The Department of Defense (DoD) launched Code.mil, an open source initiative allowing software developers to collaborate on unclassified code written in support of DoD projects, the department announced Thursday.
DoD is working with the open source platform GitHub to experiment with fostering more collaboration between global private sector software developers and federal employees for software projects built within the Defense Department. The URL of Code.mil directs users to an online repository that will house code written for a variety of projects across the department for individuals to review and make suggested changes.
The project allows the DoD to gain insights from international developers who will overall speed up and strengthen the software development process. Then in exchange the program code hosted on GitHub will be open and available for all persons to reuse and repurpose for personal and public projects, the Defense Department said.
Open source software is part of the industry’s best practices and a vital part of modern software development, the department said. However, open source and free software (as in software freedom but not free of cost) concepts are not widely adopted within the Defense Department.
The Code.mil project also seeks to create a network of peers between the government and developer communities that encourages participation, sharing knowledge, and making connections “in support of DoD programs that ultimately service our national security,” the Defense Departments said in a statement.
DoD highlighted that it faces unique challenges in making its code open source. Code written by government employees does not typically have copyright protections under U.S. and some international laws, complicating how open source licenses can be attached to code in this program. Code.mil is experimenting with a legal pathway by using contract law in the Defense Open Source Agreement to add commonly used licenses to DoD software projects.
Code.mil is led by the Defense Digital Service (DDS), a team of technical experts working for the Defense Department on short stints from companies including Google [GOOG], Amazon [AMZN], and Netflix [NFLX]. Other current projects of the DDS include “Hack the Pentagon,” Next Generation GPS (OCX), and Defense Travel System modernization.
DDS consulted with the Open Source Initiative and Free Software Foundation on how to devise a comprehensive approach to open and free software.
“We want to better incorporate the norms of the open source and free software communities into the department. We hope this agreement will serve as a bridge so we can use widely adopted open source licenses even without U.S. copyright protections,” Sharon Woods, DDS legal counsel, said in a statement.
The DDS will be the first DoD entity to host code written by their team of developers on Code.mil after finalization of the open source agreement, DoD said.