So many things seem like a good idea at the time. The Red Sox selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Decca Records rejecting The Beatles. “New” Coca-Cola. Blockbuster passing on buying Netflix. The formation of Nickelback. Just popping into Ikea for a “quick” look around.
Of course, we know differently. And the same can be said about copying and pasting code. When your developers and programmers are under increasing pressure to deliver and ship products, it might seem like a great idea to copy code directly from open sources and paste it into your projects. After all, it’s quick, easy, and convenient.
But don’t do it!
It won’t leverage the benefits of using open source code. It’s poor practice in the open source community. It could jeopardize the quality and security of your software and apps. And it could put your company and even your job at risk. Let’s find out why.
Never forget that although open source code is freely available, it’s still governed by licensing guidelines that define how you can use it. Some licenses are more permissive than others, so it’s important to know what terms and conditions are attached to the components you use in your software, and ensure you comply with them.
For instance, if you use code or components with copyleft licenses, you have permission to use and modify the open source code, but you must make those modifications freely available. This means that you make your entire code base open source too.
Failure to comply with these conditions is a violation of the license, and breaches of any kind can have serious consequences. They could jeopardize your intellectual property. You could be asked to stop using certain components altogether, which will impact your productivity, and even the appeal and value of your output. In worst-case scenarios, it can mean copyright infringement that could make your company liable for punitive fines.
Is it worth sacrificing your company’s intellectual property, productivity, and reputation for the sake of a programming shortcut? The short answer is “No.”
Developers that use open source components benefit from collaborating with others to create new software and applications and to improve those that are already available. This is because one of the great advantages of open source projects is that more people are using, checking, modifying, and fixing the code than if it were proprietary code. The whole process lends itself to transparency, ongoing development, and incremental enhancement of the code and its capabilities, plus continual scrutiny of its security. Security vulnerabilities tend to be addressed more promptly compared to proprietary software.
However, if you decide to take shortcuts by copy-pasting code instead of properly integrating an open source library, you disconnect your software from the original open source code, and from the link to any future improvements and fixes to that code. So, when the original open source library gets updated, perhaps with new features, security vulnerability patches, or bug resolutions, you’ll be unaware of them, and you won’t know that your copied code requires updating. Eventually, if this isn’t addressed, you’ll inadvertently let your code get out of date and become vulnerable because attackers are always developing ways to compromise existing code if patches and updates aren’t applied. Ultimately you risk degrading your code to the point that it disables the very functionality and utility of the software or application that you used it for. Do you want to be responsible for that? Again, the answer’s “No.”
Copying and pasting code from unknown sources poses substantial security risks. Malicious actors can intentionally embed vulnerabilities or backdoors in code snippets, potentially compromising the entire system. Relying on untrusted code can leave your project susceptible to unauthorized access, data breaches, or other cybersecurity threats.
You can address these threats by prioritizing reputable sources for code snippets, such as official documentation, well-established libraries, or trusted developer communities. Scrutinize the code for any potential security risks and conduct a thorough security assessment. Regularly update and monitor dependencies to ensure you are not exposed to known vulnerabilities.
Code snippets found online are typically written in isolation and may not seamlessly integrate with the existing codebase. Copying and pasting snippets without considering their compatibility can result in conflicts, errors, and even system crashes. Ignoring such compatibility issues hampers the stability and functionality of your project, leading to time-consuming debugging sessions.
When integrating external code, thoroughly review its dependencies and ensure they are compatible with your existing setup. Modifying the code to suit your project’s requirements and conducting thorough testing can minimize potential compatibility issues. Prioritize code that aligns with your project’s programming language, frameworks, and libraries.
Blindly incorporating code snippets from online sources may introduce low-quality, poorly optimized, or outdated code into your project. This can adversely impact performance, increase technical debt, and impede the code’s maintainability. Furthermore, code that lacks proper documentation and follows inconsistent coding practices can create confusion and hinder future development.
So, be cautious when selecting code snippets from external sources. Prioritize well-documented, well-tested, and actively maintained code repositories. Review the code for best practices, readability, and modularity. Whenever possible, contribute back to the open-source community by reporting issues or submitting improvements to enhance the code’s quality.
It’s axiomatic that the collaborative nature of the open source community thrives on cooperation, transparency, and respect. And one of the crucial ways to promote this environment is to honor regulations that the community has in place.
Copying and pasting code directly contradicts the principles at the core of the open source community and marks you out as an untrustworthy partner. That’s not a reputation you want to have. Instead, do the right thing. Stay informed about updates regarding bug fixes and security vulnerabilities and comply with all licensing requirements.
While copy-pasting code may offer temporary convenience, it’s a risky practice. However, if you’re conscientious about incorporating external code, and you take care to comply with license terms, then you can harness the benefits of open source while safeguarding the integrity, stability, and security of their projects. And you can confidently build robust and maintainable codebases.