Specialty Library Archetype
Characteristics: Specialty libraries provide base functionality to a set of functions whose implementation requires specialized knowledge at the leading edge of research. For example, developers shouldn’t roll their own crypto or codecs; instead, everyone benefits from easy access to a pooled set of code built by experts.
These libraries are fairly commoditized, as the set of capabilities for such a library is fairly fixed. Any ssl or mp4 library is going to do roughly the same thing. Competing libraries might differ at the API level, but there is no arms race over features. Given the lack of opportunity for competitive advantage in developing one’s own library, most of those capable of contributing have every reason to do it as part of an open source project that shares pooled development costs and benefits.
Widespread adoption of a specific open source library can power standardization work and also increase adoption of formal and informal standards. Coupled with careful approaches to patents, this can open up access to participants who aren’t attached to companies with deep pockets and large patent portfolios.
Specialty libraries look like open source projects with high barriers to entry. Anybody can submit a patch, but landing it might require a high degree of expert work before it is accepted into core. Coding standards are high. There is often less developer outreach and hand-holding of new developers as participants are largely assumed to be experienced and capable. In a heavily patented area or one subject to export controls, acceptance policies might be more complex and even involve legal review.
Examples: libssl, libmp4
Licensing: Usually non-copyleft.
Community standards: High barriers to entry, largely because contributors are expected to be experts.
Component coupling: Tightly coupled. These libraries are structured to do one thing well.
Main benefits: Ensures a shared solution to a specific technical problem. Cooperation at the engineering level can lead to new organizational partnerships.
Typical governance: Formal committer group that can grant committing privileges to new contributors.