Open-source hardware

Open-source hardware (OSH) consists of physical artifacts of technology designed and offered by the open-design movement [1]. Both free and open-source software (FOSS) and open-source hardware are created by this open-source culture movement and apply a like concept to a variety of components. It is sometimes, thus, referred to as FOSH (free and open-source hardware). The term usually means that information about the hardware is easily discerned so that others can make it – coupling it closely to the maker movement.[2] Hardware design (i.e. mechanical drawings, schematics, bills of material, PCB layout data, HDL source code[3] and integrated circuit layout data), in addition to the software that drives the hardware, are all released under free/libre terms. The original sharer gains feedback and potentially improvements on the design from the FOSH community. There is now significant evidence that such sharing can drive a high return on investment for the scientific community.[4]

Since the rise of reconfigurable programmable logic devices, sharing of logic designs has been a form of open-source hardware. Instead of the schematics, hardware description language (HDL) code is shared. HDL descriptions are commonly used to set up system-on-a-chip systems either in field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) or directly in application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) designs. HDL modules, when distributed, are called semiconductor intellectual property cores, also known as IP cores.

The "open source hardware" logo proposed by OSHWA, one of the main defining organizations
RepRap 'Mendel'
The RepRap general-purpose 3D printer with the ability to make copies of most of its own structural parts

History logo (2013)
OSHWA logo

The first hardware focused "open source" activities were started around 1997 by Bruce Perens, creator of the Open Source Definition, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative, and a ham radio operator. He launched the Open Hardware Certification Program, which had the goal of allowing hardware manufacturers to self-certify their products as open.[5][6]

Shortly after the launch of the Open Hardware Certification Program, David Freeman announced the Open Hardware Specification Project (OHSpec), another attempt at licensing hardware components whose interfaces are available publicly and of creating an entirely new computing platform as an alternative to proprietary computing systems.[7] In early 1999, Sepehr Kiani, Ryan Vallance and Samir Nayfeh joined efforts to apply the open-source philosophy to machine design applications. Together they established the Open Design Foundation (ODF) as a non-profit corporation and set out to develop an Open Design Definition. But most of these activities faded out after a few years.

By the mid 2000s open-source hardware again became a hub of activity due to the emergence of several major open-source hardware projects and companies, such as OpenCores, RepRap (3D printing), Arduino, Adafruit and SparkFun. In 2007, Perens reactivated the website.

Following the Open Graphics Project, an effort to design, implement, and manufacture a free and open 3D graphics chip set and reference graphics card, Timothy Miller suggested the creation of an organization to safeguard the interests of the Open Graphics Project community. Thus, Patrick McNamara founded the Open Hardware Foundation (OHF) in 2007.[8]

The Tucson Amateur Packet Radio Corporation (TAPR), founded in 1982 as a non-profit organization of amateur radio operators with the goals of supporting R&D efforts in the area of amateur digital communications, created in 2007 the first open hardware license, the TAPR Open Hardware License. The OSI president Eric S. Raymond expressed some concerns about certain aspects of the OHL and decided to not review the license.[9]

Around 2010 in context of the Freedom Defined project, the Open Hardware Definition was created as collaborative work of many[10] and is accepted as of 2016 by dozens of organizations and companies.[11]

In July 2011, CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) released an open-source hardware license, CERN OHL. Javier Serrano, an engineer at CERN's Beams Department and the founder of the Open Hardware Repository, explained: "By sharing designs openly, CERN expects to improve the quality of designs through peer review and to guarantee their users – including commercial companies – the freedom to study, modify and manufacture them, leading to better hardware and less duplication of efforts".[12] While initially drafted to address CERN-specific concerns, such as tracing the impact of the organization’s research, in its current form it can be used by anyone developing open-source hardware.[13]

Following the 2011 Open Hardware Summit, and after heated debates on licenses and what constitutes open-source hardware, Bruce Perens abandoned the OSHW Definition and the concerted efforts of those involved with it.[14], led by Bruce Perens, promotes and identifies practices that meet all the combined requirements of the Open Source Hardware Definition, the Open Source Definition, and the Four Freedoms of the Free Software Foundation[15] Since 2014 is not online and seems to have ceased activity.[16]

The Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) at proposes Open source hardware and acts as hub of open source hardware activity of all genres, while cooperating with other entities such as TAPR, CERN, and OSI. The OSHWA was established as an organization in June 2012 in Delaware and filed for tax exemption status in July 2013.[17] After same debates about trademark interferences with the OSI, in 2012 the OSHWA and the OSI signed a co-existence agreement.[18][19]

