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Forking Without Clicking: on How to Identify Software Repository Forks

Abstract : The notion of software "fork" has been shifting over time from the (negative) phenomenon of community disagreements that result in the creation of separate development lines and ultimately software products, to the (positive) practice of using distributed version control system (VCS) repositories to collaboratively improve a single product without stepping on each others toes. In both cases the VCS repositories participating in a fork share parts of a common development history. Studies of software forks generally rely on hosting platform metadata, such as GitHub, as the source of truth for what constitutes a fork. These "forge forks" however can only identify as forks repositories that have been created on the platform, e.g., by clicking a "fork" button on the platform user interface. The increased diversity in code hosting platforms (e.g., GitLab) and the habits of significant development communities (e.g., the Linux kernel, which is not primarily hosted on any single platform) call into question the reliability of trusting code hosting platforms to identify forks. Doing so might introduce selection and methodological biases in empirical studies. In this article we explore various definitions of "software forks", trying to capture forking workflows that exist in the real world. We quantify the differences in how many repositories would be identified as forks on GitHub according to the various definitions, confirming that a significant number could be overlooked by only considering forge forks. We study the structure and size of fork networks , observing how they are affected by the proposed definitions and discuss the potential impact on empirical research.
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https://hal.inria.fr/hal-02527811
Contributor : Stefano Zacchiroli <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, April 1, 2020 - 2:39:19 PM
Last modification on : Friday, June 12, 2020 - 5:38:05 PM

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Antoine Pietri, Stefano Zacchiroli, Guillaume Rousseau. Forking Without Clicking: on How to Identify Software Repository Forks. MSR 2020 -17th International Conference on Mining Software Repositories, Oct 2020, Seoul, South Korea. ⟨10.1145/3379597.3387450⟩. ⟨hal-02527811⟩

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