DoD Experiments with Open Source Via
February 27, 2017
Code.mil is an open source initiative that allows software developers
around the world to collaborate on unclassified code written by federal
employees in support of DoD projects.
DoD is working with GitHub, an open source platform, to experiment with
fostering more collaboration between private sector software developers
and federal employees on software projects built within the DoD. The
Code.mil URL redirects users to an online repository that will house
code written for a range of projects across DoD for individuals to
review and make suggested changes.
This is a direct avenue for the department to tap into a worldwide
community of developers to collectively speed up and strengthen the
software development process. In exchange, DoD program code hosted on
GitHub will be open and available for individuals to reuse and repurpose
for personal and public projects.
Creating new communities in open source
Open source and free software (which refers to software freedom, not
free of cost) are industry best practices and integral parts of modern
software development. They, however, are concepts yet to be widely
adopted within the department. With Code.mil, DoD can access a depth and
breadth of technical skill previously underutilized while offering
software tools created by the government for free public use.
Another objective for Code.mil is to create a network of peers between
the federal government and the developer community to encourage
participation, share knowledge, and make connections in support of DoD
programs that ultimately service our national security.
The Defense Digital Service (DDS) spearheads the Code.mil initiative.
DDS was established in 2015 to bring private sector best practices,
talent, and technology into the department. DDS is a team of
self-described nerds who come in on short stints from companies such as
Google, Amazon, and Netflix to work on problems impacting DoD. Current
projects include “Hack the Pentagon,” Next Generation GPS (OCX) and
Defense Travel System modernization.
Open source challenges in government
faces unique challenges in open sourcing its code. Code written by
federal government employees typically does not have copyright
protections under U.S. and some international laws, which creates
difficulties in attaching open source licenses.
Code.mil is experimenting with a legal pathway of using contract law in
the Defense Open Source Agreement to add commonly used licenses to DoD
software projects. DDS consulted with the Open Source Initiative and
Free Software Foundation on devising a comprehensive approach to both
open and free software.
“We want to better incorporate the norms of the open source and free
software communities into the department,” said Sharon Woods, DDS legal
counsel. “We hope this agreement will serve as a bridge so we can use
widely adopted open source licenses even without U.S. copyright
Call to action
In true open source fashion, DDS is hosting an open call to developers,
lawyers, and other members of the open source and free software
communities across the government and private industry to comment and
review a draft open source agreement that is currently available on
and will be finalized by the end of March. The draft can be found at
The DDS will be the first to host project code written by their team of
developers on Code.mil upon finalization of the open source agreement.