FSF's Replicant project suggested in 2016 an alternative "free hardware" definition, derived from the FSF's four freedoms.[20]

Forms of open-source hardware

The term hardware in open source hardware has been historically used in opposition to the term software of open source software. That is, to refer to the electronic hardware on which the software runs (see previous section). However, as more and more non-electronic hardware products are made open source (for example Wikihouse, OpenBeam or Hovalin), this term tends to be used back in its broader sense of "physical product". The field of open source hardware has been shown to go beyond electronic hardware and to cover a larger range of product categories such as machine tools, vehicles and medical equipment.[21] In that sense, hardware refers to any form of tangible product, may it be electronic hardware, mechanical hardware, textile or even construction hardware. The Open Source Hardware (OSHW) Definition 1.0 defines hardware as "tangible artifacts — machines, devices, or other physical things".[22]


Due to a mixture of privacy, security, and environmental concerns, a number of projects have started that aim to deliver a variety of open-source computing devices. Examples include the EOMA68 (SBC in a PCMCIA form-factor, intended to be plugged into a laptop or desktop chassis), Novena (bare motherboard with optional laptop chassis), and GnuBee (series of Network Attached Storage devices).

Several retrocomputing hobby groups have created numerous recreations or adaptations of the early home computers of the 1970s and 80s, some of which include improved functionality and more modern components (such as surface-mount ICs and SD card readers).[23][24][25] Some hobbyists have also developed add-on cards (such as drive controllers,[26] memory expansion,[27] and sound cards[28]) to improve the functionality of older computers. Miniaturised recreations of vintage computers have also been created.[29]


One of the most popular types of open-source hardware is electronics. There are numerous companies that provide large varieties of open-source electronics such as Sparkfun, Adafruit and Seeed. In addition, there are NPOs and companies that provide a specific open-source electronic component such as the Arduino electronics prototyping platform. There are numerous examples of speciality open-source electronics such as low-cost voltage and current GMAW open-source 3-D printer monitor[30][31] and a robotics-assisted mass spectrometry assay platform.[32][33] Open-source electronics finds various uses, including automation of chemical procedures.[34][35]


A large range of products including mechanical components have been developed so far, from machine tools to vehicles over musical instruments and medical equipment.[21] Examples of machine-tools are the 3D printers RepRap and Ultimaker as well as the laser cutter Lasersaur. In the category vehicles, we can find bikes like XYZ Space Frame Vehicles and cars like the Tabby OSVehicle. Examples of medical equipment are the echostethoscope echOpen and a wide range of prosthetic hands listed in the review study by Ten Kate[36] e.g. the OpenBionics’ Prosthetic Hands.


Examples of open-source hardware products can also be found to a lesser extent in construction (Wikihouse) and textile (Kit Zéro Kilomètres).


Rather than creating a new license, some open-source hardware projects simply use existing, free and open-source software licenses.[37] These licenses may not accord well with patent law.[38]

Later, several new licenses have been proposed, designed to address issues specific to hardware designs.[39] In these licenses, many of the fundamental principles expressed in open-source software (OSS) licenses have been "ported" to their counterpart hardware projects. New hardware licenses are often explained as the "hardware equivalent" of a well-known OSS license, such as the GPL, LGPL, or BSD license.

Despite superficial similarities to software licenses, most hardware licenses are fundamentally different: by nature, they typically rely more heavily on patent law than on copyright law, as many hardware designs are not copyrightable.[40] Whereas a copyright license may control the distribution of the source code or design documents, a patent license may control the use and manufacturing of the physical device built from the design documents. This distinction is explicitly mentioned in the preamble of the TAPR Open Hardware License:

"... those who benefit from an OHL design may not bring lawsuits claiming that design infringes their patents or other intellectual property."

— TAPR Open Hardware License[41]

Noteworthy licenses include:

  • The TAPR Open Hardware License: drafted by attorney John Ackermann, reviewed by OSS community leaders Bruce Perens and Eric S. Raymond, and discussed by hundreds of volunteers in an open community discussion[42][9]
  • Balloon Open Hardware License: used by all projects in the Balloon Project
  • Although originally a software license, OpenCores encourages the LGPL
  • Hardware Design Public License: written by Graham Seaman, admin. of
  • In March 2011 CERN released the CERN Open Hardware License (OHL)[43] intended for use with the Open Hardware Repository[44] and other projects.
  • The Solderpad License[45] is a version of the Apache License version 2.0, amended by lawyer Andrew Katz to render it more appropriate for hardware use.

