The world’s largest site for software developers is abandoning 10-year programming terms to remove references to slavery, such as masters and slaves.
GitHub CEO Nat Friedman said the company is working to change the term “master” – for the main version of the code – to a neutral term.
The Microsoft-owned company is used by 50 million developers to store and update its coding projects.
This is the latest in a campaign to remove these terms from software jargon.
The master-slave relationship in technology usually refers to a system in which one – the master – controls other copies or processes.
The centuries-old campaign to replace these terms has had a new impetus in the resurgence of Black Lives Matter’s protests in the United States.
Friedman’s announcement came in a Twitter response to Google Chrome developer Una Kravets, who said he would be happy to rename the “main” branch of the project to “main”.
“If it prevents even a single black person from feeling more isolated in the tech community, it seems like a no-brainer,” he wrote.
GitHub users can already name the terms they choose for the various versions and branches of a project.
But changing the default terminology will likely have a widespread impact on the vast number of individual projects hosted on the platform.
Black lists and masters
In recent years, several major projects have attempted to abandon this language, preferring phrases such as “replicas” or terms similar to “slaves”, although the terms continue to be commonly understood and used.
Other terms are also under revision.
For example, Google’s Chromium web browser project and the Android operating system have both encouraged developers to avoid using the terms “black list” and “white list” for directories of those things that are explicitly prohibited or allowed.
Instead, Chromium’s documentation requires “racially neutral” language, because “terms like” black list “and” white list “reinforce the idea that black = bad and white = good”.
Instead, it suggests the use of “blocklist” and “allowlist”.
But such moves have not been without controversy. Critics point out that the word “master” is not always used racially.
Rather, in software development, it is used in the same way as audio recording, a “master” from which all copies are made. Others have raised concerns about compatibility or ease of understanding if various terms are used.
But despite the current recovery, these arguments are not new: in 2003, Los Angeles County asked hardware vendors not to use the terms “unacceptable” and to find alternatives.