Frequently Asked Questions
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) promotes broad dissemination of research products including NIH-funded and/or NIH-developed research software. These FAQs offer best practices for sharing research software and source code, developed under research grants in any stage of development, in a free and open format. Releasing the software source code in an “open” manner means that you permit users to use, modify, and/or redistribute the code. The FAIR principles (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable) also provide a useful framework for better software management and sharing.
1. Why should I share software and code as “open source” software?
2. How do I make software source code “open”?
3. Why should I use a license when distributing code?
4. How do I choose a license under which to release software developed as part of an NIH award?
5. How can I make my software citable?
6. How should I acknowledge NIH as the funder?
7. Are there any restrictions I should consider in deciding whether to share the research software I develop?
8. Can research software I have developed be allowed for use in medical practice or clinical settings?
9. Do I have to check software developed for security vulnerabilities prior to sharing it?
10. What metadata should be considered when sharing research software?
11. To what extent should I include documentation for the software?
12. Does NIH have any requirements or benchmarks for research software quality before releasing it?
Several resources are available for developing and sharing research grade software. Working groups such as Force 11, WSSPE, The Society for Research Software Engineering, RDA and projects such as CodeMeta and Metadata2020 all provide guidance, tools, and access to practicing communities. NIH recommends considering these when developing and releasing software.
For specific questions on sharing research software developed under your NIH award, contact your assigned Program Officer or your institution’s Sponsored Projects or Technology Development and Transfer Offices.