This article explains what an open-source fork is and how to ensure the security of forked open-source projects.
Forking a project allows anyone to take ownership of an open-source project and lead it in a new direction, but there is far more to forking a project beyond declaring a project has been forked.
Open source has a powerful tool up its sleeve that allows anyone to clone a project and take it in a new direction. This superpower is simply known as forking the project, and the web’s most widely used content management system WordPress was started as a fork of another open-source project: b2/cafelog.
There is also a community-led fork of modern WordPress called ClassicPress.
The creators of nulled plugins and themes sometimes claim they are simply creating a fork. But there is more to forking a project than just making it available.
An open-source fork refers to a project that has been derived from an existing open-source project. When a project is forked, it means that a copy of the original project’s source code is taken and further developed independently.
The purpose of forking a project can vary, but it generally involves making modifications, adding new features, or addressing specific needs that differ from the original project’s direction.
Forks can occur for various reasons, such as:
It’s important to note that open-source forks maintain their own separate development paths and can evolve into independent projects with their own communities, development teams, and features.
However, they often retain the underlying principles of open-source software, allowing others to freely access, use, and contribute to the forked project’s source code.
Forking a project refers to creating a copy of an existing project’s source code. When you fork a project, you duplicate the entire codebase, including its history and branches, to your own repository.
Forking is commonly done in open-source software development (e.g. WordPress), where the original project’s source code is made publicly available for anyone to view, modify, and distribute. By forking a project, you establish a separate and independent development branch that allows you to make changes to the code without directly affecting the original project.
When you fork a project, you effectively create your own instance of the project that you can freely modify, experiment with, or contribute to. This copy becomes your own repository, and you gain full control over its development.
Any changes you make in your forked repository do not impact the original project unless you explicitly choose to contribute those changes back through a process called a pull request.
Forking is a powerful mechanism in collaborative software development as it encourages community involvement and enables different individuals or groups to take a project in diverse directions based on their specific needs, goals, or ideas.
It allows for experimentation, customization, bug fixes, feature additions, and even the creation of entirely new projects based on the original codebase.
Forking a project means the new project owners are taking on the responsibility of the project—responsibilities such as communication, community, updates, and maintenance.
Sometimes, these important considerations can be missed by short-sighted developers looking to take a project in a new direction.
While forking a project can be beneficial and often leads to positive outcomes, there are scenarios where forking can have negative implications or be considered undesirable. Here are a few potential drawbacks or challenges associated with forking:
Despite these potential challenges, forking can still be a valuable strategy in certain cases, especially when there are strong motivations, clear differentiators, and a dedicated community behind the forked project. It’s important to evaluate the trade-offs and consider the potential long-term implications before deciding to fork over a project.
Listen to this Patchstack Weekly episode where Robert talks about securing open-source forks. 👇