A snapshot of the Bitcoin codebase will be encoded onto film reels and stored for a thousand years under the arctic ice in Svalbard, Norway. The move is part of the GitHub Archive Program, with a mission to preserve open-source software, for future generations to learn about the culture of today.

GitHub has partnered with institutions such as the Software Heritage Foundation, Arctic World Archive, and Oxford University’s Bodleian Library to ensure the long-term preservation of code, which could otherwise be abandoned, forgotten or lost.

With the ephemeral nature of much of today’s modern storage media, a solution requires the archiving of software across multiple organizations and longer-term storage forms. Online archivists use the acronym LOCKSS for this, which stands for “Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.”

Storage layers from hot to cold

The program has adopted a “pace layers” strategy, to maximize both flexibility and durability. Every push to GitHub triggers the replication of data to multiple global data centers, and all of this data is available live and in real-time. This comprises the most active “hot” layer.

The “warm” layers include solutions such as the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which update archived copies somewhere between a monthly and annual basis. These also archive across multiple geographical locations.

The “cold” storage layers will only be updated every five or more years, and the Arctic World Archive (AWA) is one of these. On Feb. 2, 2020, a snapshot of every active GitHub repository was taken. 

These will be encoded onto 3,500-foot film reels by a Norwegian company called Piql, which specializes in very-long-term data storage. The film reels will be stored 250 meters deep in AWA’s decommissioned coal mine under the arctic permafrost on the island of Svalbard. The Arctic Code Vault is just a mile away from the famous Global Seed Vault.

Backups of backups of backups

Duplicates of the film reels archiving the Bitcoin codebase along with the other top 10,000 most starred and depended-upon repositories, will be held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, providing redundancy for the Arctic Code Vault.

The ultimate aim of the program is to archive all public repositories for 10,000 years, through a partnership with Microsoft’s Project Silica. This will involve etching them into quartz glass platters with femtosecond lasers.

As the cryptocurrency industry is built on values of openness and transparency, a great many of the projects in the space are released as open-source, GitHub being the main repository for these.

The efforts to create a very-long-term archive of this code should prevent a loss of current technologies while ensuring that future historians can learn about the pressing projects of today.

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