The Open Source Hardware Association recommends seven licenses which follow their open-source hardware definition.[46] From the general copyleft licenses the GNU General Public License (GPL) and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, from the HW specific copyleft licenses the CERN Open Hardware License (OHL) and TAPR Open Hardware License (OHL) and from the permissive licenses the FreeBSD license, the MIT license, and the Creative Commons Attribution license.[47] recommended in 2012 the TAPR Open Hardware License, Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 and GPL 3.0 license.[48]

Organizations tend to rally around a shared license. For example, OpenCores prefers the LGPL or a Modified BSD License,[49] FreeCores insists on the GPL,[50] Open Hardware Foundation promotes "copyleft or other permissive licenses",[51] the Open Graphics Project uses[52] a variety of licenses, including the MIT license, GPL, and a proprietary license,[53] and the Balloon Project wrote their own license.[54]


Open Source Hardware (OSHW) Logo on blank PCB
The OSHW (Open Source Hardware) logo silkscreened on an unpopulated PCB

The adjective "open-source" not only refers to a specific set of freedoms applying to a product, but also generally presupposes that the product is the object or the result of a "process that relies on the contributions of geographically dispersed developers via the Internet."[55] In practice however, in both fields of open-source hardware and open-source software, products may either be the result of a development process performed by a closed team in a private setting or by a community in a public environment, the first case being more frequent than the second which is more challenging.[21] Establishing a community-based product development process faces several challenges such as: to find appropriate product data management tools, document not only the product but also the development process itself, accepting losing ubiquitous control over the project, ensure continuity in a context of fickle participation of voluntary project members, among others.[56]

Arduino Diecimila
The Arduino Diecimila, another popular and early open source hardware design.

One of the major differences between developing open-source software and developing open-source hardware is that hardware results in tangible outputs, which cost money to prototype and manufacture. As a result, the phrase "free as in speech, not as in beer",[57] more formally known as Gratis versus Libre, distinguishes between the idea of zero cost and the freedom to use and modify information. While open-source hardware faces challenges in minimizing cost and reducing financial risks for individual project developers, some community members have proposed models to address these needs[58] Given this, there are initiatives to develop sustainable community funding mechanisms, such as the Open Source Hardware Central Bank.

Extensive discussion has taken place on ways to make open-source hardware as accessible as open-source software. Providing clear and detailed product documentation is an essential factor facilitating product replication and collaboration in hardware development projects. Practical guides have been developed to help practitioners to do so.[59][60] Another option is to design products so they are easy to replicate, as exemplified in the concept of open-source appropriate technology.[61]

The process of developing open-source hardware in a community-based setting is alternatively called open design, open source development[62] or open source product development.[63] All these terms are instantiations of the open-source model applicable for the development of any product, may it be software, hardware, cultural, educational, and so on. See here for a delineation of these terms.

A major contributor to the production of open-source hardware product designs is the scientific community. There has been considerable work to produce open-source hardware for scientific hardware using a combination of open-source electronics and 3-D printing.[64][65][66] Other sources of open-source hardware production are vendors of chips and other electronic components sponsoring contests with the provision that the participants and winners must share their designs. Circuit Cellar magazine organizes some of these contests.

Open-source labs

A guide has been published (Open-Source Lab (book) by Joshua Pearce) on using open-source electronics and 3D printing to make open-source labs. Today scientists are creating many such labs, examples include:

Business models

Open hardware companies are experimenting with different business models.[69] In one example, littleBits implements open-source business models by making the design files available for the circuit designs in each littleBits module, in accordance with the CERN Open Hardware License Version 1.2.[70] In another example, Arduino has registered its name as a trademark. Others may manufacture their designs but can't put the Arduino name on them. Thus they can distinguish their products from others by appellation.[71] There are many applicable business models for implementing some open-source hardware even in traditional firms. For example, to accelerate development and technical innovation the photovoltaic industry has experimented with partnerships, franchises, secondary supplier and completely open-source models.[72]

Recently, many open source hardware projects were funded via crowdfunding on Indiegogo or Kickstarter. Especially popular is Crowd Supply for crowdfunding open hardware projects.[73]

