Tools for managing open source programs

The road to strategic use of open source starts with a carefully planned, organized, and empowered open source program office to guide and manage its creation, distribution, and use. But, that’s just a first step. To get such an office underway and running smoothly, you need the right tools. These mission-critical tools will be used to track goals and metrics in departments from engineering and legal to executive leadership, PR and marketing to HR, and give each of these functions all the resources they need to gather data, provide snapshots of performance, and manage the daily use of open source within your company.

This guide provides details and scenarios for how to get your open source tool collection started, including information about the most important tools to use to track and manage your open source projects. Many of the tools have been created and open-sourced by The Linux Foundation and other leaders in the field, providing free and easy access for your projects. You’ll also find an example dashboard setup, which combines information from multiple tools for central review.

Table of Contents

Why you need special tools for open source program management

Once your open source program office is up and running, it’s time to collect the right software tools that will allow your development teams to manage, track, guide, and advance their open source projects, consumption, contributions, and releases.

These tools are critical because using open source for business strategy requires its own methodologies and processes which are very different than those needed when using and releasing proprietary software. Open source tools allow companies to do a myriad of tasks:

Having the right, targeted tools as you begin your open source journey will also make jobs easier for developers and other employees, will provide better insight to results, and will become the basis for successful collaboration and communication of a company’s open source projects.

“If you have more than 100 code repositories or 100 people that you’re trying to manage, you really can’t have someone doing it manually with spreadsheets anymore. Obviously, people still do it that way. But it starts to become ad hoc and laborious. That’s where tools come into play. They allow you to scale.” – Jeff McAffer, Director of the Open Source Programs Office at Microsoft

How to select and plan your tools

Most of the early discussions about which open source tools are needed by a company will depend on its business, products, and services and how it serves its customers and employees. As the planning process and strategy map are developed by its open source program office, tools can be chosen to integrate the company’s goals, processes and infrastructure.

Ultimately, the only way to know which tools you will need is to understand what you want to do with open source.

Below are the basic steps for choosing the tools you’ll need for managing your open source program office:

  1. Get buy-in and selection preferences from developers and community members. To accomplish this, you’ll want to conduct detailed discussions with developers and community members. They can describe what tools have been or would work best for them. Take those recommendations and requests very seriously. Listen to the people who are going to get you to your goal. They have most likely been using many of these tools already, so benefit from their experiences.
  2. Understand necessary software dependencies and integrations for business-critical applications. This means understanding and knowing which open source software your business depends on so you can stay up to date with security issues and ensure software continuity.
  3. Research existing tools and decide what you can use as-is, or build out to suit your needs. Don’t start from scratch for every tool. See what is out there and being used in the open source communities you are in and get advice and feedback about those tools. Linger in online development communities to see what works and ask for recommendations and advice. Ask questions at open source conferences, talk to fellow developers in Birds-of-a-Feather sessions, and learn from others who are already doing what you want to do.

Once selected, the tools must then be implemented, which requires several additional steps:

  1. Create an internal infrastructure to support, manage, and use the tools. Through your newly-formed open source program office, designate someone to maintain and build the internal infrastructure that will distribute the tools through an online internal portal where they are kept and organized into tasks and features. In this tool portal you can make the tools available to all developers or restrict them to specific users through authentications and permissions based on their jobs and requirements.
  2. Provide training plans for employees who will use the tools. Just getting the tools isn’t enough. Now you have to be sure that your developers know how to use them and are mastering their capabilities. This is where training programs, whether online, in classrooms or in small lunchtime group settings, will be important to reap the benefits of their use. Ask your developers which learning methods work best for them and let them choose how they want to learn.
  3. Ensure the tools are centrally visible in your organization. Make it easy for developers to find and use them, preferably integrated into any existing developer dashboards that track development progress. Again, this is where the internal tool portal is going to help your company organize and distribute the critical tools for your operations.

Implementation is helpful to keep in mind as you are choosing your tools, as this may also affect your decision. A tool with a steep learning curve, for example, may require more training.

