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Software Heritage initiative to create an archive of Free Software code


The Free Software Foundation Europe protects users, companies and institutions from technological abuse by promoting the use of Free Software. Now there is a project that protects the code used in Free Software itself and promised to preserve it for the future: Inria presents the Software Heritage initiative.

The importance of software in the modern world cannot be overstated. Software is at the crux of all contemporary technological development and has become essential for all areas of scientific research. Software plays a pivotal role in our daily lives, our industries and our society. Software has become the reflection of our technological, scientific and cultural progress.

However, software is prone to disappear, either because it stops being profitable, or projects get cancelled, or the code is deemed obsolete and gets erased, or is left to fade on storage that physically degrades over time.

The Software Heritage initiative is created and funded by Inria. It collects programs, applications and snippets of code distributed under free licenses from a wide variety of active and defunct sources, its aim being to protect code from sinking into oblivion. The distributed and redundant back-end hardens the system against a potentially disastrous losses of data and guarantees its availability for users.

Users can check if a certain file exists within the system and propose new sources the Software Heritage engine can explore in search of more code to store. Soon users will also be able to find out where the code originated from using the Provenance information feature, browse the stored code, run full-text searches on all files, and download the content.

The Heritage aimes to store all Free Software, in other words, software that can be used, studied, adapted and shared freely with others; and this is because the Software Heritage initiative relies on being able to share the software it stores. The Software Heritage website is designed to be a useful tool for professionals, scientists, educators and end-users. Users must be allowed to re-use the code in other products, cutting development time and costs; engineers should be able to discover how others solved certain problems; or compare the efficiency of different solutions to the same problem. And, of course, researchers must have explicit permission to study the evolution of code over time. This is only possible if the code is distributed under a Free and Open Source license.

Matthias Kirschner, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe, says: "Software is the most important cultural technology of today's society; it frames what we can and what we cannot do. Software shapes our communication and culture, our economy, education and research, as well as politics. It is important to preserve our collective knowledge about how software has influenced humankind. Collecting source code makes Software Heritage a valuable resource to understand how our society worked at any given time, and to build upon knowledge from humankind."

The Software Heritage intiative ensures today's code will be around for everybody in the future.

About Inria

Inria, the French National Institute for computer science and applied mathematics, promotes "scientific excellence for technology transfer and society". Graduates from the world's top universities, Inria's 2,700 employees rise to the challenges of digital sciences. With this open, agile model, Inria is able to explore original approaches with its partners in industry and academia and provide an efficient response to the multidisciplinary and application challenges of the digital transformation. Inria transfers expertise and research results to companies (startups, SMEs and major groups) in fields as diverse as healthcare, transport, energy, communications, security and privacy protection, smart cities and the factory of the future.