GitHub aims to make apocalypse-proof open source code in Arctic Vault

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GitHub wants to ensure that its entire open source code repository survives an apocalypse by burying it deep in an arctic vault as one of many preservation strategies.

GitHub, which Microsoft bought last year for $ 7.5 billion, announced last week that it was creating the GitHub Arctic Code Vault as a data repository for the existing Arctic World Archive. The AWA is a very long-term archival facility approximately 0.16 miles deep in the permafrost of an arctic mountain.

Located in a disused coal mine in the Svalbard Archipelago, the archives are closer to the North Pole than the Arctic Circle. GitHub will capture a snapshot of each public repository active on 02/02/2020 and keep that data in the Arctic Code Vault.

Svalbard is regulated by the International Treaty of Svalbard as a demilitarized zone. It is the location of the world’s northernmost city and one of the most isolated and geopolitically stable human habitations on Earth.

Future historians will be able to learn more about us from open source projects and metadata, and may view the current age of open source ubiquity, volunteer communities and Moore’s Law as historically significant, according to GitHub.

“The human race has developed many ways to self-destruct, ranging from nuclear holocaust to global warming,” observed Steve Foley, CEO of Bulk Memory Cards.

“So it’s probably a good idea to preserve what we know, somewhere, in case a few people survive Armageddon,” he told LinuxInsider.

Not an isolated effort

GitHub has partnered with many organizations to ensure the security of its open source data, no matter what threatens its sustainability. GitHub considers its vast collection of open source projects to be the cornerstone of modern civilization.

The organization wants open source technology to survive climate change, political conflict and anything that may arise from the current general state of world affairs. As part of its plans, GitHub will use Microsoft’s Project Silica as another Doomsday storage option.

The Silica project will provide further assistance to archive all public repositories active for more than 10,000 years. The plan is to write them on quartz glass platters using a femtosecond laser. Microsoft recently announced a completed concept test of the new glass data technology by storing a copy of the 1978 Superman movie with the technology.

GitHub has partnered with the Long Now Foundation, the Internet Archive, the Software Heritage Foundation, the Arctic World Archive, Microsoft Research, the Bodleian Library, and the Stanford Libraries to ensure the long-term preservation of the open source software of the world. The goal is to store multiple copies in various data formats and locations.


Computer hardware can outlast most current storage media, especially older ones and / or those with hidden ROM. There are a range of possible futures where functioning modern computers exist, but much of their software has been lost to decay. The archive program will keep this software, according to GitHub.

Arctic vaults weren’t built for the sole purpose of supporting GitHub’s plans, but preserving software code is a major goal.

“Various other objects from around the world are also stored there, such as scientific and historical documents and valuable works of art. There is also a seed chest nearby ensuring the future of the crops, ”Foley noted.

An apocalypse safe is one of those things that you don’t need until you do. The hope is that it will never be necessary, but if the option is on the table, it makes sense to use it, he suggested.

How it works

For the Arctic World Archive, GitHub will store the data on 3,500-foot reels of film, supplied and encoded by Piql, a Norwegian company specializing in very long-term data storage. The film technology is based on silver halides residing on polyester.

The result should provide a minimum lifespan of 500 years for the archived data. Simulated aging tests indicate that Piql’s film will last twice as long, allowing data to survive a millennium.

The stored data will be QR encoded, and a human readable index and guide will detail the location of each repository and explain how to retrieve the data.

Is long term storage really necessary?

The answer depends on several factors. Code is like writing. Some of them are great and important, and must be preserved, said Chris Nicholson, CEO of Skymind.

“Storing all of GitHub’s open source code in an arctic vault seems both useful and unnecessary,” he told LinuxInsider.

“There are big plans and also a ton of bad and unnecessary ones. I think they should shoot it, ”Nicholson said. “Survivors of a nuclear holocaust will neither have the time nor the inclination to go through 10,000 reimplementations of a JavaScript web tool.”


It also depends on the nature of the apocalyptic event. For example, seed bank managers have already made adjustments based on the impact of climate change on the Arctic, noted Foley of Bulk Memory Cards.

“The GitHub plan is designed to preserve data for 1,000 years; even if the entire planet loses electricity, it can be read with a magnifying glass, ”he said.

Skeptical point of view

A computer code storage program is necessary if you believe that in a post-apocalyptic hell someone will care enough about open source coding to mount an Arctic expedition, said Charles King, senior analyst at Pund-IT. .

The chances are not very good that GitHub’s plan will actually work, he suggested.

First, someone should search, find, and access the repository. Then there is the issue of decoding instructions from discoverers, starting power supplies, starting up systems, and learning to code.

“The further you move away from the day when materials are stored, the less likely it is that the optimistic outcome envisioned by GitHub will happen,” King told LinuxInsider.

GitHub’s plan is almost certainly a PR game designed to generate buzz for the company, said Phil Strazzulla, founder of Select Software Reviews.

“Think about all the servers stored around the world that have repositories of this code. The only way the Arctic Vault would be useful is if all of human civilization is essentially wiped out, and then some other life form eventually finds and parses this code, ”he told LinuxInsider.

He sees the result as the absence of any future scenarios in which backing up open source technology would become useful, even if you think there is a high likelihood of doomsday scenarios.

“It’s more of a calculation of the cost of the effort versus the amount of press it will generate,” Strazzulla said.

Back to the future

GitHub’s plan could be vital or unnecessary. He suggests one of two outcomes for the long-term value of open source technology.

It depends on how you see the future, observed Rob Enderle, senior analyst at Enderle Group.

We seem to ignore the risks that could end the human race, both natural and artificial. This code storage would offset some of that risk, he said.

“The effort can work, but it will depend on the nature of the disaster,” Enderle told LinuxInsider.

For example, if disaster wipes out most lives, that effort may work. If that wipes out all life, we’ll be done anyway.

“Open source should make the effort more viable,” Enderle said, “because the skills needed will be more widespread and therefore more likely to survive. This could greatly improve the chances of survival after the disaster. ”

Opposing views on values

It’s hard to say what storage efforts suggest about the value of open source in a recovering world, argued the King of Pund-IT. To be charitable, it’s laudable that GitHub cares enough about its code to mount such a complex effort.

“On a more cynical point of view, the company may be just trying to distract from employees who continue to quit because of GitHub’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” he noted.

Big question: will it work?

One of the big risks with this plan is that the code depends on an entire software stack: hardware, assembly language, and some form of electricity. The chips the code runs on are really incredibly complex, noted Skymind’s Nicholson.

“You would need all of this underlying infrastructure to run the GitHub code stores. I hope GitHub will include some template material in its vault as well. It would be too much to ask to include a fab, ”he said.

For the survival of technology, open source stands out for two reasons:

First, you can increase the positive feedback loops between the people who write the code and those who use it. This leads to much better quality of code compared to closed source projects with a limited number of users viewing the source.

“The importance of this cannot be understated,” Nicholson said.

Second, the open source code minimizes legal risks. It is also extremely important, he added, noting that an excellent closed source code should probably be placed in the vault.

“But why risk a lawsuit?” Nicholson reasoned. “Open source really does move the company forward in a lot of ways, based on the work of a few dedicated teams and a relatively small number of core committers. “


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