Defining Software Sustainability

While at WSSSPE4 discussing possible WSSSPE mission statements, the question of what software sustainability is has been raised.  Here I offer a quick definition of sustainability in the context of software: the capacity of the software to endure. In other words, sustainability means that the software will continue to be available in the future, on new platforms, meeting new needs.

Given this definition, I have 2 requests for readers of this blog.

  1. This definition is taken from slide 23 of a presentation I gave in December 2015.  While I’m sure it was influenced by others, I don’t remember if I copied it from somewhere else without correctly attributing it or I came up with it.  If you think this came from somewhere else, please tell me so I can fix my attribution omission.
  2. If you don’t agree with this definition, leave a comment that proposes a better definition, and tell me why your definition is better.  Over time, I will try to incorporate the comments into the blog (while crediting the commenter.)


  • From Neil Chue Hong

I think it’s a synthesis of different definitions – the first half is
the wording that the Software Sustainability Institute originally used
in its proposal, but the latter half is a recasting and summarising of
the discussion in “Software Sustainability: The Modern Tower of Babel
from WSSSPE3

I rather like the extension of this definition from Patricia Lago at WSSSPE4:

Sustainable software is software which is:
– Easy to evolve and maintain
– Fulfils its intent over time
– Survives uncertainty
– Supports relevant concerns (Political, Economic, Social, Technical,
Legal, Environmental)

Note I’ve modified the last line slightly to include political and
legal to the other four.

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Chief Scientist at NCSA, Research Associate Professor in CS, ECE, and the iSchool at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; works on systems and tools (aka cyberinfrastructure) and policy related to computational and data-enabled research, primarily in science and engineering

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