White House Updates Open Source Repository


The White House has recently uploaded their GitHub page with the source code for both the iOS and Android versions of their mobile application. This comes only two weeks after releasing the source code for “We the People“, the online petition software the White House developed under President Obama to facilitate better communication with the average citizen.

With these recent source releases, the Obama Administration has started to make good on their promises to operate their technology division with more transparency, and start embracing open source over the traditional proprietary software that dominates the US government.

Mobile Apps

White House application on Android

The iOS and Android mobile applications which recently had their source released are fairly basic, and do about as much as you would expect. Users are able to view blog postings, photos, and videos (which are really just links to the White House’s YouTube page). The application also has a section where users can watch live streaming videos as they occur, such as in the case of a news conference or special announcement.

According to the documentation included with it, the application is essentially an RSS reader, so it may be useful as a reference for developers looking to put together highly polished companion applications for their own sites.

On Android, the White House application depends on the following libraries:

Both the Android and iOS applications are released under the MIT license, which is a very permissive license:

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the “Software”), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

We the People

The previous source release, “We the People” is a Drupal application that let’s visitors to easily create, share, and vote on petitions:

Site visitors can create a user account, log in, and create petitions. Petition creators can share the URL for their petition to generate signatures. When the petition crosses a certain threshold, the petition becomes “public” and is listed as an open petition on the site’s “open petitions” page.

It’s available on the White House’s GitHub page, listed simply as “petition”. It’s requirements as of the current version are:

  • Drupal 7.x
  • MySQL 5.x
  • MongoDB 1.8
  • PHP 5.2 or 5.3

Unlike the mobile applications, which were apparently created 100% in house and use no existing code, “We the People” includes existing GPLv2 code, so therefore the whole package takes that same license. Like the MIT license, the GPL let’s the end user do pretty much anything they want with the code, though the GPL does have some specific requirements (like always acknowledging the original author).

Fork the White House

For all of the open source code released so far by the White House, the documentation makes it very clear that the developers are keen on getting other users (or even countries) to fork their code to develop new features or improvements. With nearly 90 forks (at the time of this writing) for all of the source released combined, it seems like the community is taking up the challenge.

While the politics of any particular administration are considerably outside the scope of this particular website, technical transparency is absolutely a step in the right direction. With such an outpouring of interest from the community in just a few short weeks, hopefully the Obama Administration will be inspired to continue opening up the source to their various internal and external projects.

About Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: www.digifail.com .