Reception and impact

Richard Stallman, the founder of the free software movement, was in 1999 skeptical on the idea and relevance of Free hardware (his terminology for what is now known as open-source hardware).[74] In a 2015 Wired article he adapted his point of view slightly; while he still sees no ethical parallel between free software and free hardware, he acknowledges the importance.[75] Also, Stallman uses and suggests the term free hardware design over open source hardware, a request which is consistent with his earlier rejection of the term open source software (see also Alternative terms for free software).[75]

Other authors, such as Joshua Pearce have argued there is an ethical imperative for open-source hardware – specifically with respect to open-source appropriate technology for sustainable development.[76] In 2014, he also wrote the book Open-Source Lab: How to Build Your Own Hardware and Reduce Research Costs, which details the development of free and open-source hardware primarily for scientists and university faculty.[77][78] A new scientific journal has also been introduced by Prof. Pearce in partnership with Elsevier: HardwareX. It has featured numerous examples of applications of open source hardware for scientific purposes.

Find open-source hardware products

Some ongoing initiatives provide indexes of open-source hardware products for different purposes:

An autosampler for liquid or gaseous samples based on a microsyringe
An autosampler for solid samples for gamma ray measurement

See also


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External links

Free license

A free license or open license is a license agreement which contains provisions that allow other individuals to reuse another creator's work, giving them four major freedoms. Without a special license, these uses are normally prohibited by copyright law or commercial license. Most free licenses are worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, and perpetual (see copyright durations). Free licenses are often the basis of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding projects.

The invention of the term "free license" and the focus on the rights of users were connected to the sharing traditions of the hacker culture of the 1970s public domain software ecosystem, the social and political free software movement (since 1980) and the open source movement (since the 1990s). These rights were codified by different groups and organizations for different domains in Free Software Definition, Open Source Definition, Debian Free Software Guidelines, Definition of Free Cultural Works and the The Open Definition. These definitions were then transformed into licenses, using the copyright as legal mechanism. Since then, ideas of free/open licenses spread into different spheres of society.

Open source, free culture (unified as free and open-source movement), anticopyright, Wikimedia Foundation projects, public domain advocacy groups and pirate parties are connected with free and open licenses.

Limor Fried

Limor Fried is an American electrical engineer and owner of the electronics hobbyist company Adafruit Industries. She is influential in the open-source hardware community, having participated in the first Open Source Hardware Summit and the drafting of the Open Source Hardware definition, and is known for her moniker ladyada, a homage to Lady Ada Lovelace.

List of open-source hardware projects

This is a list of open-source hardware projects, including computer systems and components, cameras, radio, telephony, science education, machines and tools, robotics, renewable energy, home automation, medical and biotech, automotive, prototyping, test equipment, and musical instruments.

Modular design

Modular design, or "modularity in design", is an approach (design and otherwise) that subdivides a system into smaller parts called modules or skids, that can be independently created and then used in different systems. A modular system can be characterized by functional partitioning into discrete scalable, reusable modules; rigorous use of well-defined modular interfaces; and making use of industry standards for interfaces.

Modularity offers benefits such as reduction in cost (due to less customization), shorter learning time, flexibility in design, augmentation (adding new solution by merely plugging in a new module), and exclusion.

Cars, computers, process systems, solar panels, wind turbines, elevators, furniture, looms, railroad signaling systems, telephone exchanges, pipe organs, synthesizers, electric power distribution systems and modular buildings are examples of modular systems.

Evolution also results in the modular design of species in that homologous modules sharing approximately the same form or function appear in different organisms. Computers use modularity to overcome changing customer demands and to make the manufacturing process more adaptive to change (see modular programming). Modular design is an attempt to combine the advantages of standardization (high volume normally equals low manufacturing costs) with those of customization. A downside to modularity (and this depends on the extent of modularity) is that low quality modular systems are not optimized for performance. This is usually due to the cost of putting up interfaces between modules.

Open-design movement

The open-design movement involves the development of physical products, machines and systems through use of publicly shared design information. This includes the making of both free and open-source software (FOSS) as well as open-source hardware. The process is generally facilitated by the Internet and often performed without monetary compensation. The goals and philosophy of the movement are identical to that of the open-source movement, but are implemented for the development of physical products rather than software. Open design is a form of co-creation, where the final product is designed by the users, rather than an external stakeholder such as a private company.

Open-source computing hardware

Open-source computing hardware comprises computers and computer components with an open design. They are designed as open-source hardware using open-source principles.

