From Vite’s Popularity to Selenium’s Legacy: What Defines Open Source Success?




6 mins read


There’s no doubt that in tech, success is assumed based on the loudest voices or the spiciest headlines. But that doesn’t mean that those people and projects are actually the most successful. What truly defines the best open source projects, and why should we care? Although the recentState of JavaScript Awards isn’t specifically for open source, it can still provide more context into this question.

Consider Vite, a build tool that swept multiple categories in the State of JavaScript awards, including “Most Adopted Technology.” If we’re to look at any open source project as successful, I think that taking as many awards as it did, would qualify Vite as successful. Beyond that, in the last year alone, it’s seen 860 contributors, 9,232 Stars, and 1,258 forks. However, it is worth noting that their top four contributors made 46% of all their commits and only 20% of their stargazers and forkers come back to make a meaningful contribution. All of these metrics together tell a story of a healthy, growing project that has captured the attention of the JavaScript community.

To learn more about why Vite is everywhere, check out Evan You’s episode of The Secret Sauce

But the story of top open source projects isn’t always about the most visible or hyped technologies. Take Selenium, for instance. As Jason Huggins, its creator, recently pointed out:

“Selenium is the biggest open source success story never told. We’re now at exactly 20 years since the first lines of code were written. Since then, it has launched countless careers and companies. Did you know the Selenium Test Automation User Group on LinkedIn alone has almost 250K users?!”

Selenium’s journey shows that the best open source projects aren’t always the ones grabbing headlines. They can be the ones that demonstrate remarkable longevity, sustaining their relevance over years, and providing paths to success for individual contributors as well. The long-term success of a project like Selenium, which has remained vital for over two decades, highlights the importance of durability and consistent value in the open source ecosystem. This kind of sustained impact is a testament to the project’s adaptability and the community’s continuous support and improvement efforts, demonstrating that longevity is an important metric of success in open source.

In the last year, we’ve seen 560 total contributors to Selenium, with 3,631 stars and 743 forks as well. It might not have the same explosiveness as Vite, but it clearly shows success with its consistency and staying power.

What Makes a Top Open Source Project?

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve started most of my mornings checking out the top new stars and top new forks over the last 24 hours and adding them to my (linked above) workspaces. We know that starred repositories aren’t a great indicator of project success and a sudden spike in forks often indicates some sort of spam project, but they can still be useful for identifying trends, understanding project engagement, and spotting rising stars. It’s important to recognize that stars or forks or any other metric alone cannot provide a complete picture of a project’s long-term viability or community support.

Understanding these metrics in the context of other qualitative and quantitative data helps provide a more comprehensive view of a project’s health and trajectory. They are pieces of a larger puzzle that, when combined with insights into awareness, retention, and community engagement, can help paint a fuller picture of what makes an open source project successful. The truth is, the best open source projects often share several key characteristics:

  • Solve Real Problems: Top open source projects address genuine pain points in the developer community.
  • Active Community: The best open source projects create engaged communities that contribute to their growth and evolution, with a high contributor confidence, and a variety of contributors, including recurring, new, and internal.
  • Sustainability: Long-term viability is key for top open source projects, ensuring they can be trusted for years to come. There should be clear trends that indicate a healthy project, including a variety of committers to the project, reducing the lottery factor.
  • Innovation: The best open source projects often push the boundaries of what’s possible, driving the entire industry forward.

How do the Projects in the State of JS Awards Compare?

So how does the State of JS look, when we get up close? Let’s take a look at the workspace I created with all the winners and runners-ups.

state of js repo stats

Pull Requests and Issues: Indicators of Activity and Engagement

This workspace shows impressive numbers for all the projects over the last year:

  • 14.5k PRs opened
  • 14.2k merged
  • 7.7k issues opened
  • 15.6k closed issues

Every single project has a high activity level. Next.js alone has an astonishing 3,367 PRs with a velocity of 4 days and a high engagement ratio. This high velocity indicates a well-managed project where contributions are reviewed and merged promptly, reflecting an active and responsive maintainer team.

The velocity of issue closure, averaging 209 days across projects, also provides insight into the project’s responsiveness to user feedback and bugs. While a high number of closed issues indicates healthy problem-solving, the velocity can highlight areas where improvements are needed. Projects with lower closure times are likely more efficient in handling user concerns, contributing to higher user satisfaction and retention.

Contributor Diversity and Sustained Engagement

The data reveals significant contributions from across projects. For example, React boasts 503 contributors, showcasing a broad base of active participants. This diversity reduces the “lottery factor,” ensuring that the project does not overly depend on a few key individuals.

React stats

Additionally, the consistency in contributor activity over the last 360 days, shows ongoing interest and sustained participation. Projects like Vitest and Astro show steady contributor activity, suggesting that these projects have successfully maintained their community’s interest and involvement over time.

Engagement Metrics: Stars and Forks

Projects like Storybook and Bun also show high levels of new forks and stars, suggesting they are gaining traction and interest. This can be particularly telling of projects that are on the rise, capturing the attention of developers looking for new tools and frameworks to integrate into their workflows.

High-Performance and High-Velocity Projects

The workspace highlights several projects with both high performance and high velocity in managing PRs and issues. Projects like Playwright and Bun demonstrate a remarkable balance between high PR activity and low velocity, indicating a streamlined contribution process and a responsive maintainer team.

Bonus: Going Deeper with the Lottery Factor

I wanted to learn a little more about these projects, so I asked StarSearch to tell me more about their Lottery Feature. I was genuinely surprised at what’s happening in some of the repositories. Here’s what I learned:

lottery factor

Looking Into the Future of Open Source Success

In the conclusion of the State of JavaScript Report, Cassidy Williams notes an interesting shift in sentiment: “The fact that so many ‘smaller’ libraries like Preact, Solid, and htmx are climbing in positive sentiment over something massive like Next.js is fascinating. We’re starting to see Angular make a bit of a comeback, and we’ll see if that trend continues next year. We’re seeing people fall out of love with some of the industry darlings. We’re seeing very Rusty systems grow. Astro feels like it’s off to the races in developer support.”

Cassidy underscores an important observation about the open source ecosystem: success isn’t solely determined by size or initial popularity. Smaller, more focused projects can gain significant traction and developer loyalty by addressing specific needs effectively.

Understanding these metrics helps provide a more nuanced view of what makes an open source project successful. It's not just about the initial burst of popularity but about building a sustainable, engaged community that can support and grow the project over the long term.

In Huggins' words, "Good thing we didn't do it for the fame and glory, huh?" Perhaps it's time we started giving projects like Selenium the glory they deserve.

BekahHW profile picture


Bekah graduated from a coding bootcamp in May of 2019 and since then has spent time as a frontend developer, started the Virtual Coffee tech community, spent time in DevRel and has continued to mom her four kids. She currently co-hosts the and Virtual Coffee podcasts, lifts heavy things in her free time, & works as the Developer Experience Lead at OpenSauced.

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