Open-Source-Adventskalender: Die Play-Store-Alternative F-Droid

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This is an advent calendar for techies. In the fully commercialized digital world, almost everything belongs to a large Internet corporation. Their software is neither open nor free. As an alternative, there is this small island of the open source world: software whose code is publicly visible and can be independently checked for possible security gaps and backdoors. Software that can be freely used, distributed and improved. Often the drive for work is simply the joy of providing something useful to society.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1st to December 24th. These are about the functions of the respective software, the pitfalls, the history, the background and the financing. Some projects are backed by an individual, others by a loosely organized community, a tightly managed foundation with full-time employees or a consortium. The work is entirely voluntary, or it is financed through donations, cooperation with Internet companies, government funding or an open source business model. Regardless of whether it is a single application or a complex ecosystem, whether a PC program, app or operating system – the diversity of open source is overwhelming.

F-Droid pushes open source to the extreme. The fork machine only lists open source apps, generates them from the source code, and publishes them – sometimes in “bespoke” form.

F-Droid contains around 3,700 apps. According to its own information, the app marketplace does not record numbers on downloads and users. The software is available under a GNU APGL v3 license. F-Droid is only available for the Android mobile operating system.

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The Store app is not in the official Google Play Store. The app file must be downloaded and installed manually from the F-Droid website. If F-Droid is running on your smartphone and you have already installed apps, you can find out which app updates are pending via the “Tasks” field.

The apps are in 17 categories classified, for example Internet, reading, money or multimedia. Some well-known apps include: VLC, Wikipedia or the public transport timetable app. Otherwise there are many unknown apps to discover, but some with manageable functionality and usability.

F-Droid does not offer rankings based on download numbers; lists of favorite apps that are available in various places on the Internet (e.g. here or here). Often mentioned in such lists are for example: Zapp, a streaming app for public service content that Mail-App K-9, Simple Search to replace the google search window the Conference planners Giggity or the Youtube client NewPipe.

And this is how the app comes into the store: If there is an impetus from the community, the apps go through a review process, explains Torsten Grote from the F-Droid team: “A new app is added with a so-called pull request. This is then viewed by one or more people and the app is subjected to a rough check. Since these are volunteers, the code of the apps cannot be fully audited. There are, however, automatic tools that can detect trackers and malware in the source code and support them in checking. “So far, stresses Grote, there have never been any cases of malware in F-Droid.

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Developers can also initiate the recording in F-Droid themselves. Alternatively, you can make your apps available independently via page repositories. This then becomes external package sources, the users: inside manually via a QR code or by entering a URL Add. For example, the Tagesschau app install the LibreOffice implementation Collaborate Office or the Tor VPN app Orbot.

If apps are added to the main database, F-Droid creates them from the source code and offers them for download.

If the F-Droid team discovers functions or data flows that they don’t like, they make a note of this in the app entry on F-Droid. It then says that the app contains “undesirable features”.

Ten of them „Anti-Features“ there are, including built-in advertising, built-in tracking services, a not completely free source code, known code weaknesses or the dependence on proprietary services such as Google Maps. About 700 of the 3,700 apps contain unwanted functions.

For its part, F-Droid is a fork: The British computer game developer Ciaran Gultnieks forked the Aptoide code in 2010. Aptoide is a commercial, decentralized Android app store from Portugal that offers companies the option of running their own stores.

The operator of the F-Droid website is the British F-Droid Limited von Gultnieks. According to Torsten Grote, however, it simply functions as the necessary formal legal person who accepts donations, pays for the server and holds the trademark rights to F-Droid

F-Droid is mostly a volunteer community project. Im Community-Forum about 5,600 profiles are registered for Community-Kern belong to 40 people.

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In addition to donations, according to Grote, there are sometimes third-party funds that freelancers are financed for a few months. For example, F-Droid has project-related funding from the Dutch NLnet Foundation obtain. There is no general overview of F-Droid finances. A large part of its income is generated by F-Droid on the transparency platform from, according to which around 13,000 euros have been raised in the last twelve months. The largest single amount in total was US $ 10,000 from an open source grant from the Mozilla Foundation.

A special feature is that F-Droid not only curates the confusing world of apps and helps to find open source pearls. Sometimes the F-Droid team also actively intervenes in the code and offers apps in a different form.

In such “Tailor-made versions” the F-Droid team removes third-party building blocks from the code and publishes forks, for example without Google Analytics or without the Google advertising service AdMob. Telegram FOSS is a bespoke version of the popular messenger and Fennec F-Droid a fork of the Firefox browser – which is even a bit “cleaner” than the original from the open source giant Mozilla.

The work on the series of articles is based in part on a “Neustart Kultur” grant from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, awarded by VG Wort.


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