Maybe I start with an example: I use currently SystemJS for Angular2 Applications, it is a great tool, works properly and free.

As I see the contributors here and the work, what already has been done, I've thought: What kind of great job, but who pays for all this work? Sometimes I also try to help, but I've limited time and have to pay my everlasting bills.

How can such of libraries can come into existence? The idea (which is already great) alone is not enough. Karma would not also be the real reason, I think.

Why do these talented programmers invest amount of time of creating free libraries? What research has been done into why so many programmers invest their time in FLOSS projects?

  • 8
    Mostly, we just have a problem of our own we'd like to solve and we have the power to solve it. We have an itch to scratch, if you will. We build it because we need it. Giving it away is largely just a matter of generosity and good will.
    – RubberDuck
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 3:05
  • 9
    I don't think this question should be closed as opinion based; there's plenty of literature on the question of "why do programmers write free/open software". It can even be objectively answered, by looking at surveys of the contributors to large projects like Linux or Firefox. Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 6:23
  • 1
    As an addition to @congusbongus comment: Each contributor is having its own reason to contribute.
    – frlan
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 7:28
  • Yes I am very interested, which ones and why?
    – user5776
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 7:29
  • 2
    Close voter(s) - this has already been closed as primarily opinion based, and then re-opened. @congusbongus' comment above has 5 upvotes. Perhaps you could comment as to why you disagree with this? It'll help other voters make an informed decision. Thanks!
    – Tim Malone
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 6:16

2 Answers 2


Of course there is no single answer to this question. The motivation can change over time and over individuals but I will try to list a few common reasons.

For ideological reasons

People who invented free software (RMS et al.) did it originally for very ideological reasons ("all software should be free" - that is, respect four fundamental freedoms) and this was motivation enough to start the GNU project. For reference, see this 1989 NYT's article and the original GNU manifesto.

Because it's a free-time activity

Lots of people like to program so much that they do it even during their free time. When absolutely no financial benefit is to be expected from a software (either because you don't think it is worth much or because you don't want to spend time selling it), it can be seen as natural to share it as free software (it will help others and could even contribute to your own reputation).

Because it's a job

Many companies profit directly or indirectly from free and open source software (RedHat but also Google, Facebook and Microsoft) and consequently pay people to contribute to it. The most famous person to be paid for writing free software full-time is probably Linus Torvalds but there are lots of examples of people whose job is to develop proprietary software part of the time and to contribute to open source part of the time.

Github's founder and former CEO Tom Preston-Warner has a very good entry on his blog on why it pays for a company to have its employees contribute to open source software.

If you want to dive more into motivation issues, here is an academic article talking about that.

Update: And here is a 2021 academic article revisiting motivations of open source developers.

  • the link is dead :'(
    – user5776
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 19:41
  • 1
    Thanks for reporting! I've updated the link to the Google Scholar search that allowed me to find it. From this page, you can click on PDF to read the article.
    – Zimm i48
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 20:01

It's a portfolio

I hope you'll excuse me for not citing, because both Stack Overflow and Github offer job boards, whose leverage is predicated on the idea of "free" content as a portfolio (notably, SO's "developer story" sources Github repository details for this purpose). I have been hired on the basis of SO's magic internet points before.

This has parallels in the graphic design community, which has similarly monetized sites in the form of Behance and Dribbble.

There is a degree of debate about the ethics of this, but it's fair to say that that ship has sailed. I work to get hired, and then I work on things I want to accomplish. Throughout that, other people profit from what I write (or not?).

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