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Finding #5: Upgrading versions and adapting to bugs are the two most common open source maintenance activities

Chris Grams
by Chris Grams
on November 3, 2020

In June of 2020, Tidelift fielded our annual managed open source survey of technologists who use open source to build applications at work. Over 600 people shared how they use open source software today, what holds them back, and what tools and strategies would help them use it even more effectively.

In this post, we share the fifth of nine key findings. If you don’t wait to wait for the rest of the results, you can download the full survey report right now at the link below.

Get the report

Open source has sometimes been referred to as free, as in a free puppy. Like a free puppy, while the initial acquisition cost may be nothing, there are many hidden costs including keeping the code secure and well maintained. 

We wanted to understand which of these time-stealing maintenance activities around open source were most common amongst the organizations in our survey. In particular we wanted to know about the prevalence of five common maintenance activities we hear technologists regularly mention.

According to our results, these activities are quite common—three-fourths (74%) of organizations perform at least one of these activities monthly or more frequently.

The most common open source maintenance activities

Upgrading to a newer version of a component is the most common maintenance-related activity, with 54% doing so at least monthly. Almost as many (49%) adapt to a bug or other issue in an updated component at least monthly. 

Switching to an alternative component is less common, but still occurs at least once a year at 58% of the companies surveyed. One reason swapping components does not happen as often is because of the added time needed to troubleshoot possible issues with all the application’s dependencies. Case in point: fear of being swamped by unexpected problems is why moving to a new major version of a framework or library was the most commonly cited open source maintenance challenge in our 2019 study

As we learned in an earlier finding, decisions about making a major version change continue to be painful, which is why 62% of our 2020 respondents said it is a challenge their team faces when using open source. One of the best ways to address this challenge is actually spending a little more time making regular, incremental updates to the components a company uses.

Overall, these sorts of open source maintenance activities were more commonly reported at organizations with 1,000 or fewer employees. For example, among this group, 53% of their teams adapt to bugs or breaking changes at least once a month, while that only happens at 39% of larger organizations.

 Impact of organization size on open source maintenance activities

While open source maintenance issues will always be there—the free puppy will never be free—we can improve the ways we address these issues. This is part of what we are tackling at Tidelift: ensuring that developers can minimize the time they spend on open source-related maintenance activities so they can maximize the amount of time they spend working on the unique code that truly differentiates their application.

Want the full survey results in one report? Get them here now.

Read more about how we conducted the survey, see the survey demographics, and learn why we call it the managed open source survey.

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