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Linus's Law: Understanding the Wisdom of Collective Code Review

Linus's Law: Understanding the Wisdom of Collective Code Review

Linus's Law is a principle often cited in the world of software development, particularly within the open-source community. Coined by Eric S. Raymond in his seminal book "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," the law is named after Linus Torvalds, the founder of the Linux kernel. Simply put, Linus's Law states: "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow."

What Does It Mean?

The phrase "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" encapsulates the idea that if a large number of people review a piece of code, they are more likely to quickly identify any issues, errors, or vulnerabilities within it. In essence, the collective wisdom of a diverse and large group of contributors surpasses that of a few experts. This phenomenon underscores the strength of open-source development, where code is freely available for anyone to review, modify, and distribute.

"Shallow" bugs are bugs that are relatively easy to identify and correct, as opposed to "deeper" bugs that require much greater investment to unearth.

The Underlying Psychology

There are psychological factors that contribute to the effectiveness of Linus's Law. The diverse skill sets and experiences that different developers bring to a project provide multiple perspectives. This diverse viewpoint makes it more likely that someone will spot an issue that others might have missed.

Applications Beyond Software Development

While Linus's Law is most commonly applied to software development, the principle is increasingly finding relevance in other areas like data science, cybersecurity, and even policy making. Collective intelligence, driven by the wisdom of the crowd, can produce insights and solutions that a smaller group of experts may overlook.

When Linus's Law Fails

However, it's important to note that Linus's Law isn't foolproof. There are scenarios where too many contributors can result in confusion, poor communication, and inconsistency. Also, having many eyes on a project doesn’t automatically guarantee that all of those eyes are qualified or diligent in their review.

Another potential failure point occurs if its unclear how many of the potential "eyes" associated with a project are actually being directed at a particular problem. In this case, many of the collaborators may all assume that others are reviewing a particular item, resulting in very few actually doing so. Many projects thus require certain numbers of explicit reviews or sign-offs as a means of mitigating this possibility.


Linus's Law serves as a powerful argument for the benefits of open-source and collaborative development. However, like any principle, it has its limitations and isn't universally applicable. Yet, when implemented within a conducive framework, it acts as a robust tool for improving software quality, enhancing cybersecurity, and driving innovation.


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