The state of open source in South Korea

South Korean companies are making important open source contributions in mobility, artificial intelligence, web technologies, and many other areas.
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Open source software is growing exponentially all around the world, and South Korea is a vital part of that trend. While most South Korean open source projects don't get the international attention that projects from the Apache Foundation, the Linux Foundation, and similar organizations receive, they are making significant contributions to mobility, artificial intelligence, web technologies, and other areas.

Samsung may be the best-known South Korean company working in open source, but Naver, Kakao, Coupang, and others are also writing important open source software and maintaining their projects on GitHub.

I'm a US citizen, but I was born in South Korea, and I'm very passionate about helping my fellow Koreans through the Korean American IT Association (KAITA), which I founded and lead. In this article, I'll share some of the exciting open source projects led by South Korean companies that you may want to explore.

Naver is known as "the Google of South Korea." It was the first web portal in South Korea to develop and use its own search engine, and through the portal, Koreans can find news, blogs, music, maps, and other useful content. More than 25 million Koreans set Naver as their browser's default start page.

Naver maintains its open source projects on GitHub and has a Korean-language developer site and developer blog. While Naver has a number of open source projects on GitHub, the following are its most well-known.


Billboard.js is a reusable JavaScript chart library, based on D3 v4+, with an easy interface. The project currently has 116 contributors, 2,094 commits, 214 forks, and 3,528 stars and is open source under the MIT license. Billboard.js is very well documented with thorough API listings, start guides, and examples. If you are interested in building out the chart interface for your website, you may find Billboard.js useful.


Pinpoint says it "is an application performance management (APM) tool for large-scale distributed systems written in Java or PHP." Inspired by Dapper, Pinpoint traces transactions across distributed applications to help analyze a system's overall structure and how its components interconnect. The project currently has 65 contributors, 10,401 commits, 2,621 forks, and 8,489 stars and is open source with the Apache 2.0 license.

Check out Pinpoint if you want to understand your application's topology, monitor it in real-time at a glance, gain code-level visibility into every transaction, and install APM agents without changing your code. Pinpoint has minimal impact on application performance (approximately three percent increase in resource usage).

Arcus Cache Cloud

Arcus Cache Cloud is a Memcached-based cache cloud developed to support Naver services' functional and performance requirements. Arcus supports collection data structures (List, Set, B+ Tree) for storing and retrieving multiple values as a structured form, in addition to Memcached's basic key-value data model. The project currently has 17 contributors, 115 commits, 71 forks, and 245 stars and is open source with an Apache 2.0 license. The project also maintains a Korean-language website.


The Clova Language Framework (CLaF) is a language framework built on PyTorch that provides multilingual modeling support (currently in English and Korean) for natural language processing (NLP). ClaF has the following benefits:

  • Lightweight systemization and modularization
  • Easy extension and implementation of models
  • A wide variety of experiments with reproducible and comprehensive logging
  • Metrics for services, such as 1-example inference latency
  • Modules that make it easy to build an NLP machine

The project currently has two contributors, 24 commits, nine forks, and 143 stars and is open source with an MIT license. While these metrics are low compared to other Naver projects, CLaF is well-known for providing NLP artificial intelligence similar to Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, or Cortana. Since machine learning is so hot right now, this project is exciting to explore. You can access its documentation to learn more.


If Naver is "the Google of South Korea," Kakao is "the Facebook of South Korea." The company started as the Social Networking System (SNS) messenger app, which is used by more than 49 million people, including 99% of South Koreans. The company has since expanded to offer a web portal, an Uber-like taxi service, a map service, financial services, and much more.

Kakao maintains its open source through GitHub and has a Korean-language developer website and blog. Following are several of Kakao's open source projects as a quick introduction to what it offers.


N2 is an approximate nearest neighbor algorithm library written in C++ (including Python/Go bindings). It provides much faster search speed than other implementations when modeling large datasets. It also supports multi-core CPUs for index building.

N2 includes:

  • Efficient implementations; its lightweight library runs fast even with large datasets
  • Support for multi-core CPUs for index building.
  • Support for mmap features by default for handling large index files efficiently
  • Support for Python/Go bindings.

The project currently has four contributors, 60 commits, 39 forks, and 291 stars and is open source with an Apache 2.0 license.


Khaiii is an NLP analyzer tool for the Korean language's Hangul alphabet. It utilizes the convolutional neural networks (CNN) machine learning technique. The project, which is written in Korean, currently has six contributors, 94 commits, 167 forks, and 779 stars and is open source with an Apache 2.0 license.


Samsung, without a doubt, is the most well-known South Korean company. Although its hardware, including smartphones, tablets, and semiconductors, gets the most attention, Samsung operates pretty much anything you can think of: construction, hospitals, restaurants, theme parks, apparel, vehicles, and more. Therefore, it is not surprising that Samsung also has numerous open source projects, which are maintained on GitHub.


Tizen is a mobile operating system Samsung developed to compete with Android. It has several project components, including TizenRT and TizenFX.

TizenRT is lightweight RTOS-based platform that supports low-end IoT devices. The project is well-documented in English and can be launched with Docker. TizenRT currently has 121 contributors, 6,383 commits, 393 forks, and 254 stars and is open source with an Apache 2.0 license.

TizenFX is an API that "allows you to access platform-specific features not covered by the generic .NET and Xamarin.Forms features, such as system information and status, battery status, sensor date, and account and connectivity services." The project currently has 149 contributors, 4,756 commits, 113 forks, and 55 stars and is open source with an Apache 2.0 license.


Veles is a distributed platform for rapid deep learning application development. Veles is broken down into multiple projects mainly written in Python, although there is some C++ code. The project maintains its documentation on its website.

The project currently has 10 contributors, 4,326 commits, 183 forks, and 877 stars and is open source with an Apache 2.0 license.


The GearVR framework (GearVRf) is an open source virtual reality (VR) rendering library for application development on VR-supported Android devices. Its documentation is available on the GearVRf website.

The project currently has 54 contributors, 2,704 commits, 209 forks, and 380 stars and is open source with an Apache 2.0 license.

Other South Korean open source projects

Other notable South Korean companies include Coupang and Woowa Brothers. Coupang is known as "the Amazon of South Korea," and the company recently received a $2 billion investment from Softbank. It does not have any notable open source projects but maintains a GitHub repository. Woowa Brothers is a notable startup with a $2 billion market cap. Similar to Uber Eats, the company specializes in delivering meals to consumers. Woowa Brothers also maintains a GitHub repo.

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Bryant Jimin Son is an Octocat, which not official title but likes to be called that way, at GitHub, a company widely known for hosting most open source projects in the world. At work, he is exploring different git technology, GitHub Actions, GitHub security, etc. Previously, he was a Senior Consultant at Red Hat, a technology company known for its Linux server and opensource contributions.

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