The Future of Terraform: From Open Source to BSL License

A Controversial Move

It is August 28, 2023, and the tech world is abuzz with the news of HashiCorp’s decision to switch all of their core products, including Terraform, to a BSL (Business Source License). This move has sparked a fierce debate within the open-source community, as many see it as a betrayal of the principles of open-source software.

Terraform was once the world’s most loved open-source infrastructure-as-code tool. However, like many successful open-source products, it “sold out” when it hit the big time. The decision to move to a BSL license has raised concerns about the future of Terraform and its impact on the wider open-source ecosystem.

Understanding the BSL License

The BSL license, officially known as the Business Source License, has been around since 2013 and has been adopted by other companies such as MongoDB, Elasticsearch, and Redis. It allows users to copy, modify, and redistribute the code, but commercial use is only allowed under specific conditions. In the case of HashiCorp, commercial use is restricted, and users are not allowed to offer a competitive service using the code.

On one hand, this move makes sense from a business perspective. It prevents giant companies like Amazon and Google from taking the code developed by HashiCorp and offering it as a paid service on their platforms, effectively stealing the ability to monetize it. As a publicly traded company, HashiCorp is under pressure to generate revenue and turn a profit. The move to a BSL license allows them to maintain control over their products and monetize them more effectively.

The Impact of the BSL License

The switch to a BSL license has implications beyond just Terraform. It could affect not only big cloud providers but also startups offering Terraform services, such as Spacelift. While these companies can continue to offer services, they won’t be able to incorporate future releases or security patches, which could impact their ability to provide a competitive service.

However, this move has not been without criticism. Many in the open-source community feel that it goes against the principles of open-source software. While the source code is still available, the fact that it’s no longer truly open-source, according to the Open Source Initiative, has raised concerns about the future of Terraform and its adoption.

The Response from the Open-Source Community

The open-source community has not taken this change lying down. A project called OpenTF has emerged as a response to the switch to a BSL license. Originally, they posted a Manifesto asking HashiCorp to return to the original license. However, due to the lack of response, they have announced a fork of Terraform that is truly open source and will have 100% interoperability with future releases of Terraform.

This response from the open-source community underscores the importance of open-source principles and the desire to maintain the integrity of open-source software. It also highlights the potential impact of this move on the wider tech ecosystem.

The Future of Terraform

While the switch to a BSL license may provide short-term benefits for HashiCorp, it could also backfire in the long run. Infrastructure as code is not as prone to vendor lock-in as databases, and there are alternative tools and services available. This move may push users and companies to seek out other options, potentially impacting the adoption of Terraform in the long term.

Additionally, the response from the open-source community demonstrates the power and influence of the collective voice in the tech industry. The open-source ethos of collaboration and transparency is fundamental to the evolution of technology, and moves like this can have a significant impact on the wider ecosystem.

In conclusion, the switch of Terraform to a BSL license has sparked a contentious debate within the tech community. While it may benefit HashiCorp in the short term, it could have long-term implications for the adoption and usage of Terraform. The response from the open-source community highlights the importance of open-source principles and the potential impact of shifts in licensing and control over software. The future of Terraform and its role in the tech industry will continue to be a topic of discussion and contention in the years to come.


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