While I have worked on open source software myself I'm, strangely, uncertain about how to cite it in a paper. I do know how to cite software itself, I'm just uncertain which author(s) to attribute it to.

I've got two programs to cite, one of which is a fork, with different copyrights over different files, not to mention the many unmentioned contributors to that work.

Do I just cop out and go "main contributor et. al"? And in the case of the fork, do I take the original author of the original software or the author of the fork?

  • 1
    Much open source software provides guidance on how to cite it, e.g. scipy.org/citing.html and some style guides, e.g. APA, also offer advice. blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2015/01/…
    – Stuart F
    Oct 4, 2019 at 13:36
  • Unfortunately the software I'm working with does not come with its own guidance, as it's not software normally used for research but rather related to file management (in this case, files containing research data). The APA Guideline gives me some confidence I'm heading in the right direction, by citing the main programmers. I guess I'll keep it at that for the draft and see if someone corrects me on it later. Oct 4, 2019 at 21:28
  • @StuartF Can you please change your comment into an answer?
    – jakebeal
    Oct 6, 2019 at 19:48

1 Answer 1


@MadeOfMagicAndWires, I have worked with open-source software and even using it (Linux). So citing an open-source software in your journal will require you to check out the main source (repository owner as in GitHub) and cite according to using APA format or the format of citing you are required to use.

  • This is what I've done as well, but I was a bit uncertain about who would count as an author in these cases. Is it just the owner of the repository, or everyone that has contributed to the software? In case of forks, or when an app makes use other open-source software where different files will often have different copyright holders, do you cite those? It's funny that, as someone who has contributed to open-source, I am quite sure on the licenses and copyright holders of this type of software themselves, but not quite sure on how that translates to academic contribution. Oct 10, 2019 at 20:05
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    @MadeOfMagicAndWires, Please check this out: google.com/…
    – Whizkevina
    Oct 11, 2019 at 10:02
  • Thanks, this is helpful, but it doesn't really go into who to cite, which is the big clincher for me. The example they give for example, only cites one author, when it has three contributors. Oct 11, 2019 at 21:15

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