Open-source robotics

Open-source robotics (OSR) is where the physical artifacts of the subject are offered by the open design movement. This branch of robotics makes use of open-source hardware and free and open-source software providing blueprints, schematics, and source code. The term usually means that information about the hardware is easily discerned so that others can make it from standard commodity components and tools—coupling it closely to the maker movement and open science.


OpenCores is a community developing digital open-source hardware through electronic design automation, with a similar ethos as the free software movement. OpenCores hopes to eliminate redundant design work and slash development costs. A number of companies have been reported as adopting OpenCores IP in chips, or as adjuncts to EDA tools. OpenCores is also cited from time to time in the electronics press as an example of open source in the electronics hardware community.OpenCores has always been a commercially owned organization. In 2015, the core active users of OpenCores established the independent Free and Open Source Silicon Foundation (FOSSi), and registered the website as the basis for all future development, independent of commercial control.

Open Architecture Network

Open Architecture Network was a free online, open source community dedicated to improving global living conditions through innovative and sustainable design. It was developed by Architecture for Humanity.

Open Firmware

Open Firmware, or OpenBoot in Sun Microsystems parlance, is a standard defining the interfaces of a computer firmware system, formerly endorsed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). It originated at Sun, and has been used by Sun, Apple, IBM, ARM and most other non-x86 PCI chipset vendors. Open Firmware allows the system to load platform-independent drivers directly from the PCI card, improving compatibility.

Open Firmware may be accessed through its Forth language shell interface. It achieves essentially the same functionality as the later EFI standard initiated at Intel, with lower overhead.

Open Firmware is described by IEEE standard IEEE 1275-1994, which was not reaffirmed by the Open Firmware Working Group (OFWG) since 1998 and has therefore been officially withdrawn by IEEE.

Several commercial implementations of Open Firmware have been released to the Open Source community in 2006, including Sun OpenBoot, Firmworks OpenFirmware and Codegen SmartFirmware. The source code is available from the OpenBIOS project. Sun's implementation is available under a BSD license.

Open architecture

Open architecture is a type of computer architecture or software architecture intended to make adding, upgrading, and swapping components easy. For example, the IBM PC, Amiga 500 and Apple IIe have an open architecture supporting plug-in cards, whereas the Apple IIc computer has a closed architecture. Open architecture systems may use a standardized system bus such as S-100, PCI or ISA or they may incorporate a proprietary bus standard such as that used on the Apple II, with up to a dozen slots that allow multiple hardware manufacturers to produce add-ons, and for the user to freely install them. By contrast, closed architectures, if they are expandable at all, have one or two "expansion ports" using a proprietary connector design that may require a license fee from the manufacturer, or enhancements may only be installable by technicians with specialized tools or training.

Computer platforms may include systems with both open and closed architectures. The Mac mini and Compact Macintosh are closed; the Macintosh II and Power Macintosh G5 are open. Most desktop PCs are open architecture, but nettops are typically closed.

Similarly, an open software architecture is one in which additional software modules can be added to the basic framework provided by the architecture. Open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to major software products are the way in which the basic functionality of such products can be modified or extended. The Google APIs are examples. A second type of open software architecture consists of the messages that can flow between computer systems. These messages have a standard structure that can be modified or extended per agreements between the computer systems. An example is IBM's Distributed Data Management Architecture.

Open architecture allows potential users to see inside all or parts of the architecture without any proprietary constraints. Typically, an open architecture publishes all or parts of its architecture that the developer or integrator wants to share. The open business processes involved with an open architecture may require some license agreements between entities sharing the architecture information. Open architectures have been successfully implemented in many diverse fields, including the US Navy.

Open source

Open source is a term denoting that a product includes permission to use its source code, design documents, or content. It most commonly refers to the open-source model, in which open-source software or other products are released under an open-source license as part of the open-source-software movement. Use of the term originated with software, but has expanded beyond the software sector to cover other open content and forms of open collaboration.


The Simputer was a self-contained, open hardware Linux-based handheld computer, first released in 2002. Developed in, and primarily distributed within India, the product was envisioned as a low-cost alternative to personal computers. With initial goals of selling 50,000 simputers, the project had sold only about 4,000 units by 2005, and has been called a failure by news sources.

SparkFun Electronics

SparkFun Electronics (sometimes known by its abbreviation, SFE) is an electronics retailer in Niwot, Colorado, United States. It manufactures and sells microcontroller development boards and breakout boards. All products designed and produced by SparkFun are released as open-source hardware.


