The Role of Modularity in Free/Open Source Software Development

The Role of Modularity in Free/Open Source Software Development

Alessandro Narduzzo (Universita di Bologna, Italy) and Alessandro Rossi (Universita di Trento, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-939-7.ch036
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Software design and development in Free/Open Source projects are analyzed through the lens of the theory of modularity applied to complex systems. We show that both the architecture of the artifacts (software) and the organization of the projects benefited from the paradigm of modularity in an original and effective manner. In particular, our analysis on empirical evidence suggests that three main shortcuts to modular design have been introduced and effectively applied. First, some successful projects inherited previously existing modular architecture, rather than designing new modular systems from scratch. Second, popular modular systems, like GNU/Linux kernel, evolved from an initial integrated structure through a process of evolutionary adaptation. Third, the development of modular software took advantage of the violation of one fundamental rule of modularity, that is, information hiding. Through these three routines, the projects can exploit the benefits of modularity, such as concurrent engineering, division of labor, decentralized and parallel development; at the same time, these routines lessen some of the problems posed by the design of modular architectures, namely imperfect decompositions of interdependent components. Implications and extensions of Free/Open Source projects experience are discussed in the conclusions.

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