This page will give you everything you always wanted to know about
the foundation but were afraid to ask. The difference between membership and
committership, who decides what, how elections take place, how is our
infrastructure setup, what is the board, what is a PMC, what's the philosophy
behind the incubator, why is the foundation moving away from project
containment. Come and see behind the scenes of the ASF.
What is the Apache Software Foundation?
The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization
incorporated in the United States of America and was formed primarily to:
- provide a foundation for open, collaborative software development projects
by supplying hardware, communication, and business infrastructure
- create an independent legal entity to which companies and individuals can
donate resources and be assured that those resources will be used for the
- provide a means for individual volunteers to be sheltered from legal suits
directed at the Foundation's projects
- protect the 'Apache' brand, as applied to its software products, from being
abused by other organizations
That's the dry fact, but how did all this come to be and what does it really
mean in its details? We need to step back a little in history.
A bit of history
The foundation was created in 1999 by a group of people, that called
themselves the "Apache Group" and had come together several years earlier,
to continue to support and maintain the HTTPD web server written by the
That server was freely available, came with source code and was licensed
under a license that allowed very open modification and redistribution, but
the original developers lost interest in that project and moved onto something
else, leaving users with no support.
Some of those users started to exchange fixes (called "patches")
and information on how to prevent problems and improve the existing software.
Brian Behlendorf created a mailing list on his own machine for those users to
collaborate to fix, maintain and improve that software.
The name 'Apache' was chosen from respect for the Native American
Apache Nation, well-known for their superior skills in
warfare strategy and their inexhaustible endurance. It also makes a
cute pun on "a patchy web server" -- a server made from a series of
patches -- but this was not its origin. The group of developers
who released this new software soon started to call themselves the
Between 1995 and 1999, the Apache HTTPD Web Server created by the Apache
Group became the leader of the market (and currently still is, with more than
65% of the web sites in the world powered by it).
But as the web grew bigger, economical interests started to grow, and the
Apache web site hosted new sister projects (such as the mod_ perl project,
the PHP project, the Java Apache project). The need for a more coherent and
structured organization that would shield individuals from potential legal
attacks felt more and more necessary.
Unlike other software development efforts done under an open source license,
the Apache Web Server was not initiated by a single developer (for example,
like the Linux Kernel, or the Perl/Python languages), but started as a diverse
group of people that shared common interests and got to know each other by
exchanging information, fixes and suggestions.
As the group started to develop their own version of the software, moving
away from the NCSA version, more people were attracted and started to help
out, first by sending little patches, or suggestions, or replying to email on
the mail list, later by more important contributions.
When the group felt that the person had "earned" the merit to be part of
the development community, they granted direct access to the code
repository, thus increasing the group and increasing the ability of the group
to develop the program, and to maintain and develop it more effectively.
We call this basic principle "meritocracy": literally, government by merit.
What is interesting to note is that the process scaled very well without
creating friction, because unlike in other situations where power is a scarce
and conservative resource, in the apache group newcomers were seen as
volunteers that wanted to help, rather than people that wanted to steal a
Being no conservative resource at stake (money, energy, time), the group
was happy to have new people coming in and help, they were only filtering the
people that they believed committed enough for the task and matched the human
attitudes required to work well with others, especially in disagreement.
After explaining the structure of the ASF, we will see how the meritocracy
relates to the various roles.
The Foundation structure
As the Apache Web Server started to grow in market share and popularity,
due to synergy of its technical merit and to the openness of the community
behind the project, people started to create satellite projects. Influenced by
the spirit of the community they were used to, they adopted the same
traditions of community management.
So, by the time the ASF was created, there were several separate
communities, each focused on a different side of the "web serving" problem,
but all united by a common set of goals and a respected set of cultural
traditions in both etiquette and process.
These separate communities were referred to as "projects" and while
similar, each of them exhibited little differences that made them special.
In order to reduce friction and allow for diversity to emerge,
rather than forcing a monoculture from the top, the projects are
designated the central decision-making organizations of the Apache
world. Each project is delegated authority over development of its
software, and is given a great deal of latitude in designing its own
technical charter and its own governing rules.
At the same time, the cultural influence of the original Apache group was
strong and the similarities between the various communities are evident, as
we'll see later.
The foundation is governed by the following entities:
- Board of Directors (board) governs the foundation and is composed of
- Project Management Committees (PMC) govern the projects, and they
are composed of committers. (Note that every member is, by definition,
also a committer.)
Board of Directors (board)
The board is responsible for management and oversight of the business and
affairs of the corporation in accordance with the foundation
includes management of the corporate assets (funds, intellectual property,
trademarks, and support equipment) and allocation of corporate resources to
However, technical decision-making authority regarding the content and
direction of the Apache projects is assigned to each respective project
The board is currently composed by nine individuals, elected between the
members of the foundation. The bylaws don't specify the number of officers
that the board should have, but historically, this was the number of the first
board and it has never changed. The board is elected every year.
The board website has more information, the list of
the current directors, schedule of meetings, and past minutes.
Project Management Committees (PMC)
The Project Management Committees are established by resolution of the
Board, to be responsible for the active management of one or more communities,
which are also identified by resolution of the Board.