SuperH (or SH) is a 32-bit reduced instruction set computing (RISC) instruction set architecture (ISA) developed by Hitachi and currently produced by Renesas. It is implemented by microcontrollers and microprocessors for embedded systems.

As of 2015, many of the original patents for the SuperH architecture are expiring and the SH2 CPU has been reimplemented as open source hardware under the name J2.

Telecom Infra Project

Telecom Infra Project (TIP) was formed in 2016 as an engineering-focused, collaborative methodology for building and deploying global telecom network infrastructure, with the goal of enabling global access for all.TIP is jointly steered by its group of founding tech and telecom companies, which forms its board of directors, and is chaired by Deutsche Telekom AG's vice-president of technology innovation, Axel Clauberg. Member companies host technology incubator labs and accelerators, and TIP hosts an annual infrastructure conference, TIP Summit.The organization adopts transparency of process and collaboration in the development of new technologies, by its more than 500 participating member organizations, including operators, suppliers, developers, integrators, startups and other entities, that participate in various TIP project groups. Projects employ current case studies to evolve telecom equipment and software into more flexible, agile, and interoperable forms.


Thingiverse is a website dedicated to the sharing of user-created digital design files. Providing primarily free, open source hardware designs licensed under the GNU General Public License or Creative Commons licenses, users choose the type of user license they wish to attach to the designs they share. 3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines and many other technologies can be used to physically create the files shared by the users on Thingiverse.

Thingiverse is widely used in the DIY technology and Maker communities, by the RepRap Project, and by 3D Printer and MakerBot operators. Numerous technical projects use Thingiverse as a repository for shared innovation and dissemination of source materials to the public. Many of the objects are for the purpose of repair, decoration, or organization.

Wiring (development platform)

Wiring is an open-source electronics prototyping platform composed of a programming language, an integrated development environment (IDE), and a single-board microcontroller. It was developed starting in 2003 by Hernando Barragán.

Barragán started the project at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. The project is currently developed at the School of Architecture and Design at the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.

Wiring builds on Processing, an open project initiated by Casey Reas and Benjamin Fry, both formerly of the Aesthetics and Computation Group at the MIT Media Lab.

The documentation was created with software designers and artists in mind. Project experts, intermediate developers, and beginners from around the world share ideas, knowledge and their collective experience as a project community. Wiring makes it easy to create software for controlling devices attached to the electronics board to create all kinds of interactive devices. The concept of developing is to write a few lines of code, connect a few electronic components to the Wiring hardware and observe, for example, that a motion sensor controls a light when a person approaches it, write a few more lines, add another sensor, and see how this light changes when the illumination level in a room decreases. This process is called sketching with hardware; explore ideas quickly, select the more interesting ones, refine and produce prototypes in an iterative process.

Wishbone (computer bus)

The Wishbone Bus is an open source hardware computer bus intended to let the parts of an integrated circuit communicate with each other. The aim is to allow the connection of differing cores to each other inside of a chip. The Wishbone Bus is used by many designs in the OpenCores project.

A large number of open-source CPU designs and auxiliary computer peripherals have been released with Wishbone interfaces. Many can be found at OpenCores, a foundation that attempts to make open-source hardware designs available.

Wishbone is intended as a "logic bus". It does not specify electrical information or the bus topology. Instead, the specification is written in terms of "signals", clock cycles, and high and low levels.

This ambiguity is intentional. Wishbone is made to let designers combine several designs written in Verilog, VHDL or some other logic-description language for electronic design automation. Wishbone provides a standard way for designers to combine these hardware logic designs (called "cores").

Wishbone is defined to have 8, 16, 32, and 64-bit buses. All signals are synchronous to a single clock but some slave responses must be generated combinatorially for maximum performance. Wishbone permits addition of a "tag bus" to describe the data. But reset, simple addressed reads and writes, movement of blocks of data, and indivisible bus cycles all work without tags.

Wishbone is open source, which makes it easy for engineers and hobbyists to share public domain designs for hardware logic on the Internet. To prevent preemption of its technologies by aggressive patenting, the Wishbone specification includes examples of prior art, to prove its concepts are in the public domain.

A device does not conform to the Wishbone specification unless it includes a data sheet that describes what it does, bus width, utilization, etc. Promoting reuse of a design requires the data sheet. Making a design reusable in turn makes it easier to share with others.

The Simple Bus Architecture is a simplified version of the Wishbone specification.

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