Turns Out Open Source Programs are Better Than Proprietary Programs

In 2006, the Department of Homeland Security partnered with a software codeanalysis company called Coverity to examine open source code for security vulnerabilities and software defects. Each year since, Coverity has published a report on the quality of open source code, and each year, the company has found that it isn’t that different from proprietary software. That seemed to settle the issue.

But the latest report, published on Wednesday, found something new: the code quality of open source projects tends to suffer when they surpass 1 million lines of code, whereas proprietary code bases continue improve when they pass that mark.

The Coverity Scan tool performs automated static analysis of code bases, looking for defects such as resource leaks, illegal memory access, and control flow issues. It’s free for open source projects and available to proprietary software vendors for a fee. Coverity drew on its user base for the report, analyzing 118 active open source projects and 250 proprietary projects.

The study found that open source projects have an average of .69 defects per 1,000 lines of code, while proprietary projects have about .68 defects per 1,000 lines. But when projects were compared based on the total number of lines, some intriguing differences emerged.