("Yeah, but to be fair, 400M lines is just the JSON file with all our names and addresses...").
The 500MLoC number almost certainly originated in the NY Times on 10/21:
According to one specialist, the Web site contains about 500 million lines of software code. By comparison, a large bank’s computer system is typically about one-fifth that size.
I say "almost certainly" because prior to that date I was researching the software development process for my column and that number never came up and is not in any of the major primary sources (the most important of which is this GAO report from June ). I can't prove that it was never used prior to that NYT quote, but the NYT article was where it gained traction.
CGI has not released the source code for their work -- the github repository that was briefly visible and of which there are a few forks, was extremely minimal and only contained, at most, front-end aspects.
The OP is right to be extremely skeptical about the 500MLoC number, which would represent:
- Complexity vastly greater than reasonable (as the comparison in the question shows),
- Productivity vastly greater than reasonable (the contracts only having been awarded over the past few years) (Source lines of code / month is a terrible measure of software productivity, but since this site puts a premium on references, this is one of many references that speaks to a rate in the low hundreds per staff month for larger projects.)
- Coordination vastly greater than reasonable (per-developer software productivity goes down with complexity and team size: yet somehow this extremely troubled development process led to 500MLoC of production?)
What may be more reasonable is that there might be 500MLoC that was generated, i.e., data initialization. Or it may be that this was simply a quote that was more about adding color than being the basis for analysis:
- In the NYT article, you'll see that it's the last paragraph and is not followed up.
- The statement, "the Web site contains about 500 million lines of software code" is, at best, sloppy (the site is more in the few-tens-of-thousands of lines size but clearly the back-end was where the vast majority of effort / costs were expended).
- "By comparison, a large bank's computer system is typically about one-fifth that size" is, although not outrageous, also a fairly dubious quote. Large banks don't have a single "computer system," accumulate their codebases over decades, and don't open their codebases for analysis of what is and is not "typical."
UPDATE 2014-05-22: Reddit user agenaille claims to have worked on healthcare.gov and says that an automated tool produced the following counts:
Language files blank comment code
Java 13,481 419,643 847,982 2,399,683
HTML 1,635 50,124 16,845 515,494
XSD 5,227 1,238 20,945 156,696
XML 659 6,436 13,073 136,827
CSS 205 14,000 9,420 109,815
Maven 275 737 1,421 47,449
XSLT 383 2,357 1,476 21,624
Bourne Shell 248 2,305 1,446 8,830
SQL 28 860 139 8,487
JavaServer Face 35 766 0 3,770
DOS Batch 48 235 118 849
Ant 8 77 45 810
Perl 18 161 45 646
Visualforce Com 39 0 0 626
Groovy 4 68 15 361
Python 5 55 90 263
Visual Basic 1 3 0 25
DTD 1 8 0 17
JSP 3 0 0 13
ASP.Net 1 0 0 11
SUM 23,935 555,371 1,015,200 3,734,488
These numbers are still quite high (as @ChrisW mentioned in comments, compaid.com/caiinternet/ezine/reifer-benchmarks.pdf suggests software development costs at least $20/LOC) and the variety of languages suggest that this codebase might be a catch-all rather than a snapshot of what is in production (48 DOS batch files? Fascinating!). Nonetheless, at more than two orders of magnitude less than the 500MLoC number, it's a far more believable volume.