SaaSy move: GitLab floats a new company over the Great Firewall of China

Who's looking after my code? JiHu, that's who...


GitLab has licensed its technology to a Chinese company as the DevOps darling looks to drive adoption of its platform in the most populated country in the world.

The company's existing self-managed version has been available in China for a while through a variety of resellers and system integrators and the online repo lays claim to several million users. The full-on SaaS version has, however, not been accessible in the same way due to what GitLab delicately referred to as "local licensing requirements."

To deal with those issues, GitLab Information Technology (Hubei) Co., Ltd (referred to as JiHu) has been set up as an entity independent of GitLab Inc.

Hand holding China passport

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Aside from the licensed technology, the Chinese company will enjoy full autonomy (from GitLab – how truly "independent" Chinese companies are is a matter for discussion – see Huawei.) It will be responsible for a Chinese distribution of the self-managed version and also handle that all important SaaS product (in the form of GitLab.cn.)

It's an interesting move. GitLab is eying developer growth in China, which it reckoned will be between 6 and 8 per cent to 2023. Going local means that the company will keep local government in the country happy as well as nudging users away from unofficial forks of its software toward the one, true path.

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And to keep other parties happy, the company insists "there is no financial capital investment from GitLab Inc." Just the investment of that licensed code.

The announcement comes less than two years after GitLab pondered the banning of Chinese support staff (as well as those from other countries that have attracted the ire of the US Department of Homeland Security.) Creating a new entity, isolated from the mothership, therefore has a certain appeal.

It also comes in the wake of rival GitHub's Chinese challenges. Activists have used the source shack for stashing information frowned on by the Chinese government and GitHub itself came under an attack in 2015 that apparently originated in China.

One reaction to the freewheeling nature of GitHub has been the creation of government-anointed Git operator Gitee.

Into this wades GitLab and JiHu. JiHu will not be following GitLab's terms and conditions, permitting GitLab to state "JiHu has been working with the Chinese government independently to file the required paperwork to become an official company in China and secure the appropriate licensing for the SaaS business, as required."

As for the code, there will be three distributions of GitLab: the globally available and free open source software Community Edition (CE), an Enterprise Edition (EE) available everywhere except China, and the JiHu Edition (JE), which is China-only. Changes to the CE and EE will be mirrored to the JE, but changes to the JE will not be mirrored back. ®

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