Facebook Open-Source Report Card: 54 Projects in 6 Months

Giving back to the open-source community has helped speed development, including infrastructure resources, such as servers and networking appliances.

Facebook, like almost every other company established in this young century, was built upon open-source software. In turn, as the excellent open-source steward it is, the social network has given back to the community scads of useful tools and libraries to be used freely among members.

Of course, it has been helpful that the company had a good business plan, struck a relevant chord with millions of users, went public in 2012 and subsequently made billions of dollars. Those factors indeed can help speed up contributions to the open-source community like nothing else can.

Facebook has been upfront about the fact that is has saved more than $2 billion in data center expenses by using open-source hardware obtained through the Open Compute Project (OCP) it founded five years ago.

The OCP is an effort Facebook and several partners started in 2011 as it looked for ways to rapidly scale its massive data centers without burning through huge amounts of energy or piles of cash. The giant social networking company, competing with the likes of Google and Amazon, saw the chance to open-source actual hardware, much like Linux and others did in software.

Contributions Help Accelerate Development Elsewhere

The company also said the effort has helped accelerate the innovation of infrastructure resources, such as servers and networking appliances.

In recent months, Facebook not only has released a ton of free open-source software development and architectural tools to go with the open-source hardware specs, it also has come up with an open-source server specifically aimed at artificial intelligence use cases.

As the first half of calendar year 2016 closes, it's worth a close look at exactly what else Facebook engineers have brought to the table in the last six months for other IT professionals to use for their own systems and IT experiments.

"With more than 1.65 billion people [now] on Facebook and more coming online every day, our engineers are hard at work making sure that our services work smoothly for everyone," Facebook's Christine Abernathy wrote in the company blog. "Part of this work involves streamlining our processes so we can keep moving fast as we continue to scale: We build tools that enable engineers to work more easily across platforms, automate testing to catch problems sooner, and help improve the overall performance of our products.

"Many of these tools are built with the intention to open source them. We know from experience that collaborating with the open source community surfaces new ideas and solutions to the challenges that we face. To this end, we are continuing to build communities around the projects we open source to ensure that they continue to grow and thrive," Abernathy said.

54 Projects in Half a Year

In the first six months of 2016, Facebook has added 54 new projects to its portfolio. Many of the launches gained immediate traction within the community, including more than a dozen new projects that have garnered more than 500 followers each.

Here is a list of key Facebook open-source contributions thus far in 2016:

-- OCP Telco Project: This focuses on modernizing data center technologies for telecommunications companies. At the same time, several leading telecommunication operators and other industry leaders said they are joining OCP to help drive the project.

-- During the F8 Conference, Facebook open-sourced the F8 event app and a series of tutorials that showed engineers step-by-step how the app was built using React Native. It also showed how more complex features, such as integrating data and testing within the app, were incorporated using related open-source tools.

-- Draft.js: Faceboook open-sourced this React-based rich text editor framework at React.js Conf earlier this year. This project, which has received more than 670,000 stars—1,000 of which it accumulated within the first few hours of release—provides an easier way to customize rich text that easily integrates into React applications for the Web.

-- ReDex: ReDex is a bytecode optimizer that makes Android apps smaller and faster. Facebook open-sourced ReDex at F8 this year and showed it reduced the size of the bytecode in its own app by 20 percent. ReDex also arranges the bytecode more efficiently on disk, which helps engineers avoid user-visible slowness, especially on memory-constrained devices. To date, ReDex has received 280,000 stars and 240 forks.

-- Memory Bundle: Also released at F8, this suite of tools that includes FBRetainCycleDetector, FBAllocationTracker and FBMemoryProfiler lets iOS developers profile an app's memory usage at runtime. It automatically finds and fixes instances where memory allocations may cause a crash, which helps improve overall app performance. Together, the memory bundle tools have more than 380,000 stars and 280 forks.

The company also is pursuing projects in areas and industries beyond traditional developer platforms. In artificial intelligence, for example, Facebook open-sourced Torch implementations and training scripts of deep neural nets for image recognition and Torchnet, a modular collection of boilerplate code, key abstractions and reference implementations that builds on top of the Torch framework.

To promote better security practices in the development process, the company debuted the Facebook CTF, an open-source platform for hosting Capture the Flag competitions that help engineers develop the skills needed to understand and protect against security vulnerabilities.

Facebook also open-sourced Reason, a new interface to the programming language OCaml. Reason provides developers with a new syntax and toolchain for editing, building and sharing code.

"So far this year, our number of followers has increased by 35 percent and we've seen a nearly 50 percent rise in total forks. We're proud of the work we've done, but we as we like to say, this journey is still only 1 percent finished," Abernathy wrote.

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...