Will you come back to contribute? Investigating the inactivity of OSS core developers in GitHub

Fabio Calefato, Marco Aurélio Gerosa, Giuseppe Iaffaldano, Filippo Lanubile, Igor Steinmacher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Several Open-Source Software (OSS) projects depend on the continuity of their development communities to remain sustainable. Understanding how developers become inactive or why they take breaks can help communities prevent abandonment and incentivize developers to come back. In this paper, we propose a novel method to identify developers’ inactive periods by analyzing the individual rhythm of contributions to the projects. Using this method, we quantitatively analyze the inactivity of core developers in 18 OSS organizations hosted on GitHub. We also survey core developers to receive their feedback about the identified breaks and transitions. Our results show that our method was effective for identifying developers’ breaks. About 94% of the surveyed core developers agreed with our state model of inactivity; 71% and 79% of them acknowledged their breaks and state transition, respectively. We also show that all core developers take breaks (at least once) and about a half of them (~45%) have completely disengaged from a project for at least one year. We also analyzed the probability of transitions to/from inactivity and found that developers who pause their activity have a ~35 to ~55% chance to return to an active state; yet, if the break lasts for a year or longer, then the probability of resuming activities drops to ~21–26%, with a ~54% chance of complete disengagement. These results may support the creation of policies and mechanisms to make OSS community managers aware of breaks and potential project abandonment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number76
JournalEmpirical Software Engineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2022


  • Abandonment
  • Disengagement
  • Open-source communities
  • Repository mining
  • Retention
  • Turnover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software


Dive into the research topics of 'Will you come back to contribute? Investigating the inactivity of OSS core developers in GitHub'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this