Interested in learning more about env0?

Igal Zeifman

VP Marketing

In mid-August, joined by several other founding members, we launched the OpenTF, to ensure Terraform’s open-source future following HashiCorp’s license changes.

The community response that followed was humbling. As of today (September 12th), our manifesto received over 34.8k GitHub stars, and pledges from 150+ companies and 700+ individuals. The project repo, which went live a week ago, already has 5.6K starts and has become a hub for active discussion about the future of the project.

Through it all, the project became a focal point for extensive media coverage, heated debates, and insightful conversations. In this post, I’ll try to recap some of these, in a way that (I hope) would provide helpful context for people new to this story. 

Please note that I don’t presume to cover every angle or represent every point of view. To do this would be simply impossible.

Instead, what I’m sharing here are things that were most meaningful and memorable for me, as someone who has been with the project from day one. In many cases, you’ll find me linking to discussion threads, and I encourage you to explore these in detail to formulate your own opinion of this unique, interesting, and complex topic.

HashiCorp Fuels the Open-Source Debate

Everything began on August 10th, with the following HashiCorp's announcement:

Just like that, all hell broke loose and what followed was a ripple of fierce exchanges within the community, with some advocating for the move while others expressing concerns about its implications. 

For me, the moment was captured best by this Hacker News thread. It had over 700 comments but the one that stuck with me was this one from an ex-product leader at HashiCorp. Someone who actually helped launch Terraform, back in the day: 

“...OSS is good for so many reasons, but as a product person, one of the things I loved most was the way it could help shape what the product could be in the future. Because of the ecosystem that erupts around it.

You've already got such a huge advantage as the steward of the project, the most recognized brand in the ecosystem you created, the brand recognition in an enterprise conversation, and so with all of that head start I felt like we should just win on our merits. And if you can't win given all of that advantage then maybe you don't deserve to.” 

Meanwhile, in other corners of the Internet, people were also debating the language of the announcement:

While others were making a case for the uniqueness of Terraform, compared to other HashiCorp products:

And many had started looking ahead to see where the dominos would fall…

Introducing OpenTF

Just a few days later, on August 15th, the world was introduced to OpenTF; an initiative to keep Terraform open source.

The initiative made its case in this manifesto, outlining the principles of what a true open-source project should be and the negative implications of the license change.

These were echoed in this post by Yevgeniy Brikman, CEO of Gruntwork, that talked about the ‘virtuous cycle of open source and the destabilizing effect of the BSL license:

  • “If you’re a CTO, and you’re picking an IaC tool to use at your company, if you see that Terraform is BSL licensed, why take the risk? You’re now much more likely to go with alternative tools that are truly open-source and have no licensing headaches.
  • If you’re on the legal team at a company and reviewing the licenses your dev team wants to use, and you see BSL, why take the risk? You’re now much more likely to push back and put BSL on the banned license list.
  • If you’re a developer and considering contributing to open source, why contribute to a BSL project with no guarantee you’d be able to use your work in the future? You’re now much more likely to contribute to something else.
  • If you’re a vendor and considering building a product or tooling in the DevOps space, why build it around Terraform, and take the risk that HashiCorp will, now or in the future, consider you competitive? That’s just too shaky of a foundation to build on, so you’re now much more likely to build around something else.”

This seemed to resonate, and the support for OpenTF gained traction quickly, The manifesto became the #2 most trending project on GitHub and reached its first 1,000 starts in just two days. 

Six days later, the manifesto reached 2,000 stars and announced its official logo.

The movement also drew media attention, including this deep-dive article in Forbes that explored the financial side of the story:

“The pivot for HashiCorp may have occurred long ago, in 2021, when it decided to go public – increasing the pressure to deliver financial results…

The strategy shift will likely play out in two ways: HashiCorp will morph into a strong enterprise software company that can develop more proprietary products that customers embrace. Or, by shutting off a large pipeline of the open-source community, the ecosystem shrinks and popular products such as Terraform become less relevant.

In this analyst’s opinion, the second scenario is a big threat because of HashiCorp’s most popular product – Terraform – was built on the back of open-source support…”

Similar thoughts were shared by Sid Sijbrandij, GitLab CEO who drew a connection between IPOs and OSS license changes and advocated for an "open charter" to ensure that financial pressures would not impact on commitment to open source projects. 

