Facebook relicenses React in the face of open-source dev backlash

Patent clauses prompted many open-source projects to stay clear of the library or ban its use in future frameworks.

Facebook has announced its intentions to relicense a number of its open-source projects, including React, Jest, Flow, and Immutable.js, following developer backlash due to patent terms embedded in their licenses.

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The React system is a front-end library designed to assist developers in building interactive user interfaces through JavaScript. However, adoption has been held back as an open-source project due to its issuance under the BSD + Patents license.

This particular license form is compatible with the GNU General Public License (GPL), but Facebook included a number of patent-related clauses that have clashed with the ethos of many open-source developers and organizations.

Several weeks ago, the Apache Foundation categorized Facebook's version of the license as a Category X, and so any new open-source frameworks, library setups, or tools should not integrate React into Apache products.

Concerns arose over whether or not using the framework would prevent competing products to be created, or whether licenses would be revoked should users accuse Facebook or someone else of patent infringement when Facebook's code is involved.

When the community made its feelings known, Facebook engineering director Adam Wolff announced changes to the licensing terms. Late last week, Wolff said in a blog post that the React, Jest, Flow, and Immutable.js open-source projects will now be relicensed under the MIT 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," the executive explained. "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."

Unfortunately for Facebook, a number of open-source teams will have already chosen an alternative library for React due to licensing concerns.

Wolff has acknowledged this, saying that the social media giant is "sorry for the chum," and while the firm does not expect the licensing shift to immediately win back these teams, Facebook wants to "leave the door open."

The Gutenberg project, for example, is going to be re-written using a different library to avoid any future patent disputes.

React, Jest, Flow, and Immutable.js will now be available under the MIT license, but it is not necessarily the case that other Facebook open-source projects will also come under the same license. Many will stay under the BSD + Patents license, at least for now, but Facebook says the company is evaluating each one on a case-by-case basis.

The new license will be included in the release of React version 16 later this week, which includes a complete re-write of the library's internals.

"We're looking forward to putting this license discussion behind us and getting back to what we care about most: shipping great products," Wolff commented.

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