How One Coder Almost Broke The Internet By Deleting A Few Lines Of Code


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

747 How One Coder Almost Broke The Internet By Deleting A Few Lines Of Code
The Internet actually broke to some degree this time around. rangizzz/Shutterstock

It seems as if everyone’s trying to “break the Internet” these days, so who better to accomplish this rather nebulous goal than a computer programmer? As reported by The Independent, a convoluted saga involving copyright battles, technological giants and a single, stubborn individual culminated in a massive online revolt, all because of the deletion of just 11 lines of code.

Not long ago, Azer Koçulu decided to compose a piece of code he called “kik,” an extension for a programming language platform named Node.js. He uploaded it to “npm,” a server dedicated to pieces of code written in this language available for anyone to download. Unfortunately, another company called Kik objected to having a piece of code bearing the same name, so they protested to its creator.


Kik’s patent agent Bob Stratton contacted Koçulu asking him to take it down in no uncertain terms. “We don’t mean to be a dick about it, but it’s a registered Trademark in most countries around the world and if you actually release an open source project called kik, our trademark lawyers are going to be banging on your door and taking down your accounts,” Stratton said, as noted on a blog post by Mike Roberts, the head of messenger at Kik. Koçulu flat-out refused by using some rather colorful language.

Sadly, the owner of npm declared that the copyright lawyers were on the right side of the law, and he took away Koçulu’s ownership of the kik code without his consent. Understandably peeved by this, the rebellious coder decided to remove every single piece of code he had ever uploaded to npm.

Down came the house of cards… Mclek/Shutterstock

Koçulu, as it turns out, is quite a prolific, well-known coder who once created a small, simple but overwhelmingly popular code named “npm left-pad.” These 11 lines of code help developers write more complex coding programs; it essentially saves them having to type out a very rudimentary function. This piece of code had been downloaded 575,000 times, and many sizable online organizations, including Facebook, Netflix and Spotify, use larger software packages that include it.


Removing this code from the server also automatically removed it from over a thousand software projects, causing them to break and become inoperable. Kik noticed that their own company’s software projects began failing as a result of the move, giving the whole incident a rather circular sense of irony.

The only way to fix this problem, aside from convincing Koçulu to re-upload his vital foundation code, was for developers to go and manually add the code themselves to every single broken link in every single broken software project. The online world rose up in rebellion against npm’s overlords, and the server capitulated, re-uploading the sacred npm left-pad, much to the relief of developers everywhere.

“Have we forgotten how to program?” exclaims one pertinent blog post, clearly lamenting the whole fracas. The author points out that this isn’t the only simple piece of coding language taken for granted by and relied on by developers across the world: One single line of code on the npm server called “isArray” was downloaded 18 million times just this February.

Perhaps, then, the next coding apocalypse is right around the corner.


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