Each PMC consists of at least one officer of the ASF, who shall be designated
chairperson, and may include one or more other members of the ASF.
The chair of the PMC is appointed by the Board and is an officer of the
ASF (Vice President). The chair has primary responsibility to the Board,
and has the power to establish rules and procedures for the day to day
management of the communities for which the PMC is responsible, including the
composition of the PMC itself.
See further discussion about the role of PMC
why chairs are officers.
ASF Bylaws (section 6.3) define a PMC and the
position of chair.
Some other emails help to clarify:
The role of the PMC from a Foundation perspective is oversight. The main
role of the PMC is not code and not coding - but to ensure that all legal
issues are addressed, that procedure is followed, and that each and every
release is the product of the community as a whole. That is key to
our litigation protection mechanisms.
Secondly the role of the PMC is to further the long term development and
health of the community as a whole, and to ensure that balanced and wide
scale peer review and collaboration does happen. Within the ASF we worry
about any community which centers around a few individuals who are
working virtually uncontested. We believe that this is detrimental to
quality, stability, and robustness of both code and long term social
We firmly believe in hats. Your role at
the ASF is one assigned to you personally, and is bestowed on you by
your peers. It is not tied to your job or current employer or company.
However those on the PMC are kept to a higher standard. As the PMC, and
the chair in particular, are eyes and ears of the ASF Board, it is you
that we rely on and need to trust to provide legal oversight.
The board has the faculty to terminate a PMC at any time by resolution.
The Officers of the Apache Software Foundation
oversee the day-to-day affairs of the Foundation. The officers
are elected by the Board of Directors.
The meritocracy enables various roles:
PMC member |
PMC chair |
A user is someone that uses our software. They contribute to the
Apache projects by providing feedback to developers in the form of bug reports
and feature suggestions. Users participate in the Apache community by helping
other users on mailing lists and user support forums.
A developer is a user who contributes to a project in the form of
code or documentation. They take extra steps to participate in a project, are
active on the developer mailing list, participate in discussions, provide
patches, documentation, suggestions, and criticism. Developers are also known
A committer is a developer that was given write access to the code
repository and has a signed Contributor License Agreement (CLA)
on file. They have an apache.org mail address.
Not needing to depend on other people for the patches, they are
actually making short-term decisions for the project. The PMC can (even tacitly)
agree and approve it into permanency, or they can reject it. Remember that the
PMC makes the decisions, not the individual people.
A PMC member is a developer or a committer that was elected due to
merit for the evolution of the project and demonstration of commitment. They have
write access to the code repository, an apache.org mail address, the right to
vote for the community-related decisions and the right to propose an active
user for committership. The PMC as a whole is the entity that controls the
project, nobody else.
The Chair of a Project Management Committee (PMC) is
appointed by the Board from the PMC Members.
The PMC as a whole is the entity that controls and leads the project.
The Chair is the interface between the Board and the Project.
An ASF member is a person who was nominated by current members and
elected due to merit for the evolution and progress of the foundation.
Members care for the ASF itself. This is usually demonstrated through the roots
of project-related and cross-project activities. Legally, a member is a
"shareholder" of the foundation, one of the owners. They have the right to
elect the board, to stand as a candidate for the board election and to propose a
committer for membership. They also have the right to propose a new project for
incubation (we'll see later what this means).
The members coordinate their activities through their mailing list and through
their annual meeting.
Project Management and Collaboration
The Apache projects are managed using a collaborative, consensus-based
process. We do not have a hierarchical structure. Rather, different groups
of contributors have different rights and responsibilities in the organization.
Since the appointed Project Management Committees have the power to create
their own self-governing rules, there is no single vision on how PMCs should
run a project and the communities they host.
At the same time, while there are some differences, there are a number of
similarities shared by all the projects:
Communication is done via mailing lists. These identify
"virtual meeting rooms" where conversations happen asynchronously, which
is a general requirement for groups that are so geographically distributed
to cover all time zones (like it's normally the case for the various Apache
Some projects additionally use more synchronous messaging (for example, IRC or instant
messaging). Voice communication is extremely rare, normally because of costs
and the language barrier (speech is harder to understand than written text).
In general, asynchronous communication is much more important because it
allows archives to be created and it's more tolerant on the volunteer nature
of the various communities.
Each project is responsible for its own
Further information to assist committers, developers, and PMCs is
Projects are normally auto governing and driven by the people who volunteer
for the job. This is sometimes referred to as "do-ocracy" -- power of those who
do. This functions well for most cases.
When coordination is required, decisions are taken with a lazy consensus
approach: a few positive votes with no negative vote is enough to get going.
Voting is done with numbers:
- +1 -- a positive vote
- 0 -- abstain, have no opinion
- -1 -- a negative vote
The rules require that a negative vote includes an alternative proposal or
a detailed explanation of the reasons for the negative vote.
The community then tries to gather consensus on an alternative
proposal that resolves the issue. In the great majority of cases, the
concerns leading to the negative vote can be addressed.
This process is called "consensus gathering" and we consider it a very
important indication of a healthy community.
