OpenTF forks Terraform, insists HashiCorp is the splinter group

Dude, stop hitting yourself

Two weeks after HashiCorp changed the terms under which its Terraform software is licensed, users of the infrastructure automation project – corporate rivals among them – have created a fork of the Terraform code.

HashiCorp's announcement this month it would switch from the Mozilla Public License (MPL) to the Business Source License v1.1 (BSL) prompted an open source community group calling itself OpenTF to issue a manifesto several days later, calling for the restoration of Terraform's open source license.

HashiCorp, which went public in late 2021, did not revisit its licensing makeover, and so the Terraform code has been, or is about to be, forked.

"Since no reversal has been done, and no intent to do one has been communicated, we’re proud to announce that we have created a fork of Terraform called OpenTF," the group said on Friday. "Many engineers across a number of companies, sometimes even competing companies, have been working together over the last week to make this possible."

We didn't do it, you did

"Our view is that we're actually not the fork because we're just changing the name but it's the same project under the same license," Sebastian Stadil, co-founder and CEO of DevOps automation biz Scalr told The Register. "Our position is that the fork is actually HashiCorp that has forked its own projects under a different license."

OpenTF will revert back to, or continue under, the MPL. "We'd love to license the project under the Apache 2.0, but the MPL isn't compatible with it, so it'll stay MPL," said Stadil.

Beyond Scalr, the founders of OpenTF include Gruntwork, Spacelift, Env0, and, it's claimed, more than 100 companies. The group has described the BSL license as "a poison pill for the entire Terraform community."

In an essay last week, Ohad Maislish, founder of Env0, said, "It is our belief that under the business license, the future of Terraform looks bleak. Community focus will shift, businesses will start looking for OSS alternatives, and independent tooling will gradually disappear."

And over on Hacker News, Maislish made the point that the OpenTF gang had helped build the Terraform ecosystem for HashiCorp.

"I wanted to mention that indeed Env0 enjoyed Terraform being free, but also contributed back to the Terraform ecosystem," he said, citing the open source projects Terratag and an educational podcast about the software as examples.

"Also important to mention another and probably a more important key member in the OpenTF initiative: Gruntwork, creators of Terragrunt and Terratest. I believe we all contributed nicely to the community. Just my two cents, in order to add a bit more context to 'companies who make money from Terraform being free'."

When challenged that Env0 stood to benefit from these contributions, Maislish, who admitted his biz is "direct competition of Terraform Cloud," insisted: "Hashicorp are not the baddies. They did what they chose is right for them. They have any right to do so. Also, what Hashi did for OSS in the last decade is amazing, made OSS better and built many communities. Now it is time for something/somebody else to keep Terraform OSS."

HashiCorp's decision to issue new licensing terms for its software follows a path trodden by numerous other organizations formed around open source projects to limit what competitors can do with project code. As the biz acknowledged in its statement about the transition, firms like Cockroach Labs, Confluent Sentry, Couchbase, Elastic, MariaDB, MongoDB, and Redis Labs have similarly adopted less-permissive software licenses to create a barrier for competitors.

The software biz's explanation for its shift focuses on the outcome but does not address its reasoning nor delve into details.

"By shifting to this license, HashiCorp can better manage commercial uses of our source code and continue to invest in our thriving community of practitioners, many of whom are contributors, in a manner that will not impede their work," the developer said.

It is of course famously difficult to directly make money from FOSS work, which has led to programmers unpublishing code or making disruptive changes in protest.

In that, HashiCorp has our sympathy. While this was not the ideal way to handle it, it had some serious purpose, Joseph Jacks of OSS Capital told The Register:

My partner Heather Meeker helped invent the BSL over a decade ago, well before Hashi was actually founded – she is the world's foremost attorney focused on open source IP and licensing law now, for 20+ years.

At my firm OSS Capital, we have invested in over 50 seed stage open source startups – for over 5 years now – we are the only VC doing this… and will never invest if the core license is source available (although we have no issues with it at a philosophical level). Our view is that if the founders decide to change over time after they have built huge businesses and they employ the vast majority of core committers, that's not only their prerogative but probably makes business sense. We would have liked to see Elastic and Mongo stick with AGPL, tho.

We also note that attempts to cash in on Hudson did not go well for Oracle, and the subsequent successful fork Jenkins ended up thriving.

Stadil said OpenTF has completed the paperwork to join The Linux Foundation (LF) and, once there, expects to transfer over to the LF's subsidiary Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

No biggie for the competition

Technically, Stadil said, taking over the maintenance and improvement of the codebase has been manageable.

"TerraForm is a large project, with hundreds and hundreds of providers," he said, "but fortunately, on the OpenTF team, we have people with experience with TerraForm. We have experience with people that have submitted PRs to TerraForm, so getting the project started has not been as much of a lift as we thought it would have been."

Governance of the new project under the Linux Foundation's framework is still being sorted out. Stadil said the group has already elected a Technical Steering Committee to oversee the complex aspects of the breakaway project and plans to announce the names involved shortly.

"For day-to-day coding, we already have a little bit more than a dozen people now contributing to the code base," he said. "These are folks that are currently or will be full-time on the project. We haven't really decided who gets the title Core Maintainer versus others."

Because they're not executing well, other competitors like my company Scalr and a number of others have stepped in

Stadil said OpenTF has been well-received, jumping from 300 GitHub repo stars just after the manifesto was posted to more than 10x as many today (about 4,600 at the time this article was filed). And he added that the official recommendation for any CNFC project, like Kubernetes, is to use an open source product to replace Terraform.

Asked why HashiCorp opted for a change of license, Stadil claimed: "The reality here is that HashiCorp is not executing well on its Terraform cloud product. And because they're not executing well, other competitors like my company Scalr and a number of others have stepped in."

Asked to elaborate, Stadil cited several possible reasons including the company's pricing model, which he described as changing constantly.

"Their pricing is all over the place," he said. "And whenever you change pricing, there's always going to be some people who are better off with the new pricing and a lot of people who are worse off with the new pricing."

That complaint was echoed recently in a LinkedIn post by Mike Hodgkins, staff engineer at compliance monitoring biz FundApps, who wrote that while Terraform has made improvements to usability and security, "The new pricing model sucks…"

HashiCorp did not respond to a request for comment. ®

PS: Terraform the product is not to be confused with Terraform Labs, the cryptocurrency outfit of some previous infamy in El Reg.

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