It's been a good run, but after more than 11 years in service BerliOS will be shutting
down. Users and projects have until the end of this year to move their
data off BerliOS. The good news is, there are plenty of alternatives, though the shutdown highlights the problems of moving from one forge to another. BerliOS is providing clear instructions on getting data out but migrating to another forge is an exercise left to the project or developer.
BerliOS is operated by the Fraunhofer
FOKUS institute in Berlin, Germany. In June, the BerliOS project conducted
a survey to see whether there was support in the community to help fund
the site. According to the announcement on September 30th, there is not enough
support in the community to "put the project on a sustainable
financial basis." Efforts to find a partner or sponsors to help host
BerliOS that would be compatible with its open source roots were also
It is unclear just how much of an effort was made to keep BerliOS afloat. Surveying users, instead of simply announcing the need for support, is a non-optimal way to try to garner support. The survey published by BerliOS was not terribly well publicized, and it's likely that many users of BerliOS were unaware of the situation until it was announced that BerliOS is closing. More successful fund-raising efforts in the open source community generally consist of making the community aware of the problem and providing specific targets for fundraising.
But BerliOS may also lack enough support, even if FOKUS had been more
aggressive about fundraising. BerliOS is home to some popular projects, like avidemux, SuperTux,
However, it doesn't host a lot of heavy-hitting projects.
The final numbers for BerliOS are impressive, but somewhat anemic if compared to larger forges. According to the announcement, BerliOS has more than 50,000 users and 4,710 projects. It sees more than 1.6 million file downloads each month. While an impressive achievement, BerliOS hasn't seen nearly as much traffic as some of the alternatives.
SourceForge lists upwards of 313,000 projects and claims nearly 3
million downloads in one day on the banner on its front page. GitHub
claims more than two
million repositories and more than one million
users as of September 21. Naturally, that's not an apples to apples
comparison. GitHub is not solely focused on open source, nor is it a free
service. GitHub claims Gists (text snippets stored in a Git repository as a
Pastebin type service) as repositories. But even discounting some of the
numbers as fluff, it's clear there's a lot more activity going on at GitHub
or SourceForge than BerliOS.
A more apt comparison might be GNU Savannah, which claims more than 53,000 users and 3,384 projects.
BerliOS has also had its share of troubles that hint that its support
staff were overmatched by the challenge of maintaining an active "forge"
site. Last year in January, a compromise dating back to 2005
was discovered — but never adequately investigated. Jörg
Schilling, who is employed by FOKUS to work on BerliOS, said
he'd seen no sign of damage from the intrusion aside from the defacement of
the site. "Therefore, I don't currently don't see a reason to issue a
warning." No details about the intrusion were ever supplied.
Alternatives and migration tools
When BerliOS was founded in 2000, hosting services for free software projects were not quite as abundant as they are today. SourceForge had been up since November of 1999. The GNU Project's Savannah also launched in 2000, initially based on code from SourceForge — though SourceForge's move to proprietary software caused the GNU Project to part ways.
Since then, there's been an explosion of open
source software hosting repositories. There's the aforementioned
GitHub, SourceForge, GNU Savannah, and Gna
for non-GNU but Libre Software projects. Developers can also migrate to Gitorious, which is a favorite for
projects that are looking for a free software platform that's similar to
GitHub. If a project is feeling particularly adventurous, it can host its
own instance using
Gitorious's software which is
licensed under the AGPL.
The interoperability problem
The BerliOS folks have provided
a migration guide for moving everything from project Web sites to bug
trackers, databases, mailing lists, and repositories out of
BerliOS. Developers are then left to their own devices to migrate those
resources into another hosting facility. This highlights the
problem of interoperability between various forges, something that was highlighted
by Olivier Berger at the Open World Forum in 2010. Berger writes that while
we have the rights to fork and patch source code, forking a project is much
Having the possibility to export/backup contents of all the artefacts and
relations that constitute a project in a forge is quite important. Even
more important is the ability to restore these into another set of tools on
We're not quite there yet. There is a ForgePlucker project that is supposed to be building tools to migrate from "data jails" in forge systems. However, it doesn't seem to have made enough progress to be widely useful. Berger says the BerliOS shutdown may be "an [opportunity] for improvement of forgeplucker, although I don't have a clue about the maturity of its BerliOS support."
Even though BerliOS is providing tools to migrate away from the project,
there will be some loss when it goes dark. Of the 4,710 projects on
BerliOS, not all of them are actively maintained or will be
transitioned. For example, the developer of a project called SimVis4, Jörg
"since my activities with SimuVis are already on hold, I decided not
to move to another hosting platform." Rädler says he may move
to GitHub, but in the meantime, unless someone else decides to move the
code to another repository it may simply disappear into the ether when the
plug on BerliOS is pulled for good. One semi-serious
comment on Reddit is to have a project called "SourceMorgue" to host
dead open source projects.
The end for BerliOS is a bit sad, but not the end of the world. It will be an inconvenience to many projects, but not insurmountable to those that have an active community. It also highlights the need for projects to have a transition plan, and backups, no matter how stable a service looks today. No doubt many of BerliOS users were shocked to hear that the service was closing shop. Luckily, in this instance, there's plenty of notice before the doors close.
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