DROID, an Open-Source Tool for Digital Archives

David Clipsham

David Clipsham

Open-source software plays a key role for many memory institutions. The ability to share knowledge and communicate ideas openly is vital for the archival community. Over the years, numerous open-source software tools have been built to help archives collect, preserve, and provide access to digital records.

The National Archives of the United Kingdom develops and maintains the open-source tool, DROID, as a resource for digital archives everywhere. We were pleased to release the latest version of the tool (DROID 6.5) in May 2020.

DROID is a file format identification tool that scans collections of digital files and identifies the file formats found within. Accurate file format identification is an important step in preservation planning for digital records. Knowing what types of data are in your care helps you to understand risks and plan accordingly to maintain access to your digital collections, now and into the future.

DROID has been an open-source tool from its first release in 2005 and its source code was originally published on the SourceForge repository. From 2012 DROID’s source code has been hosted on GitHub, while the tool itself is freely available to download from The National Archives website.

While the bulk of DROID development is carried out by The National Archives, many others have contributed to the software. External contributors raise issues, assist with testing, and have even submitted code for new DROID features, to fix bugs, to add localisation, and to improve code quality through additional testing. Of the thirteen individuals who contributed to our latest release, almost half were external contributors.

The data DROID uses for file format identification is drawn from the PRONOM file format registry, also maintained by The National Archives. PRONOM has a community-collaboration model and anybody can contribute. To date, over sixty institutions across the globe have provided supporting data to PRONOM.

There are many other initiatives across the digital preservation community, such as the Software Heritage Archive, which aims to collect all publicly available software source code to help to ensure its preservation. DROID’s source code can also be found within this important archive.

The open-source ethos places transparency and collaboration at the forefront of software development and it is clear that DROID has benefitted from being developed openly from the outset. The power of the community enables us to pool our expertise, learn from one another and achieve more than any one memory institution could accomplish alone.