Group to Fork Terraform after HashiCorp Licensing Shift


By: Mary Jander

The ongoing evolution of open-source tool Terraform has taken a new turn after HashiCorp’s (Nasdaq: HCP) August 10 decision to remove it products from free open-source licensing to paid Business Source Licensing (BSL). A group named OpenTF this week announced creation of a fork of Terraform – a new codebase for the infrastructure-as-code solution with its own licensing and management.

The move follows the establishment of the OpenTF shortly after HashiCorp’s announcement, when the new group warned of the project to come in a manifesto:

“If HashiCorp is unwilling to switch Terraform back to an open-source license, we propose to fork the legacy MPL-licensed Terraform and maintain the fork in the foundation. This is similar to how Linux and Kubernetes are managed by foundations (the Linux Foundation and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, respectively), which are run by multiple companies, ensuring the tool stays truly open source and neutral and not at the whim of any one company.”

OpenTF has already applied to become part of the Linux Foundation (with the goal of ultimately having its eponymous OpenTF become part of the CNCF).

No Time to Spare

The OpenTF, comprising over 100 companies and over 500 individuals, has set an ambitious plan for the new open Terraform project. The group’s set up a steering committee, gathered key documentation, and in its words “got CI/CD pipelines and multiple testing harnesses of end-to-end and snapshot tests to work and be green, to make sure that we stay backwards-compatible.”

A repository on GitHub outlines the work currently in progress and reports on its status. The fork is expected to be posted within the next couple of weeks, with a preliminary release of the code to follow “shortly” after. “[W]e didn’t want to lose any time,” the fork announcement states.

Questions Linger

Developers seem pleased with the OpenTF plan, but they have questions. For one thing, there appears to be a backlog of hundreds of issues with Terraform, which HashiCorp won’t be able to address before shifting to the new licensing. As one Reddit contributor wrote:

“Terraform haven’t made a dent in the number of issues open currently. By the end of 2023, this won't have changed much. How is OpenTF going to triage the 2k existing issues so that they do not get missed given issues don't get transferred between projects.”

And the answer from an OpenTF member:

“I think, unfortunately, the answer is: we'll see. But, as a member of OpenTF, I encourage you to create issues and any PRs you can into the OpenTF repository. For legal reasons, it can be somewhat difficult to pull over existing PRs and look at issues.”

There is also the question about another HashiCorp product that’s moving out of open source – Vault. The OpenTF is not going to fork Vault, which leaves users wondering what to use in its place.

Bigger Firms Unfazed

Scanning the list of companies that have pledged support to OpenTF reveals mostly smaller firms, albeit innovative players such as env0, whose CEO Ohad Maislish wrote in a blog last week:

“Simply put, the [HashiCorp] license is a poison pill for the Terraform ecosystem. One that will also have a ripple effect on other open-source projects, and undermine the credibility of open-source as a concept.”

There’s a notable absence of cloud hyperscalers and other influential IT providers among OpenTF supporters. It seems those companies are large enough that the licensing fees will be digestible.

For its part, HashiCorp seems to be looking forward to the shift as a way to boost its flagging profitability. How the situation will play out won’t be clear until next year, when the licensing takes effect.

Futuriom Take: The OpenTF is an indicator that while developers continue to be passionate about the future of open source, the big technology companies don’t seem to care. Still, smaller firms are often key innovators and acquisition targets, so what affects them will have broader implications.