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GitLab plans to delete dormant projects in free accounts

Hopes to save a quarter of hosting costs by binning repos that haven't been touched for a year

Exclusive GitLab plans to automatically delete projects if they've been inactive for a year and are owned by users of its free tier.

The Register has learned that such projects account for up to a quarter of GitLab's hosting costs, and that the auto-deletion of projects could save the cloudy coding collaboration service up to $1 million a year. The policy has therefore been suggested to help GitLab's finances remain sustainable.

People with knowledge of the situation, who requested anonymity as they are not authorized to discuss it with the media, told The Register the policy is scheduled to come into force in September 2022.

GitLab is aware of the potential for angry opposition to the plan, and will therefore give users weeks or months of warning before deleting their work. A single comment, commit, or new issue posted to a project during a 12-month period will be sufficient to keep the project alive.

The Register understands some in the wider GitLab community worry that the policy could see projects disappear before users have the chance to archive code on which they rely. As many open-source projects are widely used, it is feared that the decision could have considerable negative impact.

Geoff Huntley, an open-source advocate, and participant in the open .Net community, described the policy as “absolutely wild.”

“Source code does not take up much disk space,” he told The Register. “For someone to delete all that code is destruction of the community. They are going to destroy their brand and goodwill."

"People host their code there because there is this idea it will be available to the general public to reuse and remix," he added. "Of course there are no guarantees it will always be hosted there, but the unwritten rules in open source are that you make the code available and you don’t remove it."

"We have had maintainers pull code and there has been huge community outrage about it," he said, pointing out that other projects that depend on a deleted product will suffer.

"All the dependencies cannot compile," he lamented.

Huntley also contested whether a repo can be considered inactive.

"Software gets written and then it’s done. When you get to a point of perfection, does that make it inactive?"

GitLab's free tier offers 5GB of storage, 10GB of data transfers, and 400 CI/CD minutes per month, plus five users per namespace. The biz openly promotes its free tier as a customer recruitment and loyalty tool.

"Happy loyal free users become advocates of GitLab, which brings more users and strengthens our brand," states the company's pricing model. "We often see users of GitLab for personal projects then become internal champions to advocate their employers to buy GitLab. This personal use -> organizational use cross over and bottoms-up growth can't happen without our free product."

The pricing model document also states: "Free users increase our total user base, and a large user base makes 3rd party tools/APIs/integrations more likely to support GitLab, growing our ecosystem and enhancing our platform status," and suggests that free users lower customer acquisition costs.

Yet the company plans to gently discourage some use of the free product, with controlling costs its main aim.

The Register has contacted GitLab multiple times seeking comment on the policy. The company has not responded to our requests. If we receive a substantive reply, we will update this story. ®

Updated to add

GitLab has bowed to online pressure following our coverage and U-turned on its plan to delete projects automatically. Full story here.

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