On March 22, 2016, something nearly broke the Internet. No, it wasn’t a video posted by someone in the Kik network going wildly viral, but if you heard about it, you probably picked up on the name “Kik” in the mix along with that of Bob Stratton, a patent agent for Kik Interactive (the folks who bring us Kik Messenger). We’re going to take a few minutes to explain what happened in relation to the Kik NPM Package Name for anyone who might be wondering what, if anything, Kik Messenger had to do with ‘breaking’ the Internet that day.
A lot of us use Kik Messenger as our primary social chat app. It works as well if not better for basic texting than the standard texting tool on our smartphones with the added benefit of costing absolutely nothing to use. When you use Kik Messenger to text friends, you will never have a per-message fee, over-limit charge, or any cost for sending a message to your friend whatever mobile carrier they use.
Going beyond standard texting, Kik Messenger has a built-in camera to take pictures and video clips that you can send to your friends in a kik. You also have a wide choice of enhancement for your text right in the app. Use Kik Points to buy stickers and emoji in Kik’s Sticker and Smiley shops. You can create a meme to share in text or save it to share in an email or on other social media. Use Kik’s library of GIFs to express yourself in chat or share that viral video. Kik Messenger even has its own web browser.
Kik Messenger’s popularity has quickly soared since it hit the social media market in 2009 with an average of more than 200,000 downloads daily. Its 275 million users span 230 countries with 70% being 25 years old or younger. More than 40% of young Americans make Kik Messenger their go-to texting app.
Kik Messenger is a fast and fun social chat medium that provides games and bots to interact on our own, with friends and in groups. It has become a form of social media with its own lingo popping up all over the Internet. Looking for a new chat friend? Search for posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using the keywords or hashtags, Kik Me (#kikme, etc.), Drop Kik, Kik Party, Kik Girls, Kik Boys, Kik Group and others. Gamers on MMOs like Clash of Clans and Call of Duty love Kik Messenger for their team play, and all sorts of hobby, discussion, and support peer groups use the group chat to keep in touch.
Developed for the smartphone, which the developers at Kik Interactive believe is the future of computing, the Kik Messenger app is available for Android, iOS, Windows, and other mobile platforms. You can also install and use it on your home computer with the support of products designed for PC, Mac, and online users.
Also, people in the Kik Messenger network love how it protects our privacy. Being username based, setting up an account is quick and easy with no e-mail or phone verification needed. When you share your Kik contact information with someone new, all they see is your username and display name. No one ever sees your phone number or any geographic or demographic behavior in your Kik profile. Kik is also an extremely secure app, protecting not only your privacy but your device from hackers, viruses, and all forms of malware.
Knowing all this about Kik Messenger, one can’t help but wonder how it had anything to do with almost ‘breaking’ the Internet that day.
A Reasonable Request
Apparently, Mr. Koçulu did not know that Kik Messenger was also developing some open source code that it would want to name ‘kik” and variations thereof, which makes sense since their popular social app is named Kik Messenger and the company has legally registered the trademark “Kik” in the USA and the EU.
When Kik’s developers looked into naming the project, they found Mr. Koçulu’s “kik” already in the works under that name. Kik Interactive’s patent agent, Mr. Bob Stratton, sent a letter to Mr. Koçulu asking that he change the name on his project so that Kik Interactive, the owner of the trademark for the name Kik, could name their packages accordingly.
Azer: We’re reaching out to you as we’d very much like to use our name “kik” for an important package that we are going to release soon. Unfortunately, your use of kik (and kik-starter) mean that we can’t and our users will be confused and/or unable to find our package.
Can we get you to rename your kik package?
A Strong Reaction
When Mr. Koçulu refused, Mr. Stratton reached out to the folks at NPM for help. As the executives at NPM and Kik’s Stratton were making progress toward a resolution (Mr. Koçulu knew this because Mr. Stratton kept him in the loop by cc’ing him on all emails to NPM), Mr. Koçulu sent the following demand to NPM:
I want all my modules to be deleted including my account, along with this package. I don’t wanna be a part of NPM anymore. If you don’t do it, let me know how do it quickly. I think I have the right of deleting all my stuff from NPM.
Within a few hours, NPM sent Mr. Koçulu the command code to remove all of his 273 modules. He deleted every single one of them, including an 11-line piece of code called “left-pad” that an unbelievable number of Web sites rely upon every day. Soon, sites like Facebook, Spotify, and Netflix – more than a thousand in all – were struggling or crashing.
Breaking the Internet
In his Business Insider article, One programmer almost broke the internet by deleting 11 lines of code, Matt Weinberger compares the whole system to “a house of cards,” and explains it like this:
A module like npm left-pad is basically a shortcut so a developer doesn’t have to write a whole bunch of basic code from scratch. . . . it’s basically shorthand for “put this code in later,” and a software compiler will just download the code when the time is right.
Most of the time, this works just fine. . . . One Node.js module calls on another, calls on another, calls on another. . . . right up until npm left-pad is taken offline.
Described as, “a longtime unofficial evangelist for npm,” Mr. Koçulu seemed to take the request as a personal affront not only toward himself but the entire open source community. In the wake of all the damage done, sources described him as “an angry programmer” and his actions as a “rage quit.”
Within 10 minutes, NPM and other developers stepped in with a patch. Left-pad was republished within 2 hours, and our favorite sites were soon back to normal, but the event demonstrates how the system, as it is, truly resembles a house of cards – remove one piece and the others come crashing down.
A Healthy Debate
The entire debacle has opened a debate on several fronts. One is over whether one developer should have the right to remove files like left-pad knowing it will crash thousands of dependent programs. Another is over republishing that code to save those systems when it is the individual developer’s intellectual property.
For the open source developers’ take on it it, you can peek in on a discussion in the comments to Mr. Koçulu’s post here.
As for the other side, consider what Laurie Voss, CTO at NPM, tweeted about it later that day:
Reflecting on the damage caused by his rash actions, Mr. Koçulu issued this apology:
Feeling very sorry for interrupting people’s work. I did it for the benefit of the community in long term. NPM’s monopoly won’t be dictated to the free software community anymore.
Thankfully, the tech press made it clear within a day that it was not Kik Messenger or its parent company Kik Interactive that caused the valuable node left-pad to become unavailable and crash some of our favorite Web sites. It was a “rage quit” by a developer that did not want to change the name on a module he was developing even though he knew the Kik NPM Package Name used a name trademarked by Kik Interactive. We can continue using our fave messaging app without giving a single thought to possibly breaking the Internet that we also (and, all so) dearly love.