Leverage existing tools

After you have a good idea of what your team needs to meet your organization’s open source goals and the possible limitations of your own dependencies and infrastructure, the first step is to explore and learn about existing tools that are ready-built and available for you today. Since most are open source tools themselves, if they don’t meet your exact needs at the start, your development teams can contact the builders of the tools to see if they can collaborate and contribute to take the tools in new directions by adding features.

Ironically, many open source program offices don’t always reuse the tools developed by others, or collaborate with other companies to work on the tools they require to manage their open source programs. Often, they want to do that, but many businesses, including Facebook and Microsoft, already have existing tool suites which were in place before collaboration really became a discussion topic. Because they already have their tool sets and have made those investments, they seem to have less desire to adopt those of other companies.

That’s where companies that are just starting to build out their own open source programs have a significant advantage. Since they are now establishing their own open source program offices and diving into open source, they don’t have to be bothered with such limitations.

Instead, they can wisely take advantage of the experiences and successes of others and build their open source toolboxes using the proven tools created by companies which led the way in recent years. The Linux Foundation’s open source industry organization, the TODO Group (Talk Openly Develop Openly), collects a list of these tools in this document.

Create a dashboard

Along with the proper tools, companies should also incorporate central dashboards which allow them to monitor and track their open source projects and development in real time. Many companies likely have such dashboards for existing development work and applications and may be able to integrate the existing dashboards with their open source work. If not, they should create or adopt new dashboards to improve the management of their open source deployments.

“On dashboards, there are many ways to create them, and it’s really an art in terms of how companies want to display development-related information. Some people build these fancy screens with rotating dashboards, but the key thing is to have a central location**, preferably co-located with your existing dev dashboards,** where people can go to learn more about open source project health, metrics, and so on.” – Chris Aniszczyk, COO of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Elements of a basic toolset

The abundance of tools available for managing and reporting on open source projects can quickly become overwhelming. If your open source program is just getting started, it helps to focus your research on just a few of the basic tools that you’ll need to get up and running.

Then as your program grows and you’ve gained more experience using these tools, you can start to adopt new tools to help you automate and streamline your processes as the need arises. Remember that you want the tools you choose to complement and support your internal culture and processes – not lead them.

The sections below give the basic categories of tools that pretty much all open source programs use on a daily basis. This is a good way to organize your research.

Automate processes

Tools which automate processes are among the most important you will select and use for your company’s open source program. The tasks for such tools are broad, including automating procedures for contributor license agreements (CLAs), which are legal documents stating that a developer created the code and didn’t copy it from anywhere else illegally. Traditionally these kinds of agreements were done manually by printing out the agreements and then signing and faxing them in to comply. But in a world of email and instant communications, that’s crazy today. Instead, the process can be automated using bots that request electronic signatures and then track and handle the submissions.

Other automation tools can tell you who exactly is contributing to your projects and can help remove procedural friction which slows down progress in projects as they get larger and scale to meet the needs of companies.

In Microsoft’s open source program office, where some 8,000 repositories are managed on GitHub involving some 11,000 contributors, about 40,000 internal requests came in to use open source in projects in 2016, according to the company. To manage those requests as well as the code that’s created and the code versions which are being updated,the company turns to tools which can automate the chaos. And because the code is likely being used in potentially hundreds of other projects, it must be tracked carefully so that if a security bug arises all software impacts can quickly be mapped out and fixed. At such a large scale, automation is critical and manual updates would be almost impossible.

Microsoft’s Azure open source portal displays useful information such as the number of daily users on GitHub. Source:

Manage critical tasks

Other important tools to be considered and acquired are those which help manage critical tasks, such as project management, tracking project health and ensuring clear and quick communications between developers, open source communities, and others inside a company.

Source code management

Most corporate software projects being developed through open source program offices use GitHub as their centralized hosting and development platform.

GitHub is an online source code management site that allows open source developers to manage and house their code in a central “repository” or storage space where participants can collaborate and build their code together. Some 64 million open source coding projects are hosted within GitHub today, involving some 23 million developers.

GitHub users can add code, review submitted code, propose changes, get and offer feedback and provide project management using the service. GitHub uses the Git Version Control System, the open source project developed by Linux creator Linus Torvalds which provides organization for the code and people who are collaborating on open source. Each “contributor” has their own copy of the project repository they are working on, where they can make changes on their own computer and then submit it back to the project for future inclusion. That “pull request,” (example here) or code contribution, is then reviewed, discussed, modified and approved or rejected by the project organizers.

