Technology

Microsoft-owned coding site Github to replace the term ‘master’ in push to remove slavery references

The Microsoft-owned computer code company Github is planning to replace the term “master” from its systems as the Black Lives Matter movement puts tech companies under pressure to drop perceived references to slavery.

Nat Friedman, Github’s chief executive, said it was working on changing the default name for a branch of computer code from “master” to “main”.

Programming languages have historically used the terms “master” and “slave” to denote software components where one process controls another. 

Critics say the language is an unnecessary reference to historical atrocities, and an example of the tech industry’s ongoing struggles with diversity. While several companies and languages have discouraged use of the terms, replacing them with terms such as “primary” and “replica”, but since many programs must be compatible with one another, removing the terms completely has been slow.

Mr Friedman said on Twitter that he was looking at making the change to branch structures, where “master” does not refer to a master-slave relationship, but to an original version for making copies, similar to a master recording of an album. However, some have pushed for the word to be removed completely.

Responding to a tweet from Google Chrome engineer Una Kravets, he said: “It’s a great idea and we are already working on this!”

Github, which was bought by Microsoft for $7.5bn (£6bn) in 2018, is one of the leading websites for sharing computer code, and as a result, a major influence in how software is written.

Some programmers responding to Mr Friedman raised concerns that the change would break some existing systems.

Earlier this year, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a branch of GCHQ, said it would stop using the terms “whitelist” and “blacklist”, which are used to denote collections of approved or banned websites or providers.

NCSC said it would instead start using “allow list” and “deny list”. The agency said: “In the name of helping to stamp out racism in cyber security, we will avoid this casually pejorative wording on our website in the future.”

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