The business motivations behind the license shift were also well described by Fintan Ryan - an analyst who covered HashiCorp from 2015 until 2022, at RedMonk and at Gartner. 

In his post, Ryan mentioned the IPO as one of the main driving factors behind the move, pointing out the fact that HashiCorp was still struggling to turn a profit:

His conclusion was :

“Does the licensing matter greatly? In my opinion it does and for commercial entities trying to build businesses it matters massively. But, turning once again to Stephen O’Grady at RedMonk, when it comes to the definition of open-source, by far the largest group is “those that don’t care”.”

As the conversation progressed, the OpenTF core team appealed to HashiCorp.

The request was to revert Terraform’s license change and put it in the hands of an impartial organization. That way, the appeal suggested, it would be able to exist as one of the reliable building blocks of the Internet, next to the likes of Linux and Kubernetes.

Sadly, no response has arrived. 

Fork Announced

After a period of radio silence from HashiCorp, on August 25th, the OpenTF initiative announced a Terraform fork, together with its intention to move the project under the Linux Foundation, to ensure its open-source future and sustainability.

Just like with the initial announcement, one of the more interesting conversations to follow happened on The Hacker News, with a post that received over 1,700 upvotes and nearly 500 comments. 

At the same time, the announcement also gained traction on Reddit, swiftly becoming the most upvoted post of the year and one of the top five most popular posts of all time on the r/Terraform subreddit.

Some expressed concern:

״How is this going to work with future releases? I get that the current fork is essentially the same as the current TF release, but for future releases I assume they can’t just be copied from the TF code due to the new license, so someone’s going to re-implement the same features in openTF, but isn’t there a risk that there are slight differences in the implementation (or even a requirement to be different to avoid the TF license)?״

Others were more hopeful:

“A lot of people are going to be really surprised when the rate of development on the fork is going to be much higher than the original version. HashiCorp has been famously slow on taking in pull requests for years, the initial boost in OpenTF development rate is just going to be people doing all the small changes and additions they've wanted to do for a long time…”

On X/Twitter this post by Kelsey Hightower also sparked an interesting conversation, garnered over 200K views:

Ruthlessly Viral

As the news continued to spread, an article went live on TechCrunch on August 28th. In it, Ron Miller covered the story so far, outlining both sides of the argument. 

On the same day, a video on the popular Fireship YouTube channel provided its own account of the story, to a crowd of 2.4 million fans, myself included, reaching about 500K views!

Elegantly named ‘The ruthless forking of Terraform’ the video is everything you’d expect it to be, and more. 

If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading this RIGHT NOW, click the play button below, and enjoy the show…. 

The video did well to make its point. To demonstrate just how effective that point was, here is a graph showing what happened next to the OpenTF manifesto star count:

Public Repo Goes Live

The latest OpenTF milestone occurred last week, with the release of OpenTF’s public repository. Within the first 12 hours, it already reached over 2,000 stars and - predictably - made a series of splashes on social channels.

That conversation is still ongoing, and it includes some (very welcome) feedback. And also Fireship was able to chime in to provide few tips: 

Through it all, for me, one comment stood out the most:

“I think this whole process has been beautiful. Hashicorp was well aware that licenses are tagged to versions of projects rather than the "project" itself, and used that to its advantage as a business to start maximizing profits to its enterprise offerings.

The community was well aware that once you tag a license to a version, you can't undo that. And they're well aware that they can fork from that license forwards and build their own "new" project, version by version, that stays open source.

This is going to be fascinating to see play out, and I think a case study in software licensing going forwards...can't wait to see how OpenTF does down the road.”

Reading it, even as I write this, I find myself agreeing with every word. And what’s more exciting to me is that “down the road” is just around the corner.

Stay tuned.

No items found.
Manage IaC at scale, with confidence 

Use custom workflows to model any process

Visualize all IaC changes pre and post-deployment

Gain code-to-cloud visibility and governance

Improve developer experience and collaboration

Igal Zeifman

Share this post

Manage IaC with confidence 

Use custom workflows to model any process

Visualize all changes pre and post-deployment

Gain code-to-cloud visibility and governance

Improve developer experience and collaboration

Start Free Trial
See what env0 can do for you

env0 is the best way to deploy, scale, and manage your Terraform and other Infrastructure as Code tools.

Milo waving