In late July 2009, I spoke with Apache Software Foundation (ASF) President Justin Erenkrantz and Executive Vice President Sander Striker. We had a far-ranging discussion regarding the foundation’s work, and I learned a lot about what they do and how they do it.

We initially talked about the relationship between the ASF and the industry as a whole. They explained that the ASF has a large number of projects, the most famous of which is the Apache Web server. They are very pragmatic and are not in competition with anyone. The ASF’s permissive licensing model is a major reason why its projects are adopted by so many commercial ventures, especially as building blocks or targets of extensions.

The people who work on ASF projects are a mix of enthusiasts and people paid by various companies to work on the projects. Most people who help with ASF projects start by making a few changes on their own, and then they slowly ease into working on the projects at a more in-depth level. Once people are involved with Apache projects, they tend to stay involved, even if their employer changes.

We also discussed the licensing situation. Licensing issues play a large role in the ASF’s decision making process. The ASF has a legal group to help them make the decision making process easier and simpler by categorizing various licenses. From there, the ASF can make their decisions based upon the license categories of the code involved. The ASF is not able to use any code covered by the GPL in any of their projects due to requirements in the GPL.

In terms of user-built modifications, ASF projects use a very modular architecture and are designed for extensibility. This allows users and developers to create add-ins and modifications that are not overwritten when the core system is patched or upgraded. I was told that they use a lot of Java in their products and have developed their own frameworks, both of which make this kind of architecture possible.

The ASF’s projects are well regarded for their quality, and Erenkrantz and Striker explained that their process, as well as their architecture, has a lot to do with this. Part of that process is requiring three people to sign off on any given release, which increases the likelihood that problems will be found and resolved before the release. In addition, the ASF uses an incubator process, where projects are “mentored” and eventually graduate. This process makes sure that a project is on firm footing.

I really enjoyed our conversation, and it was great to learn more about this very important organization. The ASF is celebrating its 10th anniversary at ApacheCon in November. Congrats on the 10-year milestone!


Disclosure of Justin’s industry affiliations: Justin James has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides.


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