Skip to content

Search the site

Sebastian Stadil on Terraform, OpenTofu, and open source

"This tofu has beef with HashiCorp..." Core OpenTofu Contributor and Scalr Founder talks to The Stack at OSS Europe.

Not so very long ago, HashiCorp moved its offerings away from open source, opting for the more restrictive Business Source License (BSL) 1.1.

This led to the launch of OpenTF, a "pure OSS" competitor to Terraform, the widely used software toolkit for provisioning infrastructure at scale. OpenTF has now been renamed and given a new home: the Linux Foundation.

See also: Terraform fork finds a home at the Linux Foundation – and a new name

Following the announcement made at the Open Source Summit in Bilbao, core contributor to the Terraform fork Sebastian Stadil sat down with The Stack to give us the insider's view on the renaming/rehoming.

For Stadil, community anxiety around HashiCorp's actions isn't a new thing.

"The way I see it, there's three pillars to open source. There is the open license, which is basic. Then there is the open community, which is that the project needs to be open to any organisation that wants to contribute. The third is to have an open development process," he explained.

"For a long time Terraform has had the first pillar – that it was technically licensed under the MPL and had an RSI compliant license – but there never really was an open community."

"There were a lot of folks that weren't invited or encouraged to contribute, and a lot of decisions on processes were made behind closed doors. For example, in 2014 the first pull request for encryption was made and it was rejected. No one knew why. Similarly in 2015 another PR was made and rejected. "

"And then HashiCorp released a commercial offering which included encryption, so clearly there has been a conflict between their open source products and the ones you get commercially," he said.

Coming up to the fork, Stadil made clear that for the core contributors, they wanted OpenTF (now OpenTofu), to be a fork that had not just one open source pillar but all three.

"With the stewardship of the Linux Foundation, that is possible. We now have the opportunity to build a project that is entirely superior to Terraform which draws upon all the cool stuff of open source, like the ideas of everyone in the community," Stadil said.

And it is the community response that has helped the project get this far.

See also: HashiCorp’s “poison pill” shift away from open source triggers call for Terraform foundation

"The manifesto has like 35,000 stars on GitHub, and if you were in the audience for the keynote, you would have seen how people applauded at the project announcement," Stadil remembered.

But it goes beyond how excited developers are about the fork. For enterprises too, OpenTofu offers a solution to complications caused by HashiCorp's license switch.

"If you are an enterprise, you are going to be worried about using a product with a license that hasn't been tested," he explained.

"For example, the license does not allow you to use Terraform for production use unless you fall into one of the exception classes, so all these large corporations like Alliance and ExpressVPN are legitimately concerned about can we use this product?"

"HashiCorp says yes they can, but then they've also done so many bait and switches."

Stadil showed no hesitation when expressing his gripe with HashiCorp.

"HashiCorp is a company that is losing 200 million dollars a year, and in the last six months in their last two earnings calls, they've only increased their annualised revenue by 6 million. Not enough for a company losing over two hundred million."

But the project is still wary of avoiding legal conflict with HashiCorp.

"They have hired a legal firm that's been incredibly aggressive," Stadil told The Stack.

"They're defending their rights as they should," he added. "There's different ways of going about it. They chose to take an aggressive stance. And so there have been some members of the community that have received cease and desist for using the TerraForm trademark."

"And HashiCorp has the right to defend their trademark and that's why we chose a name that is completely different from it and doesn't have anything to do with terraforming or landscaping or any of that."

It's not all legalise seasoning the tofu though, there is marketing rationale behind the sticky name too.

"We came up with all these cute mascots and little logos for using tofu. And since then, there's all sorts of puns like tofu is what you stick on a fork and so forth," he said.

"I can't remember who came up with it, but someone said that this tofu has beef with HashiCorp. There's just like an infinite number of puns we can make."

When asked if any major cloud players had come on board with OpenTofu, Stadil first mentioned the "100% interoperability" with Terraform aim of the project. And then he gave a suggestive answer.

"I can't speak to that, but I'm sure as you can imagine, major cloud providers don't like having a company between them and their customers. And right now HashiCorp is a company that is between them and their customers."

"Strategically, it makes sense to have a direct relationship in managing that experience, so you can imagine what the big cloud providers are thinking."

On the future of OpenTofu, Stadil holds dear to the utopian principles of open source.

"The first phase is drop-in replacement, but the second phase is to start adding features that Terraform doesn't have without breaking compatibility, so that you can start using that functionality," he said.

"Over time, open source standards tend to win, and we will have a multi-vendor, multi-organisation open source project."

"We definitely see a future in which HashiCorp joins OpenTofu, and at that point the community will be whole again," Stadil concluded.