When developers release their software to open source, it shows that they are both trustworthy and generous. Open source software was one of the main things that personally helped me start as a self-taught programmer.
For a project to be open source, a developer must make its source code publicly available so that anyone can explore and learn from. It is important to note that this also shows that the developer has no nefarious intentions as open source allows users to compile their own binaries rather than using any provided.
If you’ve ever come across two programs and couldn’t figure out which one to use, check to see if one is open source and the other isn’t. If so, your choice should be clear.
However, if you want to learn from the source code of the software, or even expand on it, this is also an option. To do this, you need to know how to view the source code. In this article, let’s talk about how to do this.
How to find the source code
Once you’ve found a piece of open source software that you would like to view the source code for, the first step is to figure out how the project’s source code is made available.
In most cases, the source code will be hosted on the Internet’s largest source control platform, GitHub
What is GitHub?
GitHub was founded in 2008 and acquired by Microsoft in 2018. It is a global software development platform that offers all the features of Git source control, as well as native features that enhance collaboration and version control features.
Most often, developers post their open source code on GitHub A few examples of software that you have probably heard of, the source code for which is available on GitHub: LibreOffice, GIMP, and the VLC media player
Using the GitHub search feature, you can find and view the source code for almost every major open source software project.
How to view the source code
Once you find the GitHub repository that hosts the source code for the software, you will find that everything is organized in a simple directory tree. For files, GitHub makes it easy to view the code.
As a development platform, GitHub neatly formats the source code through its web interface. Almost all reputable projects will include README.md, which is a markdown file that displays useful information about the repository and its structure. When navigating to the repository, scroll down and you will see the contents of this file.
The README.md of the repository is important to check because it often directs users to the direction of source code they might be interested in. The repository can be filled with all sorts of code and other data, some of which are completely useless to you, so this file is your roadmap.
Once you figure out where the code you’re interested in is in the repository, all you have to do is click on the repository directory tree to get to where you want to go.
Clicking on a file displays it with correct syntax highlighting.
The GitHub web interface is great for quick reference. However, for more complex source code, you may want to view multiple files at the same time or over an extended period of time. In this case, we recommend downloading and viewing the source code through a text editor such as Sublime Text.
Download source code
Downloading a repository from GitHub takes just two clicks.
At the top of each repository, below the line showing the total number of commits, branches, packages, releases, and contributors, you will see a green button labeled Clone or Upload. Click on it and select “Download ZIP archive”.
By default, the upstream download of the current repository will start as a ZIP file. When finished, all you need to do is extract the archive to a local folder on your computer. Then, using a text editor, you can open any repository files much faster without a browser.
Unless you’re an experienced programmer, GitHub can be a little confusing at first. If you just think of it as an open source directory with a readme file at the top level, that’s not too big a deal. Browsing source code with GitHub is easy both locally and through the web interface.