SO is not open source, but I like the whole idea of Stack Overflow:

  1. Giving bounties for questions
  2. Up/downvoting questions
  3. The badges
  4. The intelligent use of Ajax technologies
  5. Highly rated users have administrative powers
  6. Reputation system
  7. Editing posts like a wiki

So I would like to program a (what is it called) Q&A site / board / wiki system. Am I allowed to?

  • 27
    Notice: This question comes from before the Area51 days.
    – badp
    Commented Jul 31, 2010 at 12:45
  • 2
    @badp - what does that mean?
    – Ronnie Overby
    Commented Sep 9, 2010 at 18:13
  • @Ronnie: preemptive comment about some answers that no longer apply.
    – badp
    Commented Sep 9, 2010 at 19:07
  • Related: Stack Overflow clones Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 10:48

8 Answers 8


The ruling in Lotus v. Borland answered that look & feel (or method of operation) is not copyrightable.

Code is copyrightable. I assume this includes the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript that you can see by viewing the Stack Overflow pages. Names and logos can also be trademarked.

So as long as you write original code, and don't use the trademarked identity of Stack Overflow, you could write your own workalike application.

  • 7
    Yes, but it is patentable, at least in the US... I wonder if the SO guys have any software patents in the works... Commented Oct 31, 2010 at 18:50
  • You should add images to HTML, CSS, JavaScript.
    – Quandary
    Commented Jun 12, 2011 at 21:30
  • 2
    @Quandary: Right, images are copyrightable, even though they are not code. Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 4:45

Stack Overflow was not the first to do the Q&A system on the web, and they weren't the first to do the Wiki system. There is nothing really stopping you from making your own Stack Overflow style website. Some open source clones (and some foreign clones) have already been made to varying degrees of success.

There have been rumors of a possible open-source version of Stack Overflow, but I would not hold my breath on that just yet.

The other solution would be the Stack Exchange framework which is developed by Fog Creek Software. The SE Framework is the public-available version of the Stack Overflow software.

  • 19
    The reason that StackOverflow succeeds is because of the community, and the fact that the software it runs on make it a real pleasure to answer questions. It is hard to duplicate that. Commented Jul 29, 2009 at 5:08
  • open source version of StackOverflow you said ! any update on that ? Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 7:41

Technically, I don't believe they can stop you from writing your own code which does that. You just can't copy their code base and use it.


There are already a couple of projects out there to clone the Stack Overflow platform. One is used for the Chinese language site CNProg.com. It is written in Python/Django and can be found on GitHub. The other that I know of is stacked. It is written in C#.

Joel and Jeff have discussed the possibility of open-sourcing the code for the platform at some point, though there is no firm consensus except that it won't be happening for several years, if ever.

Joel's software company Fog Creek hopes is offering a hosted version of the platform called StackExchange (1.0. Later Stack Exchange), which they hope will be available by September 2009.

  • 2
    I don't think there will be any OPENSOURCE version of SO, caz its pretty much popular now, and so both (Joel & Jeff and Fog Creek) will make money with it. Caz all they want is money, nothing for community, they know if they'll not offer it through community, then they'll never be able to beat EXPERT-EXCHANGE :)
    – djmzfKnm
    Commented Aug 22, 2009 at 18:53

Of course you can. There are clones for a wiki, a Digg-like site and Experts-Exchange. There isn't anything special about SO that you can't do something similar. Q&A site is not a patented model.


Obviously I can't officially speak for Stack Overflow, but as long as you don't use any of the styling (HTML, CSS, etc.), code (JavaScript), the logo, or the names "Stack Overflow", "Server Fault", and "Super User" you should be fine. It's also important that you create a separate "look and feel" (even if you didn't use any of the HTML/CSS) as that may also protected.

The concepts of tags, voting, related questions, and badges did not originate here and are not protected, so feel free to use them.


The concept (i.e. a Q&A site) is not copyrightable / trademarkable. The implementation is. And a clone that copy the look and feel would violate passing off.

Unless you live in a country with software patents (hmm USA), the individual features are not patentable either. If you are however, then the answer is the good old "it depends".

p.s. IANAL and all that.


It's not just a question of what laws are in place, but what laws the respective owners will hold you to. I'm sure Atwood & co. would be more than happy to answer any questions if you just asked them directly.

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