The 12 most exciting open source projects on the web

Many tools, frameworks and resources for web development are open source. Here are 12 projects we're excited about.

We're constantly amazed by all the cool new open source projects; if you look around there's almost always a blinding open source alternative to whatever pro software you need for web design work. Here are 12 great examples of the superb work being done to make the web a better place.

01. Pattern Lab

A suite of tools for working according to atomic design principles

Pattern Lab is a suite of tools designed to help you build sites using the principles of atomic design, which means breaking interfaces down into smaller parts, and operating within a UI design system that you've built to suit your purposes. 

02. Visual Studio Code

An open source project from Microsoft

This free, open source code editor from Microsoft has a slew of great features that make coding quicker. There’s a function called IntelliSense that provides smart completions; built-in Git commands; debugging from within the editor and much more. 

03. Font Awesome

open source projects

Awesome indeed

Font Awesome is indeed awesome: 634 (at the time of writing) icons contained within a single font, constituting "a pictographic language of web-related actions". Icons are scalable, so they look the same at any size, and you can style them with CSS. It works well with all frameworks and screenreaders and doesn't require JavaScript. 

04. Bootstrap

open source projects

Makes front end web development faster and easier

Since it was launched by Twitter in 2011, web building framework Bootstrap has become one of the most popular project on GitHub. As Bootstrap grew, its creators Mark Otto and Jacob Thornton decided to move it to its own open source organisation, and the project separated from Twitter.

Bootstrap has a small footprint, LESS integration and compelling visual design. There is a web-based customiser that you can use to tailor it to your open source project: components and jQuery plug-ins can be added or removed by ticking checkboxes, and variables can be customised using a web form. There's a 12-column responsive grid, typography, form controls and it uses responsive CSS to work with mobile browsers.

Expo is a showcase of the most "beautiful and inspiring" projects built with the toolkit. 

05. Brackets

open source projects

A modern text editor for designing in the browser

An open source project begun at Adobe, Brackets is a lightweight and modern code editor focused on web technologies, with a collection of innovative features.

06. Conditionizr

open source projects

Detecting front end environments

Conditionizr is a brilliant tool for browser detection; it recognises the browser in use and delivers suitable content. For example, an IE7 user will receive either HTML classes for CSS overrides, or load an ie7.css and ie7.js file; useful for browser patching.

Conditionizr isn't limited to legacy, it also aims to help users fix modern browser quirks by detecting modern browsers too. It has evolved to include not just legacy content serving, but it also detects retina and touch devices and again allows developers to cater for the entire frontend. All this functionality comes inside a 1KB API. 

07. The Accessibility Project

open source projects

Making accessibility more approachable

The Accessibility Project is a community-driven effort to make web accessibility easier for frontend designers and developers to understand and adopt into a daily workflow.

The project started in mid-January 2013 amid developer sentiment that core accessibility concepts, features and code examples are overly difficult to extract.

Today 75 people have contributed to The Accessibility Project and it has become an invaluable resource for any developer looking to improve their knowledge. 

08. Laravel

open source projects

Make beautiful code with Laravel

Laravel has revolutionised PHP development. It pitches itself as the framework for web artisans who value code that's elegant, simple and readable, and it helps teams and individuals build well-made applications quickly. 

There's a big community and collection of resources around Laravel (for example, the Laracast screencasts) and it's one of the most popular PHP frameworks in use today. 

09. Grunt

open source projects

Grunt, the JavaScript task runner

Grunt allows you to automate common tasks using JavaScript. You can perform mundane, repetitive tasks like minification, compilation, unit testing and linting with almost zero effort. And because Grunt is extensible, if someone hasn't already built what you need, you can easily author and publish your own Grunt plug-in.

Grunt has dramatically lowered the barrier to entry for web developers by providing a common interface for the tasks in their build process. The extensive plug-in ecosystem and easy configuration format makes it possible for anyone on the team to create a modern build process - designers included.

10. Ember.js

open source projects

Make ambitious apps with Ember

Ember.js bills itself as "a framework for creating ambitious web applications". One of the biggest features is its data binding; obejcts in Ember can bind properties to each other, so when a property changes in one object, the other is kept in sync.

Another is the ability to define functions on an object that you can then treat as properties. Hence, if a model has a first and last name, you could create a function to define a person's full name, and have it treated as if the model has a fullname property.

The feature most likely to draw you in is that Ember automatically updates its views when data changes - saving you a lot of work.

11. AngularJS

open source projects

AngularJS: HTML enhances for web apps

AngularJS extends the vocabulary of HTML for declaring dynamic views in web apps. It takes a slightly different approach to Backbone and Ember by doing data binding directly in your HTML. It also uses just plain JavaScript for its controllers, meaning there's no need to extend other objects as you have to do in other frameworks.

The data binding means data in views is automatically updated when the data changes, but also Angular makes it effortless to bind forms to models, meaning a lot of the code you typically write to link a form to creating a new instance of a model is not needed. Its data binding is bi-directional.

By moving a lot of the binding directly into the HTML, Angular leaves you with much leaner controllers and less JavaScript to write. It might take a while to get your head around, but this approach is really powerful.

12. Ghost

Ghost, an open source blogging platform

Open source blogging platform Ghost turned heads when it was successfully funded through Kickstarter, surpassing its original request of £25,000 and eventually bring in over £196,000 in funding.

Ghost has a unique purpose in providing bloggers with a simple interface that allows them to write and publish their content without dealing with the complexity of traditional platforms. It's free as a package you can download and install to your own web server, but if that's too much hassle for you there are pro hosted versions costing between $5 and $36 per month.


Tanya Combrinck is digital editor on net magazine.