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COVID-19 Impact on Developer Productivity As Measured By Utilization of Open Source

So here we are.  Six months into a post COVID-19 world.  Out of no where, the pandemic delivered a non-negotiable and global requirement for people to work from home.  Much has already been written by researchers about the impacts of COVID-19 on our every day lives.

But what if you're a software developer?  How has COVID-19 impacted your day-to-day life as a coder building applications?  At Sonatype, we started asking these questions back in mid-March as China was nearing its COVID-19 peak and the United States and other countries started imposing nationwide lockdowns to prevent further spread of the virus.

As the long time curators of The Central Repository (aka Maven Central) we have a unique research perspective and an ability to offer empirical data to help answer the question: How has COVID-19 impacted developer productivity as measured by utilization of open source?

For context, The Central Repository is the world's largest public directory of open source components serving the needs of more than 10 million java developers.  Over the years, members of the Java community have published more than 330,000 unique components and more than 5,000,000 unique component versions to the repository.  Ion 2019, the Central Repository serviced more than 246 billion download requests globally, up from 49% from 2018.

The purpose of this post is to compliment the findings recently offered by Dr. Forsgren and her team at GitHub and to share the results of our own research which measured open source component download requests, by country, from The Central Repository during a 15 month period from January 2019 through April 2020.

Starting at the Source: China

COVID-19 infections were first recorded in China in early December 2019.  Infections grew, businesses and communities were locked down, and the nation's response and pattern of recovery is now visible as shown by the following:

  • In Q1 2019, the volume of Central download requests immediately following the Chinese New Year increased from a holiday low of 44M to 246M over the next three weeks.

  • In Q1 2020, Central download requests hit their lowest levels between January 28th and February 4th due to the Chinese New Year holiday (Jan. 25) and China’s broader lockdown (Feb. 3).


  • In Q1 2020, the volume of Central download requests immediately following the Chinese New Year increased from a holiday low of 75M to 172M -- a 30% YOY decline compared to the same period in 2019.


  • Following a 16-week downturn, the volume of Central download requests originating from China have rebounded significantly -- but still remain 18% below their March 2019 levels.

  • Central download volume in China has risen steadily since February as COVID-19 restrictions eased.

China

Beginning to look at the data in mid-March 2020, we wondered if China's initial decline and subsequent increase in developer activity might be a proxy for the rest of the world. As the U.S. and other countries begin in March to impose restrictions, would Central Repository activity exhibit a similar decline/rebound?  Or would cultural, technology, and work from home differences be illuminated?  Only time would tell, as we tracked activity levels across the globe over the next month.

Some Countries Accelerated Activity in the Midst of COVID-19 Lockdowns

As mid-April approached, a variety of developer activity patterns emerged in each country.  For the United States, Germany and Italy, developer activity had shown a steady increase throughout 2020.  The same increases could be tracked further back through early 2019.

  • The United States has seen a 75% increase in Central download requests since January 2019 and a 6% increase since early January 2020.

  • Italy has experienced a 52%  increase in developer activity since early January 2019 and a 16% increase since January 2020.

  • Germany experienced a 84% increase in developer activity since early January 2019 and a 12% increase since January 2020.

USA

Open source download requests by developers,
United States (Jan. 2019-Apr. 2020)
Italy

Open source download requests by developers,
Italy (Jan. 2019-Apr. 2020)

Some Countries Decelerated Activity in the Midst of COVID-19 Lockdowns

While developer activity across the globe has seen significant increases over the past 16 months, COVID-19 related lockdowns, workplace closures, and work from home policies have had a negative impact on some countries.  For example:

  • Great Britain developer activity declined 28% since February 29th, following a 78% increase in activity from early 2019 through early 2020.

  • Spain witnessed a 28% decline from March 7th to its April 11th low, following a 50% increase in activity from early 2019 through early 2020.

  • India saw an 18% decline in developer activity between February 8th and April 18th, following an 82% increase in activity from early 2019 through early 2020.

GreatBritainOpen source download requests by developers, 
Great Britain (Jan. 2019-Apr. 2020)

Spain

Open source download requests by developers,
Spain (Jan. 2019-Apr. 2020)
IndiaOpen source download requests by developers,
India (Jan. 2019-Apr. 2020)

In these and other countries we observed, there seems to be a strong correlation between COVID-19 related lockdowns and measurable declines in developer activity. These declines are especially apparent when comparing year over year activity levels, where one can see predictable and repeated declines around December holidays, Easter breaks, and summer vacations. Shortly after the predictable declines, we see the expected rebounds follow. Yet in the face of COVID-19 outbreaks, the rebounds were less apparent or simply non-existent.

Conclusion

COVID-19 has made it an incredibly challenging time for all of us -- even software developers. That said, given the unique nature of the software development profession (digital in nature and conducive to remote work) the impact of COVID-19 on developer productivity as measured by utilization of open source has been mostly modest and seemingly temporary.  We have seen the pattern of a V-shaped recovery begin to emerge in China, and where other countries have witnessed declines in March and April, we are now seeing signs that download activity is increasing.

Our goal in sharing this data is to help the world's developer community understand COVID-19's impact on day-to-day work habits of developers and to further shed light on the ever-growing utilization of open source and third-party libraries that help accelerate innovation.

In July of this year, we will expand further on this research when we publish our annual State of the Software Supply Chain Report.

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Written by Brian Fox

Brian Fox is a software developer, innovator and entrepreneur. He is an active contributor within the open source development community, most prominently as a member of the Apache Software Foundation and former Chair of the Apache Maven project. As the CTO and co-founder of Sonatype, he is focused on building a platform for developers and DevOps professionals to build high-quality, secure applications with open source components.