License compliance

Also important are code scanning and compliance tools, which help track code provenance and license requirements. It’s important for companies to watch over the open source code being brought into its own infrastructure, products, and services to ensure license requirements are met.

Your applications, for example, could include several thousand open source components. To protect your company from legal issues it’s critical to know these details. In scenarios that are high risk, users must dive into the code to deeply validate and verify that the licenses are what they say they are, depending on where your business is on a risk spectrum. (See our guide on using and distributing open source code.)

“You must understand your risk profile, because in the end scanning is all about risk management. You can stick your head in the sand at one end then just trust and hope that you are OK. Or you could say ‘If I get sued, it’s going to devastate my business.’ You need to really be sure. So, you crack open the package and you look through all the lines of code and you find everything that could possibly be in there.” – Jeff McAffer, director of the Open Source Programs Office at Microsoft.

Tools for managing source code

As we discussed earlier GitHub is the go-to source code management system for most open source program offices these days. But GitHub alone won’t meet all your program’s code management needs – especially as you scale up your efforts.

Some of the tools used in the world of open source are aimed at improving GitHub itself by adding features it lacks, such as support for checking Developer Certificate of Origin (DCO) statements to be sure that code can be legally licensed and used in an open source project.

GitHub also has some deficiencies when it comes to code reviews, so there are available tools that can automatically send questionable code back to the contributors who created it and ask them to review and make needed changes. GitHub doesn’t have a way to force someone to review their code, so these clever tools make that happen to improve workflows.

Other GitHub-specific tools expand on GitHub’s performance metrics capabilities, which tend to be very project specific rather than providing detailed information across whole organizations. For companies that maintain many open source code repositories across multiple GitHub projects, better tools are needed to organize and aggregate them to make sense of it all. A wide range of such tools are available from Amazon, Netflix, and Microsoft to help with those tasks.

Here are some of the most popular and useful source code management tools which can streamline and help your GitHub presence:

Source code scanning and license compliance

Black Duck Software Composition Analysis – Black Duck software composition analysis (SCA) by Synopsys helps teams manage the security, quality, and license compliance risks that come from the use of open source and third-party code in applications and containers.

Copyright review tools – This collection of open source command line tools help make initial copyright file construction and subsequent review and update easier.

FlexNet Code Insight – Revenera offers FlexNet Code Insight to help automate corporate open source use among developers, legal teams and security staffers.

FOSSA – This is a commercial tool that automatically performs code dependency tracking, license compliance scanning in the background.

FOSSID - FOSSID is a commercial tool for license and vulnerability scanning. Rather than relying upon declared components and licenses, FOSSID uses a large database of projects and code fragments to scan for code snippets. This enables detection of copied/pasted code, or code where license declarations were not properly preserved. In particular, this is useful when auditing code received from a third party or when preparing to open source code that was originally developed for internal use only.

FOSSology – A Linux Foundation project, FOSSology is an open source license compliance software toolkit which can run license, copyright and export control scans from the command line. A database and web UI are also available to create compliance workflows.

The Linux Foundation’s FOSSology compliance tool

REUSE – A free software tool to help adopt and check the application of licenses in a code repository. It is based on best practices, including the SPDX specification. It offers a badge API service to market the compliance.

scancode-toolkit – From nexB, the open source ScanCode suite of utilities scans code for licenses, copyright and dependencies to find, discover and inventory open source and third-party components used in your code.

SPDX – The Software Package Data Exchange (SPDX) specification is a standard format used to describe the components, licenses and copyrights associated with software packages. The SPDX standard aids compliance with free and open source software licenses by standardizing the way license information is shared between developers and companies. The SPDX specification is developed by the SPDX workgroup, which is hosted by The Linux Foundation. The group offers open source tools to help users of SPDX documents.

Vigiles – Vigiles is a commercial Software Composition Analysis (SCA) and CVE monitoring tool optimized for embedded Linux and usable for all open source software. It gives you the complete process to track, triage, remediate, and document CVEs affecting your device.

