For my master thesis I should write a simulation program, and compare the results with the results I get from commercial programs. Now I found a already existing script with exact the data I need on github which does all the background work for me, and I can modify it for my specific purposes. The script is already based on a public available script.
My approach would have be the same, but I would have needed some time to bring it to this extent. Now I am not sure how I can use this script in my thesis: Can I use it (github does not allow PMs to ask the author this question), and how should I cite it? I know that I have to cite the author in my literature appendix in each case, but how far do I have to mark my changings in the code?

  • You could file an issue report asking the author the question.
    – Fomite
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 1:23

1 Answer 1


Assuming the license on the code permits it there's nothing wrong with using open source code in your thesis. If the license is an open-source style license which allows derivative works you don't even need to contact the author for permission though it may be polite to do so.

How it should be cited depends on the citations style your thesis is to be written with but has come up before on the site.

How do you cite a Github repository?

In general you're golden as long as you make it extremely clear that your work is an extension of existing code and make it extremely clear what the source is. If this is central to your thesis then I'd mention it prominently in the text rather than simply listing it as a citation.

If it's academic/scientific code there may be documentation on the authors site specifying what publication should be cited in relation to the code .

If you want to show exactly what you've done yourself you can generate a file listing all the changed/added/removed lines which you can attach as an appendix.

I did almost exactly this as part of my MSc: taking an open source tool and adding extra functionality to it then publishing it with changes.

Edit: if there's no license then you'll need to get in contact with the author somehow. This may help. https://stackoverflow.com/a/12687679/3535153

  • There is no license available on the readme, the readme itself is not even finished. The author itself also has no own web page which could cite it. The contribution to my thesis is ~20% saved work.
    – arc_lupus
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 15:07
  • 2
    @arc_lupus if there's no license then you'll need to get in contact with the author somehow. This may help. stackoverflow.com/a/12687679/3535153
    – Murphy
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 16:09
  • Tested it, user used a non-reachable mail for his repos...
    – arc_lupus
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 22:09
  • From Github's help page: Generally speaking, the absence of a license means that the default copyright laws apply. But also, by that user posting it on Github he has accepted their ToS which means: specifically, you allow others to view and fork your repository. Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 21:48
  • Expanding on @AustinHenley's comment, "default copyright laws" essentially say you have no permission from the author to do anything with the work. You will have to get in touch with them somehow.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 16:45

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