Black Duck Swallows Up Koders Code Search Engine

4/28/08Follow @wroush

Waltham, MA-based Black Duck Software, whose products help companies manage big software projects that incorporate open-source code and other third-party software, said today that it has acquired Santa Monica, CA-based Koders, proprietor of the Web’s leading open-source code search engine.

Black Duck paddled up to software developers in 2004 with the promise of helping them vet all of the snippets of open-source code that were, even then, finding their way into major software products. While much of this code is free, the problem is that it’s still subject to various, often conflicting licenses, exposing companies to potential litigation when they try to sell or redistribute programs that use it. BlackDuck’s “protexIP” system scans software for third-party components and highlights potential license conflicts and legal issues.

In the years since the company introduced protexIP, software development has become an even more synthetic, cut-and-paste process; most big programs these days are assembled from existing modules rather than written from scratch. In response, Black Duck came up with a new product, Code Center, that helps companies manage and track their growing jumble of code modules (whether open source or not) all the way through the development, review, and approval process.

Black Duck CEO Doug Levin says that left only one hole in the company’s offerings: a way for developers to identify appropriate code modules to put into their products in the first place. Hence the Koders acquisition. Koders.com is one of the most popular code search engines; it’s a place where a developer who wants to incorporate a shopping-cart function into his e-commerce software, for example, can type in “shopping cart” and get back hundreds of snippets of code culled from public software repositories that may answer the need.

“The first rule of being an engineer is don’t reinvent the wheel,” says Levin. “We’ve heard from our customers that they would desire a Black Duck solution for identifying components they can apply to their code from outside…. Over a period of time we saw the synergies between Koders and Black Duck, and we just decided we should acquire [the service] rather than rebuilding it ourselves.”

With the inclusion of search functionality from Koders, Black Duck Code Center users will be able to save significant amounts of time on software development projects, says Darren Rush, Koders’ CEO. “Say you’re mid-stream down the development process and you run into a roadblock of some sort. You may want to identify a snippet of code that integrates some low-level function into your application and save yourself an hour. By re-using code you can leverage developer time on the scale of man-days or even man-weeks.”

In one sense, Black Duck’s products add an additional layer of bureaucracy to software development projects, making them a bit slower than it might be if developers were free to slam together code from any source they pleased. But code reviews are a permanent fact of life inside the commercial software world, since no company is going to let code out the door that exposes them to copyright suits or other legal risks. The other upside of vetting code so thoroughly is that once companies know it’s safe to use, they can use it over and over. “There are a lot of companies out there that don’t use open source at all because they don’t know how to control it,” says Peter Vescuso, Black Duck’s senior vice president of marketing. “This opens the door to a lot of companies to be able to manage it properly.”

Black Duck isn’t revealing the exact terms of the Koders acquisition. But Levin says Koders’ three employees, including Rush, will be retained on a consulting basis, and will continue to work from their current location in Santa Monica.

“They happen to like the Southern California vibe, and we happen to like the Northeastern vibe,” says Levin. The Koders.com search site will remain free and open to all developers, he says.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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