How a 11-line code almost took down the Internet


By the Internet, I don’t mean the black box from The IT Crowd. No, actual Internet. Almost broke. due to a developer taking down their 11 line code. Yup.

So what the hell happened?

Well, corporate wedging of open source developers.


Azer Koçulu, a long-time open source developer for npm, an open source package manager for web developers, pulled down a module called left-pad which has been in used by the likes of Facebook, Netflix, Airbnb, Spotify, React, and other high-profile web services. The code in question is used as a shortcut by developers, so they didn’t have to write a whole bunch of basic code from scratch each time.

If a developer calls on an npm module, it’s basically shorthand for ‘put this code in later’, and a software compiler will just download the code when the time is right,

explained Matt Weinberger.

The problem started when Kik, a messaging service, contacted Koçulu to take down a similarly-named package he was working on. The developer declined that request which resulted in heated emails between Koçulu and Kik.

The code that almost took down the Internet

Eventually npm was pulled into the argument. Instead of siding with their long-time contributor, they supported kik which prompted Koçulu to take down his code from npm. In an email to npm, Koçulu explained why he was taking down the packages he developed from npm.

I know you for years and would never imagine you siding with corporate patent lawyers threatening open source contributors … I want all my modules to be deleted including my account, along with this package. I don’t wanna be a part of npm anymore. If you don’t do it, let me know how do it quickly. I think I have the right of deleting all my stuff from npm.

Anyone using left-pad package got an error resulted in their services to stop working

Anyone using left-pad received an error and their web services stopped working

Koçulu, however, apologized in an email to Ars Technica for taking down the code many web services depended on.

Feeling very sorry for interrupting people’s work. I did it for the benefit of the community in long term. Npm’s monopoly won’t be dictated to the free software community anymore.

Basit Saeed

Passionately a software developer, Basit Saeed considers himself a person who believes in software and social media being the change agents of 21st century. He is a techy, a gadgets freak, and loves playing with code whenever he can. He tweets at @basit_saeed.


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