Forking Value: A Better Long-Term Strategy for Software Development


Open source projects offer a wealth of benefits to the software development community, including access to innovative solutions, collaborative development, and the opportunity to leverage the expertise of thousands of developers worldwide. However, depending directly on project releases can have drawbacks, particularly when it comes to long-term software maintenance and flexibility. In this blog post, we will explore why forking open source projects can be a better long-term strategy than depending on project releases, touching on aspects such as control, customization, and stability.

Control Over Updates and Fixes

One of the main advantages of forking an open source project is the ability to have full control over updates and fixes. When depending directly on project releases, developers are often at the mercy of the project maintainers to provide timely updates, bug fixes, and security patches. In contrast, forking a project allows developers to implement their own updates and fixes as needed, ensuring that their software remains up-to-date and secure.

A team using a popular open-source library for their project encounters
a critical bug that affects their application's functionality. By forking the
library and implementing a fix, the team can quickly resolve the issue without
waiting for the project maintainers to release a patch.

Customization and Tailoring to Specific Needs

Forking an open source project enables developers to customize the code to suit their specific needs better. This can be particularly valuable for projects with unique requirements or performance constraints. Directly depending on project releases often means accepting the features and functionality provided “as-is,” which may not always align with a project’s specific goals or requirements.

A company building a high-performance data processing
application requires a modified version of an open-source data processing
library to optimize performance for their specific use case. By forking the
library, they can implement the necessary changes and optimizations, resulting
in a tailored solution that meets their performance goals.

Stability and Predictability

Software projects can benefit from increased stability and predictability when forking open source projects rather than relying on project releases. Forking allows developers to freeze the codebase at a specific point in time, reducing the risk of breaking changes or unexpected updates that could disrupt the project. This can be especially valuable for long-term projects that require a stable foundation on which to build.

A software development team working on a multi-year project
decides to fork an open-source database management system to ensure they have a
stable and predictable base for their work. This approach allows them to plan
and execute their development roadmap without the risk of unexpected changes to
the underlying database system.

Independence from Project Maintainability

Forking an open source project can provide a level of independence from the long-term maintainability of the original project. While depending directly on project releases can leave developers vulnerable to the project’s potential abandonment or decline in maintenance, forking a project allows developers to maintain and evolve the codebase independently, ensuring the continued viability of their software.

A development team discovers that a crucial open-source library
they depend on has become abandoned by its maintainers. By forking the library,
they can continue to maintain and update the codebase, ensuring their
application's long-term success without being reliant on the original project's

Fostering Contribution and Collaboration

Although forking an open source project offers several advantages for software development teams, it’s essential to acknowledge the opportunities for contributing to the original project. Forking can result in valuable enhancements and optimizations that benefit the entire community. By sharing these improvements and working in tandem with the original project maintainers, developers can promote a thriving open-source ecosystem and leverage the collective knowledge of the community.

A company forks an open-source machine learning library to
incorporate custom features and performance optimizations. They then submit
their improvements back to the original project as a pull request, enriching the
library for all users and fostering collaboration within the machine learning


Forking open source projects can offer significant long-term advantages over depending directly on project releases, providing benefits such as greater control, customization, stability, and independence. By taking this approach, development teams can tailor solutions to their specific needs, maintain the codebase independently, and ensure a stable foundation for their projects. Moreover, fostering collaboration and contributing back to the original project can strengthen the open-source ecosystem and promote collective growth.

In conclusion, developers should carefully consider the potential benefits of forking open source projects as part of their long-term software development strategy. By striking the right balance between leveraging external resources and maintaining control over critical aspects of a project, development teams can ensure the success, flexibility, and security of their software projects in the long run.