Open source projects are backed by many people and organisations, for example Debian is backed by Developers and Ubuntu is backed by Canonical.

I would like to ask when is it necessary for an open source project to be backed by an organisation?

  • The developers of Debian are just a community group - not a company like Canonical. Can you explain more what you mean by an organisation? Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 23:14
  • I am comparing debian which is a group of developers to Canonical an established Company @curiousdannii Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 14:07
  • The term "backed" is vague, but the organization behind Debian (which itself has no legal existence) in Software in the Public Interest (SPI). Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 10:45

2 Answers 2


You can read the whole thing or go straight to the point (look for a TL;DR)

According to me, here's a possible timeline for an Open Source project.

The Idea
You think the world needs something that software can provide.

The initial commits
You start off with a Git/SVN/Bzr/Hg repository and start pushing some code to it. You release v0.1 and show it off on Hacker News.

Userbase development
Some people see that your software is really helpful, and start using it. It gets used as a library over 10 more projects (or you get a userbase of 1k).

Someone feels that your project is awesome and can be improved upon further. He sends you a pull request. More developers follow.

Org development
Over a few months you have several developers working on the project and its derivatives. You all decide to call yourself Organisation X.

OrgX has grown - both in terms of number of developers and the scope of software it produces. There are 15-20 developers who were there from the start and care for the org. There are new developers each day wanting to become contributors - to get a feel of Open Source or to develop their skills or to simply develop the application they love.

Funds ahoy!


As you grow, you need funds for various purposes:

  • To reward developers
  • To have meetups - not all developers live at the same place
  • To increase your brand value - users (not necessarily developers) choose products by their brand value. To actually increase that, you need to be an active promoter by sending off swag, ads, etc.
  • To maintain servers - as you grow in userbase, your hits increase and you need bigger servers to maintain the cost.

And many more.

Once in a while donation, kickstarter campaigns are good, but not enough. Hence, at times you need an organisation to back you. The organisation provides you with funds, visibility and sometimes infrastructure, and you increase the org's visibility (and make them less evil).

So, this is the time when it's necessary for an open source project/organisation to be backed.

  • 2
    OrgX can help by owning the copyrights, granting licenses, and making contributor license agreements. It's important to do this early in the Org Development phase, before losing track of any contributor. Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 17:40
  • The org should also handle legal and financial issues. Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 20:35

No project ever needs the support of an organisation. Even very large ones can be the work of a single individual, and need neither financial or logistically support. Arguably you could say that every project could proceed that way, though obviously many projects benefit greatly from having organisational backing.


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