WhiteSource – Provides licensing, security, code quality and reporting analysis for managing open source components in real-time by automatically and continuously scanning dozens of open source repositories on a commercial basis.

Bug and issue tracking

Bugzilla – Open source, server-based software featuring an advanced query tool that can remember searches, integrated email capabilities and a comprehensive permissions system. Bugzilla is used by Mozilla as its bug tracking system.

GitHub Issues – GitHub’s own integrated feedback and bug tracker, GitHub Issues is available as part of GitHub’s project hosting.

GitLab – This bug tracking tool unifies issue tracking, code review, Git repository management, activity streams, wikis and more in a single UI to assist your open source projects. GitLab is available as a service or as a commercial software.

JIRA – From Atlassian, JIRA contains custom filters, developer tool integrations, customizable workflows and rich APIs to integrate JIRA with other applications. JIRA is available as a commercial software.

Archiving and release management

Artifactory – Artifactory is a repository manager from JFrog which supports software packages created in any code language. It integrates with all major DevOps and continuous integration and continuous deployment tools. Artifactory is available as a commercial or as an open source tool.

Docker Hub – A cloud-based registry service which allows users to link to code repositories and build and test their images. Docker Hub is a centralized resource for container image discovery, distribution and change management, collaboration and workflow automation throughout the development pipeline.

github-release – The open source, built in functionality part of GitHub which lets users package and edit releases of projects on GitHub so they are available for use by other community members.

Tools for tracking project health

Monitoring and tracking the overall health of open source projects as they grow and mature is a core task for an enterprise open source program. To accomplish it, you must gather tools which report on how individual open source projects are performing and being received by their communities – often across dozens, hundreds or even thousands of projects at once. The tools also must be able to roll the data into meaningful, useful, and actionable information about overall project performance across your entire open source portfolio.

Amazon’s Open Source Program Dashboard can be used to view and monitor many GitHub organizations and/or users at one time. Source:

The bottom line here is it’s all about the critical and useful insights you can glean from the data – not about vanity metrics such as detailing how many “watcher” stars a project has logged, how many contributors have been part of the project since its start, or other metrics that lack important context.

The best project health tools must also help the project teams be responsive to the communities which support their efforts and encourage engagement and diversity with contributing developers. That means the tools help maintainers quickly respond to questions or feedback posted by community members so they remain enthusiastically engaged and don’t get bored and move on to other projects.

Some open source communities will have large groups of contributors, while others will have small niche groups of community members. The project health tools need to be able to work with projects of all sizes.

“Regarding existing tools and systems, my hope is that we’re quickly getting to a point where a company’s open source program office should not need to create any tools or technologies on their own. They should be able to find and use existing open source tools which can be used to manage their open source programs.” – Jeff McAffer, Director of the Open Source Programs Office at Microsoft

Here are some of the most popular and useful project statistics and project health tracking tools:

“The goal is to have the tools, along with transparent data and metrics-related information, which can be used to guide the organization.” – Chris Aniszczyk, COO of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation

The TODO Group also offers a helpful list that adds other tools as well:

For better code reviews:

For Contributor License Agreements

CLA Assistant – Contributed by SAP, the CLA Assistant streamlines workflows by handling the legal side of contributions for users. The Assistant asks code contributors to sign CLAs as they make their code contributions and authenticates each contributor with his or her GitHub account. It also updates the status of a pull request when the contributor agrees to the CLA and automatically asks users to re-sign the CLA for each new pull request if changes are made to the CLA.

SAP’s CLA Assistant tool

CLA Portal – From VMware, CLA Portal adds a workflow to enable contributors to digitally sign a CLA for pull requests to your GitHub repositories. When a developer opens a pull request, they are prompted to sign the agreement if needed. Also included is an administrator interface for CLA authoring, CLA-to-project mapping, and agreement reviews.

DCOB – A Developer Certificate of Origin Bot which helps to enforce developer certificate of origin sign-offs for each code change in a pull request. The DCOB sets the status for each accepted code change, as required by the Developer Certificate of Origin.

