Imagine surviving WW3, rebuilding computers, opening up GitHub's underground vault just to relive JavaScript

We've heard of a code freeze but this is ridiculous: Microsoft finishes burying repos in Norwegian archipelago


Microsoft's GitHub on Thursday said that earlier this month it successfully deposited a snapshot of recently active GitHub public code repositories to an underground vault on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

GitHub captured every repo with at least one star and any commits dating back a year from February 2, 2020, and every repo with at least 250 stars, in an archival snapshot. The copied code consists of the HEAD of the default branch of each repo, apart from binaries exceeding 100KB, packaged as a single TAR file.

GitHub says most of the data has been stored QR-encoded and compressed. A human-readable index and guide have been stored too, to describe the location of each repository and to offer advice on recovery.

The data amounts to 21TB of code, written to 186 reels of piqlFilm, a digital archiving format that uses tape to allow files to be read offline. Boxes of these reels were delivered to Svalbard on July 8, 2020, to an underground storage vault that's similar in concept to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault though less plausibly useful.

"The code landed in Longyearbyen, a town of a few thousand people on Svalbard, where our boxes were met by a local logistics company and taken into intermediate secure storage overnight," said Julia Metcalf, director of strategic programs at GitHub, in a blog post.

"The next morning," she said, "it traveled to the decommissioned coal mine set in the mountain, and then to a chamber deep inside hundreds of meters of permafrost, where the code now resides fulfilling their mission of preserving the world’s open source code for over 1,000 years."

That may be a bit ambitious. PiqlFilm advertises a 500-year lifespan. But GitHub's blog post isn't likely to get the same preservation for posterity, so who will ever know?

GitHub staffers had planned to accompany the boxed reels on their journey to the Arctic but abandoned the junket in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cat yawning photo via Shutterstock

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The code-storage biz originally announced its plans for the Arctic Code Vault at its Universe 2019 shindig in November, 2019. The project is part of the GitHub Archive Program, an initiative the company has characterized as a way to preserve open source code for generations to come.

At the time, David Rosenthal, a veteran of Sun Microsystems and Nvidia and the co-creator of Stanford's LOCKSS [Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe] digital preservation program, expressed skepticism that anyone beyond the current generation will ever find the code useful. Nonetheless, he endorsed the spirit of the venture.

"No-one will decode this archive in the foreseeable future," he wrote in a blog post last year. "It is a PR stunt, or perhaps more accurately a koan, like the golden records of Voyager 1 and 2, or the Long Now's clock, to get people to think about the importance of the long term."

GitHub in fact is thinking more broadly about code preservation than just burying boxes in a Norwegian mine. The Arctic Code Vault is just one aspect of the GitHub Archive Program, which also encompasses "hot," "warm," and "cold," backup sources, where temperature refers to the frequency of updates.

Thus, GH Torrent and GH Archive provide "hot" storage that gets updated with recent events like pull requests. The Internet Archive and the Software Heritage Foundation provide "warm" GitHub archives that get updated occasionally.

Then there's "cold" storage like the Arctic Code Vault and Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, which will house a copy of the Svalbard data. Bugs in cold storage will be preserved in perpetuity or until cataclysm, whichever comes first.

Finally, there's the Microsoft Project Silica initiative to write data to quartz glass platters with a femtosecond laser in the hope it will last 10,000 years.

Here's to 10 millennia more of JQuery. ®

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