Healthcare.gov code allegedly two times larger than Facebook, Windows, and OS X combined
Following a report from The New York Times that Healthcare.gov is 500 million lines of code, one developer draws a telling comparison between the ACA's Web system and other popular software.
Healthcare.gov is in shambles. Republicans, on the heels of the House's failure to gut the Affordable Care Act (ACA), are whipping up a firestorm of criticism. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is facing calls for resignation, and critics -- and satirists -- are asking everyone from ex-fugitive John McAfee to Edward Snowden to weigh in on the issues.
The latest controversy revolves around The New York Times' reporting that roughly 1 percent of Healthcare.gov -- or 5 million lines of code -- would need to be rewritten, putting the Web site's total size at a mind-boggling 500 million lines of code -- a scale that suggests months upon months of work.
Some are naturally skeptical of that ridiculous-sounding number -- as well as the credibility of The New York Times' source, who remains unnamed. Forums of programmers on sites like Reddit have postulated that, if true, it would have to involve mounds of bloated legacy code from past systems -- making it one of the largest Web systems ever built. One developer, Alex Marchant of Orange, Calif., decided to draw an interesting comparison to point that out.
Marchant's chart included Facebook.com, which he says nears 75 million lines of code, but it's likely larger due to his source's exclusion of back-end components; OS X 10.4 Tiger; and Windows XP. Still, Healthcare.gov at 500 million lines is more than two times larger than all three combined.
For further perspective, makers of the multiplayer online game World of Warcraft regularly maintain 5.5 million lines of code for the game's more than 7 million subscribers. How about the code that runs a gigantic, multinational bank? The Bank of New York Mellon, the oldest banking corporation in the US and the largest deposit bank in the world with close to $30 trillion in total assets, has a system built upon 112,500 Cobol programs, which amounts to 343 million lines of code.
Those examples are enough to make you think something is amiss in the 500 million figure. Still, it would come as no surprise if Healthcare.gov -- plugged into thousands of outdated systems, containing countless redundancies, and rushed out the door with little technical oversight -- were, in fact, the most bloated piece of software to ever hit the Web.