the moment you write it, however, you can add an Open Source license to void that and make your code open source!
There are over 70 types of Open Source Licenses though, each with their own unique characteristics regarding how flexible the license is.
How does Open Source relate to Bitcoin?
The Bitcoin software, including the Bitcoin Cash fork, uses the MIT License which can be summarized as the following: The software can be copied, modified, merged, published, distributed, sub-licensed, and/or sold provided the license notice is included (everywhere, every file) in the software, and that nobody can be held legally liable for the software.
This means that no corporate entity or public figure can claim ownership of Bitcoin.
This also means that anyone can present opportunities to improve the code and collaborate with others on how to make the software better!
"According to scientists who studied it, open-source software is a prominent example of open collaboration." "Open-source software development, or collaborative development from multiple independent sources, generates an increasingly more diverse scope of design perspective than any one company is capable of developing and sustaining long term."
So in a sense, open source means a more decentralized community, which is part of what Bitcoin is all about.
An important thing to note here then, is that in February 2018 there has been an effort to change the open-source license of Bitcoin to be more closed: https://www.investopedia.com/news/bitcoins-developers-are-debating-change-its-open-license/
It is downright dishonest for anyone to claim ownership of the Bitcoin software or "Bitcoin", as well as legally threaten anyone else by claiming ownership. Unfortunately a very large portion of Bitcoin supporters believe Bitcoin is a product owned by a corporation. In this way there have been many individuals now gravely misguided.
What else does Open Source mean for Bitcoin Cash?
Bitcoin Cash sticks to the roots of Open Source (and Bitcoin) by maintaining a more decentralized developer community and keeping it Open Source. There are actually four independent groups working on Bitcoin Cash today, and more are always encouraged:
Bitcoin Unlimited: https://github.com/BitcoinUnlimited/BitcoinUnlimited/tree/BitcoinCash
Bitcoin Classic: https://github.com/bitcoinclassic/bitcoinclassic
But how do these all work together you ask? Well, most of the code works together meaning the software variants are interoperable to an extent because there is a lot of shared code, like many other network protocols.
When individuals developers collaborate on an open source project each developer adds new code to the overall software, this is called "committing", you can even see a list of latest commits to the Bitcoin ABC code here: https://github.com/Bitcoin-ABC/bitcoin-abc/commits/master
If the community doesn't like an update, it can be rejected (or rolled back) or if other software (clients, like wallet softwares) that interact with the Bitcoin code do not like the updates, they can refuse to update.
Many refer to this term as consensus, but it is important not to mix the term consensus up with a technical term "consensus" as described in the conclusion of the Bitcoin protocol whitepaper: https://blockchair.com/bitcoin/whitepaper
For more information and Open Source and to read further definitions see here: https://opensource.org/osd
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