This year, I officially became a Github Arctic Code Vault Contributor – which means that code written by me has been added to a very long-term code archive, located in Svalbard, and will be safely preserved there for up to 1000 years – and I’m very proud of it!
You can read more about the Github Archive Program here – https://archiveprogram.github.com – but in essence, the aim of the project is to preserve open-source software for future generations. Open-source refers to software that is made fully available for free – so not only is the finished product available for anybody to use, but the actual code is published as well. This means that other developers are free to further modify that code to suit their own purposes – the idea behind open-source is to encourage co-operation and collaboration between software developers, to improve the quality of software for everyone.
Github is currently the largest online repository of open-source software, with over 190 million projects stored, all free and accessible to anyone in the world 24-7. So it’s definitely worth preserving all that work and knowledge for the future!
As Github explain, almost all of the data that we currently rely on every day is stored on ephemeral media – hard disk drives, solid-state drives, CDs, floppy disks – and these can vary from a few years working life, to maybe 20-30 years in some cases. A global disaster could plausibly cause the loss of much of the data and software that a lot of our lives revolve around, whether we know it or not. So there are a number of organisations who seek to preserve that data on much more durable, longer-lasting media.
This year, Github took copies of all the active projects on it’s platform, and submitted those to the Code Vault in the Arctic World Archive, 250 meters beneath the ice in a decommissioned coal mine in Svalbard – one of the safest places on Earth to store archived data. As mentioned above, this includes some of my own work – a plugin for the popular content management system, WordPress, which itself is made up of open-source software. You can read more about my plugin here – https://bricknellbarlow.co.uk/plugins-that-im-proud-of/
One problem with storing data for a long time is that by the time that data is retrieved, technology will have advanced so far that it’ll be very difficult or even impossible to read it. Anyone who has needed to retrieve data from a 2.5″ floppy disk in 2020 will know exactly what I mean – even storage mediums from 20 years ago are difficult to access now. To solve that problem, the Code Vault will store the data on a custom plastic tape, encoding the data similarly to a QR code. Instructions will be included with the tapes to instruct on decoding it, and index the location of all the software contained within.
So in 1000 year’s time, when future humans want to see how software looked and functioned in the past, some of the code they’ll have to study will be mine – and that’s a humbling and exciting thought!