Esri Open Source: A Year On and Growing

Esri has several initiatives developing an open platform. A year ago, I blogged about our foray into consolidating our code and the GIS community to GitHub as our forum for sharing, and indeed actively working, on open-source code. At the time we had about 50 projects and a few dozen engineers. A modest though nascent beginning for a large enterprise and community of users that number in the millions.

Since then, we have organically grown the understanding and utilization of open-source both internal to Esri as well as heavily promoted to our developer community. The value is clear: through active and public collaboration we can effectively deliver a platform that empowers anyone with the freedom and ownership to customize solutions to their own domain. Our community spans the entire domain of government, science, education, commercial, and industrial practice. As a company it would be impossible for us to effectively serve every users need. Instead, open-source enables the community to scale itself.

State of the Source

Today we now support more than 200 open source projects in our GitHub organization, and over 600 Esri developers that directly collaborate on these and numerous other personal open-source projects. We have released projects that cover nearly every level of the technology stack, from web frameworks to mobile apps to big data geoprocessingStory Maps enable you to develop location narratives, local government tools for civic developers, spatial analysis dashboards, and integration with R.

Social coding is more than hosting projects. The community has actively participated. There are more than 1,700 watchers, 1,700 forks, and most importantly, almost 900 pull-requests in our public repositories. (Interestingly, while the numbers of watcher and forks are nearly the same, they vary widely across projects, indicating preferences by domain or language to monitor versus participate).

That doesn’t even account for the magnitude of projects each of these 600+ engineers maintain on their own – so explore a few of the engineers.

Changing How We Work

This transition is much more than skin deep – it is fundamentally changing how we build our software. Esri now uses GitHub Enterprise to host all of our code internally. Social coding happens across the company, where anyone can submit a pull-request (and subsequent automated testing, comments, and rebasing) to nearly any other part of our platform. We realize that good ideas come from many places–sometimes from deep in engineering and other times from sitting next to the customers and users seeing how they work. We need to reduce the friction for collaboration while maintaining transparency and stability.

Next week at our annual DevSummit, GitHub CEO and Co-Founder Chris Wanstrath is keynoting, sharing his experience to the entire community as well as working with us to learn how we are growing a 40-year-old successful enterprise with new tools and methodologies.

Many Sides of Open

An Open platform has many aspects and we have a number of open initiatives. Our open-source work enables developers access and freedom to re-use code to create technical solutions. We continue to be supporters of open standards that enable interoperability between solutions. Open Data is the fuel that powers any solution and across our community we are making it easier to quickly and effectively share authoritative and high-quality data to the world. And for the domain experts, students, and everyone, our Creative Commons licensed open content means learning and sharing the knowledge to actually make sense of it all.

It’s been a year and it has been tremendous the growth we’ve seen. However, for anyone that has a basic understanding of physics it’s the initial acceleration that’s the most difficult. I’m excited what will happen over the next year now that we’re really getting up to speed!

Andrew Turner

About Andrew Turner

Andrew is the CTO of the Esri R&D Center in Washington, DC. He and his team work on engineering innovative new web technology making GIS open and accessible to everyone. Andrew wrote the book on Neogeography, has contributed to several open data standards, and other publications regarding geospatial business, community collaboration, feedback control system design, and even home automation. His education includes degrees in Aerospace Engineering and Computer Science. Follow Andrew on Twitter @ajturner or read his blog
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  1. azolnai says:

    Great exposé as we all have come to expect of you, Andrew!  I have the highest regard for you and for Marten Hogeweg and Vic Kouyoumjian who brought the ‘open sauce’ to Jack’s table. Yet you said it best in your Geohipster interview: I now have the support of a global community of users across government, business and organizations that are already using our tools and platform to manage their data (emphasis mine).I understand from my recent tenure @ Esri(Kuwait) that Esri’s main remit is ArcGIS Server, and that your viewpoint is now Esri-centric. You should also know I was an early adopter of, not only as a former Esri industry manager but also via common interest in history with Charlie Frye and Geo Dailey. But contrast my map story from Excel files on the Neolithic spread of agriculture, and the same map story Owen Evans posted via Esri server. What I’m getting at is that I found myself on the outside looking in, even as a motivated early adopter: I cannot load large data sets on as I have neither access to ArcGIS Server nor a paid account on So what do I do? I simply go to more flexible alternatives: I post the same data as layer packages and web maps on, shape files on ShareGeo,  and directly my AWS service… And those less motivated than me will most likely not even try Esri options, which would be a crying shame for you in particular and the community at large!I am appealing to you that you extend a freemium model that allows access for free or a nominal fee (like ArcGIS Desktop for Home Use that I have) to early adopters / beta testers and/or for personal use / academic research. This would complement the currently opaque subscriptions to (despite my comms with Martin Copping on that), and the legitimate full-fee access via ArcGIS Server for commercial use (that is your sweet spot). 

  2. matt wilkie says:

    As long time open source user (and 15 year Arcinfo Workstation to ArcGIS Desktop veteran) and occasional contributor I’ve been watching Esri’s foray into this world into with interest, and, I must admit, a great measure of scepticism. We’ve seen a lot of closed source commercial entities talk up open source, throw a few cherry picked chunks of code over the wall, sit back and wait for free labour and kudos to come flowing in, and then walk away complaining that open source just doesn’t work when the community fails to materialize.I’m encouraged that Esri’s entrance does not appear to be following this pattern, that it really is as claimed, more than skin deep. Bottoms up to the trend being sustained and permanent!