Who drives company-owned OSS projects: internal or external members?

Luis Felipe Dias, Igor Steinmacher, Gustavo Pinto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Open-source software (OSS) communities leverage the workforce of volunteers to keep the projects sustainable. Some companies support OSS projects by paying developers to contribute to them, while others share their products under OSS licenses, keeping their employees in charge of maintaining the projects. In this paper, we investigate the activity of internal (employees) and external (volunteers) developers in this kind of setting. We conducted a case study using a convenience sample of five well-known OSS projects: atom, electron, hubot, git-lfs, and linguist. Analyzing a rich set of ∼ 12K contributions performed by means of pull requests to these projects, complemented with a manual analysis of ∼ 500 accepted pull requests, we derived a list of interesting findings. For instance, we found that both internal and external developers are rather active when it comes to submitting pull requests and that the studied projects are receptive for external developers. Considering all the projects, internal developers are responsible for 43.3% of the pull requests performed (external developers placed 56.7%). We also found that even with high support from the external community, employees still play the central roles in the project. We also found that the majority of the external developers are casual contributors (developers that placed only a single contribution to the project). However, we also observed that some external members play core roles (in addition to submitting code), like triaging bugs, reviewing, and integrating code to the main branch. Finally, when manually inspecting some code changes, we observed that external developers’ contributions range from documentation to complex code. Our results can benefit companies willing to open-source their code and developers that want to take part and actively contribute to company-owned code.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number16
JournalJournal of the Brazilian Computer Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • Company-owned OSS projects
  • Employees
  • Volunteers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science


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