Facebook to Re-license React after Backlash from Open Source Community

Facebook has announced its intentions to re-license React, Jest, Flow, and Immutable.js under the MIT license. React community members began rallying around a petition to re-license React after the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) added Facebook’s BSD+Patents license to its Category X list of disallowed licenses for Apache PMC members. Facebook’s engineering directors officially denied the request in mid-August, citing the burden of meritless patent litigation as the reason for keeping the patents clause.

Facebook moved forward on this decision in full recognition that it might lose some React community members as a consequence. Many open source project maintainers began to look for alternatives. In a surprising move, Matt Mullenweg announced that WordPress would also be parting ways with React and planned to remove it from the upcoming Gutenberg editor.

Mullenweg’s decision to drop React from consideration for WordPress was likely an influential factor in Facebook’s eventual about-face on the topic of re-licensing the project. Facebook’s announcement on Friday acknowledges that the company failed to convince the open source community of the benefits of its BSD + Patents license:

We’re relicensing these projects because React is the foundation of a broad ecosystem of open source software for the web, and we don’t want to hold back forward progress for nontechnical reasons.

This decision comes after several weeks of disappointment and uncertainty for our community. Although we still believe our BSD + Patents license provides some benefits to users of our projects, we acknowledge that we failed to decisively convince this community.

The React 16 release, slated for this week, will ship with the updated MIT license. Facebook declined to respond to our request for further comment and said their post is the only public statement they will be providing.

It’s not yet clear whether WordPress will continue on with React, picking up where the team left off on Gutenberg, or shift to another library. Core contributors had originally decided on React while attending WordPress’ community summit in Paris last June, although this decision had not yet been made public when the greater open source community started petitioning Facebook to re-license React.

“I’m just so tired of this drama,” Gutenberg engineer Riad Benguella said. “We spent days and days thinking about the best framework for WP, and this change will just add more thinking, complexity, and uncertainty to our decision. I’m just tired of all this…we all have to rethink everything.”

Mullenweg, who had previously penned a several-thousand word unpublished announcement about how WordPress would be adopting React, did not confirm whether WordPress is still examining other libraries.

“Our decision to move away from React, based on their previous stance, has sparked a lot of interesting discussions in the WordPress world,” Mullenweg said in a post published to his blog this weekend. “Particularly with Gutenberg there may be an approach that allows developers to write Gutenberg blocks (Gutenblocks) in the library of their choice including Preact, Polymer, or Vue, and now React could be an officially-supported option as well.”

The regularly scheduled core JavaScript meeting is set for Tuesday, September 26 at 15:00 GMT and contributors plan to discuss the role a JS framework will play in current and future core focuses. The time has been changed to be two hours later than originally planned in an effort to accommodate more contributors across various timezones.