Open Source Software & the Arches Project

Open source software (OSS) is a software program that may be downloaded, modified, and freely installed by anyone. It should not be confused with open data. Data within an open source system may be open, partially open, or closed. OSS grows and evolves as improvements and new features are added and shared with the community.

OSS is ubiquitous today. The current movement away from proprietary distribution of software started in the early 1980s. The term “open source software” has been in use since 1998, and was intended to supplement the earlier term “free software,” although the two are synonymous today. As open source has gained ground it has created a new paradigm for the production and maintenance of software.


The distribution of open source software is controlled by special, free licenses, most of which require that modifications be made available to the community. Arches is distributed under the GNU Affero General Public License, version 3 (AGPL3). The AGPL3 is a variation of the GNU General Public License, the most widely recognized free software license. It allows the Arches code to be copied and modified without restriction, and it stipulates that copies and modified versions of Arches must be distributed under the same license, without any additional restrictions. The AGPL3 is specially designed so that modifications to software used on network servers become available to the development community.

Benefits of the Open Source Approach for the Arches Project

The open source approach allows anyone within the heritage field to make modifications to Arches to address additional or changing needs. Arches provides a comprehensive inventory and data management platform that is readily extensible by users and developers with the appropriate software skills. Open source development facilitates international collaboration, and benefits from contributions from developers around the world.

Governments and other organizations have realized cost savings and flexibility by using open source software. In particular, the availability of source code allows for competition among vendors to provide support services, or for the development of in-house resources to maintain the software. Both options are available to heritage organizations that want to use Arches.


Open source projects usually allow for different levels of engagement on the part of participants. The key is voluntary participation and self-organizing distribution of labor. Open source projects are kept stable by the community members’ willingness to reach consensus on important decisions.

Learn More

Many information resources exist on open source software, including popular books, journal articles,studies from a variety of different fields, and online blogs and other websites. Popular books on open source software include a collection of essays by Eric S. Raymond published under the title The Cathedral and the Bazaar (1999), an allusion to that author’s metaphor for the differences between the development of proprietary and open source software. For a history and analysis of the success of the movement, please see The Success of Open Source (2004) by Steven Weber. For an in-depth look in the functioning of an open source community, please see Producing Open Source Software by Karl Fogel (an advisor to the Arches project). The power and potential of decentralized collaboration and peer review in different contexts has been popularized in many additional sources.

See the section on Open Source on our FAQ . Also see a clear and concise set of questions and answers about Open Source with an emphasis on digital information curation is offered by the United Kingdom’s Digital Curation Centre.

The core code base of Arches can be found at: