Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Facebook may open source some of its back-end code this year


Releasing some of its core C++ code would give developers a more thorough understanding of the site's infrastructure.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently described Facebook as embracing “the hacker way,” which is to say that the company has a sort of freedom and interest in constantly innovating, breaking, and creating without boundaries that limit other enterprise businesses. How much that applies to Facebook in practice has long been up for debate, but the company may be edging closer in that direction in the near future.

Facebook research engineer Andrei Alexandrescu recently told Server-Side Magazine that the site is planning to release some of its back-end C++ code in the next year. “This year may also see the launch of some of Facebook’s core C++ library code,” he says. “We’re quite excited about that; there is some really cool stuff in there, most of which is directly aimed at high-performance server-side computing. Definitely something to watch for.”

And that’s not all. “At Facebook we’re working on some quite cool performance improvements to Hadoop/Hive,” he says. “That work is not exactly ‘server-side’ in the sense it’s oriented more towards [sic] offline storage and retrieval, than traditional online server-side data access. We hope to open source the project some time this year.”

While Facebook opened its API long ago to developers so they could build applications on top of its product, the site is far from open-source. Advocates of the standard would cut your tongue out for saying so. The social network was built entirely using open-source software, but don’t go confusing that for its current status. What it has done is contribute to the open-source community by devoting some serious man power to the development and application of PHP, OAuth, HipHop (a system that translates PHP to C++), XHP, and HTML5 – and it releases bits and pieces of its infrastructure along the way, which is more than a lot of proprietary systems can say.

Facebook has also made steps to open-source its server and data structure via the Open Compute Project. But releasing its core code would be very different from all this and give developers new insight into the house that Facebook built. 

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