EasyCLA - By the Linux Foundation to streamline the CLA process. It focusses on Linux Foundation projects, but projects outside the Linux Foundation are considered on a case-by-case basis. In addition to the typical CLA tooling, it enables whitelisting of corporate contributers. It integrates with GitHub pull requests.

GitHub Management at Corporate Scale

Project Quality

Tools for communications and collaboration

Of course, open source development isn’t just about the code. It also requires healthy communications and collaborations between a diverse group of people who are working on the projects inside and outside of enterprises,as well as by staff members in a company’s Open Source Program Office.

For that developers can lean on tools they may already be using for other projects, including Internet Relay Chat (IRC), where developers can post inquiries and get quick responses to development-related topics. Another example is TWiki, which is an open source enterprise Wiki and web collaboration platform where developers can discuss code and projects and related topics.

Communications can also be fostered through social media platforms, web portals, open source project repositories and other places where input, questions and discussions can be found and fostered.

Then there’s Slack, which is an online team project management and communications platform where users can access and share messages and files, organize workflows, perform searches for information and more. Slack can be configured to receive notifications for support requests, code check-ins, error logs and other tasks as well.

And don’t forget your company’s public relations and marketing staff when it comes to shouting out your company’s participation and support of open source. Social media accounts with sites including Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, LinkedIn and others are important, as well as the use of internal and external blogs and websites. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, as well as email blasts and newsletters, can help companies keep customers and clients informed about their open source progress.

Tools for corporate-scale GitHub management

When it comes to the tools your company provides and uses for its corporate open source projects, the most important ones are arguably those which help companies manage their corporate-scale GitHub operations. GitHub is a perfect platform for many operations, but for large, complex companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, there can be many limitations to using the standard GitHub offerings.

Large enterprises need many more capabilities, including things like identity management, settings and permissions management, security and two-factor authentication enforcement, as well as deeper means to understand and track code repositories.

That’s where specialized, automated tools often need to be built to handle tasks such as onboarding, offboarding, enforcing security policies and giving developers request access to repositories.

Microsoft responded to its own unique requirements by building its own tools to handle many such tasks to streamline and improve its open source program. Microsoft has a healthy presence on GitHub, with over 4,000 repositories and involving more than 4,500 developers to date.

“That management of your GitHub presence is something that as you scale, it becomes important. You get a GitHub organization, which is a collection of repositories, and then you get members and you have teams. Managing all of that stuff becomes a little bit complicated, especially if it starts to scale out to hundreds of repositories, hundreds of people and multiple organizations on GitHub.” – Jeff McAffer, Director of the Open Source Programs Office at Microsoft

One of the things Microsoft created was a custom-built self-service GitHub management and onboarding portal for organizing its projects, repositories, and teams. On its simplest level, the web-based portal allows developers to map their Microsoft company ID to their GitHub ID, which bolsters system security and helps simplify the organization of large numbers of developers who are involved in large numbers of important projects.

The portal also lets employees authenticate with GitHub and Microsoft, which creates a “virtual link” of their identities so they can do their work while giving them needed permissions for tasks depending on their work roles. If employees leave the company, the system can be adjusted to remove or reclassify their access rights as needed.

The portal runs on one or more cloud servers and relies on a cache to help with sessions and reduce pressure on the GitHub API. The Microsoft portal, which averages about 1,000 unique users daily as a tool for its engineers, is part of the company’s growing open source efforts, which now includes more than 10,000 engineers who are using, contributing to and releasing open source code.

Final words

Hey, nobody said it was going to be simple to move your company into the world of open source. But plenty of other companies, including giants like Microsoft and Google have done this before you and have provided detailed road maps, code, suggestions, and more to make your own journey easier.

The creation of an open source program office and the selection of a package of critical tools to get your efforts started are within your grasp. And they are likely already inspiring great anticipation among your developers, many of whom are probably already contributing to open source projects on their own (or at work, under cover of darkness).

By collaborating on open source projects and inviting others to collaborate with you, your company can gain immeasurable benefits and drive its progress forward with energy and innovation.

Having the right tools is critical to empowering your company’s open innovation.


The affiliations of the contributors are from when the article was originally published in 2019: