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Most open source projects provide precompiled binaries for a variety of platforms in addition to the source code. How important is it to download the source code and compile it yourself?

Are there security risks or performance problems with using downloaded binaries? Are they significant enough to worry about for non-business users?

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  • I think this is two questions in one – congusbongus Jun 25 '15 at 23:52
  • This seems like a question more suited to Information Security. – curiousdannii Jun 26 '15 at 0:51
  • @congusbongus would you prefer to see the security and performance questions as separate posts? – trichoplax Jun 26 '15 at 1:12
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is more about the personal security of the user than open-source in general, although the question only tends to arise in an open-source context. – kdopen Jun 26 '15 at 1:13
  • I do think there's a different (and relevant) question hiding in there though ... – kdopen Jun 26 '15 at 1:18
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Well, without source code it isn't open source.

The availability of source code allows for others to change the code, one of the main reasons to have open source in the first place. Without source code it isn't longer possible.

If you only intend to use the software, the differences between using precompiled binaries and compiling yourself are:

  • You can check the source code for unwanted code and compile it to be sure it has no backdoors. You can't be sure with the binary.
  • Compiled specifically to your platform (CPU, OS-version etc.) the code might perform a bit better than a generic binary.
  • You can apply patches from sources other than the maintainer.
  • You can fix minor bugs that affect your usage.
  • You can remove parts you don't need and complicate usage, add security risks or hamper performance.

The last points already go in the area that you change the code, but still under the premise that you want to use the software. It seems if the code is available for change the line between using software and working on software can become unclear.

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  • "the difference between using precompiled binaries and compiling yourself is small". Care to explain that to the people who use and develop MacPorts and Homebrew? :) – kdopen Jun 26 '15 at 1:17
  • Homebrew doesn't care about anything that is a GUI application, though, and wants you to install precompiled binaries for those. – Michael Schumacher Jun 26 '15 at 5:59
  • @kdopen: You're right, it was to late, my answer bad. I edited it, removed the opinion and added reasons for using the code if you want to use the software. I hope that's better. – Mnementh Jun 26 '15 at 8:01

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