Home The importance of Open Source Software: Terraform and OpenTofu

The importance of Open Source Software: Terraform and OpenTofu


Open source software has played a pivotal role in shaping the modern technological landscape. It has enabled developers, businesses, and communities to collaborate and build robust ecosystems. However, recent developments in the open-source world have sparked a significant debate and raised concerns about the future of these projects. In August 2023, Terraform, a popular infrastructure as code (IaC) tool, transitioned from an open-source license to the Business Source License (BUSL). This sudden change has far-reaching implications not only for Terraform but for the entire open-source community. In response, a group of concerned individuals created OpenTofu, a fork of Terraform, which is now maintained by the Linux Foundation.

The significance of Terraform

Terraform, developed by HashiCorp, is a critical tool for managing infrastructure as code. It has been a mainstay in the tech industry for nearly a decade, fostering a thriving community of users, contributors, vendors, and open-source modules. Its open-source nature allowed for widespread adoption and innovation. However, the sudden shift to the BUSL license has raised a red flag in the open-source world.

The threat of the Business Source License (BUSL)

The BUSL license, in essence, is not open source. It introduces ambiguities that leave many businesses, developers, and users uncertain about their legal standing when utilizing Terraform. The uncertainty stems from the fact that the BUSL and its accompanying use grant lack clarity. What exactly constitutes “competitive” with HashiCorp’s offerings? What if interpretations change over time? These uncertainties place everything dependent on Terraform on shaky ground, potentially stifling its ecosystem.

Erosion of the Open-Source ecosystem

The move to the BUSL license threatens to undermine the very foundation of Terraform’s thriving open-source ecosystem. Developers and companies that once relied on Terraform may reconsider their choices in favor of tools with genuinely open-source licenses. This shift can result in the stagnation and eventual disappearance of existing Terraform codebases, independent tooling, and community support. The open-source community built around Terraform risks fragmentation and decline, potentially leaving users stranded.

A wider implication

The events surrounding Terraform’s licensing change carry implications beyond this specific tool. Any sudden transition from open source to a restrictive license model can cast a shadow of doubt over the open-source world as a whole. This serves as a warning to every company and developer considering open-source projects. They now must think twice about adoption and investment, as the threat of a future license change hangs over the entire open-source landscape.

The birth of OpenTofu

In response to these challenges, a group of individuals took action to safeguard Terraform and its open-source values. They asked HashiCorp to revert Terraform to an open-source license, but with no response, they decided to create a fork, which they named OpenTofu. As already mentioned above, this fork is now maintained by the Linux Foundation.

Why OpenTofu matters

OpenTofu’s creation in the Linux Foundation signifies a commitment to preserving the open-source ethos. I encourage all of you to read the OpenTofu Manifesto to have a better understanding of why this is so important.

My 2 cents

The Terraform licensing shift and the emergence of OpenTofu exemplify the fundamental importance of open-source software in our interconnected world. These events serve as a reminder that open-source principles are essential for creating a strong, reliable foundation for our technological infrastructure. They underline the need for transparency, collaboration, and community-driven development in open-source projects. OpenTofu’s commitment to these principles reinforces the idea that open-source software should be embraced, cherished, and protected to ensure a vibrant and innovative future for technology.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.