Open Source Node.js To Get its Own Foundation

Node.js, the popular open-source, server-side JavaScript runtime project, will soon be governed by an independent foundation, its chief commercial sponsor announced this week.

Joyent, the container infrastructure software company behind Node.js, says it plans to work with IBM, PayPal, Microsoft, Fidelity, and SAP to establish the Node.js Foundation, which will be "committed to the continued growth and evolution of Node.js, while maintaining a collaborative environment to benefit all users."

Joyent and members of the Node.js community organized an Advisory Board for the project last year. The Board was formed to provide collaborative community input to the Node.js project leadership, the company said at the time. The Foundation is the logical next step, Joyent's CEO, Scott Hammond, told ADTmag.

"When you put a project into a neutral foundation, you set up an environment that brings in even more passionate and dedicated contributors to the project," Hammond said. "You eliminate distrust and foster a healthy ecosystem of vendor products. And you really need a vibrant vendor community in which people are building more tools and services and technologies around your project."

It's also true that setting up a neutral governing body helps to "de-risk" the project for large organizations that are heavily invested in it. "Node has become so popular in the last 18 months that it has become an integral part of the technology fabric in many companies," Hammond said. "They are now stepping back and asking, how can we de-risk this? A foundation is a great way to do that."

The Linux Foundation was asked to serve as an advisor on the development of the Node.js Foundation. "There are a couple of really good, proven models out there for setting up a neutral governing body," Hammond said. "The Linux Foundation has done such a good job of bringing in support from every kind of organization and individual that uses Linux that we knew they could help us to shape our foundation with the right structure to manage the complexities of the community and to facilitate the accelerating growth of an ongoing project."

The Node.js Foundation will comprise a board of directors and a technical committee. San Francisco-based Joyent, which is home to the Node.js core development team, will have a seat on the board, as will the other organizers. Until the Foundation is established, Joyent will continue as the corporate steward of the project.

Node.js was originally created by Joyent developer Ryan Dahl for Linux in 2009. It's based on Google's V8 JavaScript engine, and it provides a JavaScript API for accessing network and file systems. Unlike other JavaScript code, which execute in the web browser, Node.js runs on the server side.

Over the past two years, Node.js has earned strong endorsements from a range of companies, from Microsoft to Wal-Mart. In 2012, Microsoft gave the project a big endorsement by releasing the Windows Azure SDK for Node.js. And Web hoster GoDaddy just announced the acquisition of Node.js startup Nodejitsu.

It's not uncommon for vendor-sponsored open-source projects that gain real traction in the industry to come to a point where they need this kind of open governance, said IDC analyst Al Hilwa.

"This is in line with moves that have taken place elsewhere, such as with CloudFoundry and other projects," Hilwa told ADTmag, "where open source projects initially sponsored by a single vendor have added open governance models. It is a statement to the popularity of the software that stakeholders want more balanced governance. It is generally good for the ecosystem around that technology, because it provides a framework for evolution and innovation, even though it may slow some if it down."

In December 2014, several prominent Node.js contributors led by core team member Fedor Indutny forked the Node.js source code to form a separate project, called IO.js. The aim of this project was to provide both an open-source governance structure and faster and more predictable release cycles than Joyent's corporate stewardship was providing.

Hammond, who joined the company about six months ago, said the fork had little to do with Joyent's decision to form the foundation. "I started looking at this foundation question as soon as I got here," he said. "Node.js has been around for about 6 years, and it's going to be around for another 20. I wanted to make sure that we took the time to get the right input from the community and set this up right. Frankly, I didn't want to screw things up."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].