Part 1 of a 3-part series celebrating 15 years of community-led development at The Apache Software Foundation.
This year marks the 15th anniversary since The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) was formed as a non-profit corporation to support the development of Open Source software, beginning with the Apache HTTP Server. The ASF has grown significantly since, and today houses more than 150 top-level projects, exceeds 500 individual members, and over 4,000 committers have collaborated on ASF projects. We are incredibly grateful for all those who have volunteered their time to the Foundation, the millions of users of Apache software, and the generosity of our sponsors and donors that provide vital resources. This anniversary gives us a great opportunity to take a look back at what has made the ASF so successful, and what that means for its future.
The mission of the ASF is simple: to provide organisational, legal and other forms of support to a broad range of Open Source software projects; and to release that software to the public free of charge under the Apache License. What makes the ASF special is being able to do that on such a large scale, while not diluting the culture and fundamental attributes that make the ASF unique.
Apache has seen amazing success over the last 15 years. Not only do ASF projects impact almost every area of computing, but the Apache License, our Contributor License Agreements (CLAs), and our pattern of open, collaborative development (often known as "The Apache Way") continue to influence Open Source projects outside of the ASF. Many Apache projects have gone on to build huge, successful ecosystems around themselves, and other established projects have joined the ASF to grow and diversify their community.
Apache projects are unified by the desire to build software in an open and collaborative manner, ensuring they are supported by long-lived, vibrant and independent communities of contributors. All of the committers are volunteers (whether they volunteer their own time, or are allocated time by their employer - the ASF does not pay anyone to develop software), and they come together from all over the world to collaborate in a virtual, online environment. As the ASF does not dictate technical direction or scope, we see a wide range of projects, rather than those focused on a particular technology or industry. In some cases, we even have projects that "compete" with each other in the same space. The Foundation exists for its projects, community and membership, and so is a truly grass roots organisation. Together, this establishes trust in ASF projects, beyond what it would have if it were simply a "forge" providing infrastructure and services.

The structure of the ASF is designed to make this possible, to empower projects, and to provide a solid foundation for future growth.


There is a deliberate separation between the operational needs of the Foundation, and the management of the individual projects. This is important as it ensures that running the Foundation, including areas such as fundraising and sponsorship, do not impact what projects can do or who has authority. Each project elects the members of a Project Management Committee (PMC) from among their established contributors based on merit. Those individuals are then collectively given the task of governing the project. PMCs report directly to the Board of Directors, who provide oversight to ensure that the PMC remains viable, and is operating in accordance with the ASF's mission and policies.

The ASF operates openly and transparently. Each month, the Board publishes meeting minutes for public inspection, which contains not only the proceedings of the meeting and the usual executive reports and financial information, but also some 70+ reports from the Foundation's officers and projects. Each project reports quarterly about its community, releases, and plans for the future. These reports are helpful for the Board to provide oversight, to deal with issues, understand future needs, and ensure the ongoing health of the project. However, as these are open to the public, they can also provide a resource for members of the community interested in understanding the history of the project, its current trajectory, and how it functions.
Over the last 5 years, the ASF has doubled in size, both in the number of members, and projects. There are another 30 projects already in the Apache Incubator developing their communities and governance in preparation to become top-level projects in the future, with more joining every month. Despite (or because of!) the strong emphasis on independence and individual merit, large companies continue to trust the ASF as the steward of projects that they have contributed intellectual property to, and that their businesses depend on. Contributors continue to trust the ASF that their work will be freely available and recognised by their peers. Users continue to trust that the projects they depend on will have the resources and growth needed to remain viable.
As the ASF looks to the future, the pace is unlikely to slow! The challenge remains to maintain - and even increase - the support provided to projects, while retaining the culture and trust already established. Just as we must adapt to growth, we must also adapt to the changing nature of software development and the ever growing adoption of Open Source and open development practices.
Our commitment as the Foundation grows is to continue doing what the ASF does best - empowering PMCs to develop world-class Open Source software in The Apache Way, and remaining a trusted place for individuals, organisations and communities.
This wouldn't be possible without you - and we thank every ASF member, committer, and all those that use and contribute to ASF projects for the part they play in making the Foundation great. We welcome those who will join us in the years to come as well - looking forward to not only the next 15 years, but many more!
--Brett Porter, Chairman