Anonymous Contributions & Contributors in Open Source Projects

| | August 5, 2015

Having witnessed in various open source projects, in which I have been involved, several more or less significant totally anonymous contributions, I am wondering what could be the possible rationale behind such anonymous contributions?

Occasionally, there are contributors who quite obviously prefer to remain completely anonymous – i.e. by just posting to a mailing list using an obvious nick name for months (whereas everyone else would use their real name), or sometimes even by submitting completely anonymous patches to trackers on sourceforge, where there wasn’t even the slightest comment about the origins/authors, usually just a license header or a header stating that the code in question were to be released into the public domain.

Often, the code in question was obviously written by fairly competent programmers/developers or even software engineers, who presumably do code for a living.

I am wondering:

  • What’s the motivation behind such contributions?
  • Have you previously witnessed such and similar instances in open source projects?
  • Have you, yourself possibly contributed to an open source project in such a fashion?
  • If so, why?
  • Can you provide any other insight into this?

After having read another question here on SO, and also after having read two related discussions (at slashdot and perlmonks) about potential work-contract related issues when contributing to open source projects, I am wondering whether some contributors could possibly prefer to remain completely anonymous due to their contract requirements, in order to avoid potential legal issues.


3 Responses to “Anonymous Contributions & Contributors in Open Source Projects”

  1. I can think of several reasons:

    1. some people simply value privacy – I know that I usually do not post on most forums with my name – SO is the exception for me (and even here it was only after a couple months);
    2. many programmers work at places where part of the employment agreement is that any code you write (whether on company time or not) belongs to the employer. Whether or not these agreements might apply to the submissions, the programmer may be wanting to avoid ‘tainting’ the submission or may want to avoid going through the bureaucratic hoops to get permission from the employer;
    3. the submitter may not want to be contacted for support;
    4. the submitter may not be particularly proud of the code (rightly or wrongly);
  2. I own two reasonably popular open source projects. I have accepted such contributions. The rationale is simple. They are using the project and want a problem resolved or feature implements sooner rather than later.

    The contribution benefits them!

  3. The most likely reason I can think of is they have some sort of contractual binding preventing them from contributing openly, such as working for a large software corporation that views open source projects as a potential liability. Or they just don’t want to be bothered with people asking for more information or more support.

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