Evolution of a modular software network

Miguel A. Fortuna, Juan A. Bonachela, Simon A. Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


"Evolution behaves like a tinkerer" (François Jacob, Science, 1977). Software systems provide a singular opportunity to understand biological processes using concepts from network theory. The Debian GNU/Linux operating system allows us to explore the evolution of a complex network in a unique way. The modular design detected during its growth is based on the reuse of existing code in order to minimize costs during programming. The increase of modularity experienced by the system over time has not counterbalanced the increase in incompatibilities between software packages within modules. This negative effect is far from being a failure of design. A random process of package installation shows that the higher the modularity, the larger the fraction of packages working properly in a local computer. The decrease in the relative number of conflicts between packages from different modules avoids a failure in the functionality of one package spreading throughout the entire system. Some potential analogies with the evolutionary and ecological processes determining the structure of ecological networks of interacting species are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19985-19989
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number50
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2011


  • community assembly
  • evolvability
  • food webs
  • network evolution
  • robustness


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