While there is not an official list, these six principles have been cited
as the core beliefs of philosophy behind the foundation, which is normally
referred to as "The Apache Way":
- collaborative software development
- commercial-friendly standard license
- consistently high quality software
- respectful, honest, technical-based interaction
- faithful implementation of standards
- security as a mandatory feature
All of the ASF projects share these principles.
All projects are composed of volunteers and nobody (not even members or
officers) are paid directly by the foundation for their job. There are many
examples of committers that are paid to work on the projects, but never by the
foundation themselves, but rather by companies or institutions that use the
software and want to enhance it or maintain it.
Individuals compose the ASF
All of the ASF including the board, the other officers,
the committers, and the members, are participating as individuals.
That is one strength of the ASF, affiliations do not cloud
the personal contributions.
Unless they specifically state otherwise, whatever they post on any
mailing list is done *as themselves*. It is the individual point-of-view,
wearing their personal hat and not as a mouthpiece for whatever company
happens to be signing their paychecks right now, and not even as a
director of the ASF.
All of those ASF people implicitly have multiple hats, especially
the Board, the other officers, and the PMC chairs. They sometimes
need to talk about a matter of policy, so to avoid appearing
to be expressing a personal opinion, they will state that they
are talking in their special capacity. However, most of the
time this is not necessary, personal opinions work well.
Some people declare their hats by using a special footer
to their email, others enclose their statements in special
quotation marks, others use their apache.org email address
when otherwise they would use their personal one. This latter
method is not reliable, as many people use their apache.org
address all of the time.
Balancing confidentiality and public discussion
We endeavour to conduct as much discussion in public as possible.
This encourages openness, provides a public record, and stimulates
the broader community.
However sometimes internal private mail lists are necessary.
You must never divulge such information in public without the
express permission of the list. Also never copy an email between
private and public lists (no Cc). Such an event would go beyond
the normal need for email ettiquette and be a serious breach
of confidence. It could have serious ramifications, cause
unneccessary confusion and ill-informed discussion.
The Foundation Incubator
In order for new projects to be created, the ASF created a project called
which is responsible to help new efforts to join the foundation.
Since the meritocratic rules operate across the ASF from bottom to top,
it is vital for the
long-term stability of such a form of government, that the initial set of
committers has to know very well the dynamics of such a system, as well as share
the same philosophical attitude toward collaboration and openness that the ASF
expects from its projects.
The incubator is responsible for:
- filtering the proposals about the creation of a new project or
- help the creation of the project and the infrastructure that it needs to
- supervise and mentor the incubated community in order for them to reach an
open meritocratic environment
- evaluate the maturity of the incubated project, either promoting it to
official project/ sub-project status or by retiring it, in case of failure.
It must be noted that the incubator (just like the board) does not perform
filtering on the basis of technical issues. This is because the foundation respects
and suggests variety of technical approaches. It doesn't fear innovation or
even internal confrontation between projects which overlap in functionality.
The incubator filters projects on the basis of the likeliness of them
becoming successful meritocratic communities. The basic requirements for
- a working codebase -- over the years and after several failures, the
foundation came to understand that without an initial working codebase, it is
generally hard to bootstrap a community. This is because merit is not
well recognized by developers without a working codebase. Also, the friction
that is developed during the initial design stage is likely to fragment the
- the intention to donate copyright of the software and the intellectual
property that it may contain to the foundation -- this allows the foundation
to obtain an irrevocable and permanent right to redistribute and work on the
code, without fearing lock-in for itself or for its users.
- a sponsoring ASF member or officer -- this person will act as the main
mentor, giving directions to the project, helping out in the day-to-day
details and keeping contact with the incubator PMC.
The incubation period normally serves to estimate whether or not:
- the project is able to increase the diversity of its committer base and to
play with the meritocratic rules of the foundation.
It might seem rather easy to achieve, but it must be remembered that in a
volunteer and highly selective environment, attracting new committers is not
Diversity of committership is important for two main reasons:
- it gives long term stability to the project development: in fact, with all
the developers affiliated to the same entity, the chance of seeing all of them
moving away from the project at the same time is much greater than with a
community of individuals affiliated to unrelated entities.
- it gives a greater variety of technical visions: something that guarantees
a better adherence to environment and user's needs, thus a higher change of
finding real-life use of the software.
Other Foundation Entities
Along with the Incubator, the foundation has serveral other cross-foundation
projects. For example the ASF does not have offices or buildings, it's a virtual
entity that exists only on the internet and the technical infrastructure that
enables it to operate is managed by the Infrastructure team.
These and other cross-foundation projects are described on the
Foundation Projects page.
The ASF also hosts some foundation-wide mailing lists, which are
detailed on the Mailing Lists page.
Within the first 4 years of operation, the ASF represents one of the best examples of
an open organization that has found balance between structure and
flexibility. We have grown from 200 committers to almost 800, and that number
continues to grow on a daily basis. We have been able to create several
software products that are leaders in their market. We have also been able to
find balance between openness and economical feasibility. This has earned us
respect from a range of people, from single individuals to multinational
corporations. We hope to continue to provide inspiration for businesses,
governments, education, and for other software foundations.