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WPTavern: WordPress Abandons React due to Patents Clause, Gutenberg to be Rewritten with a Different Library
photo credit: Lalesh Aldarwish

This evening Matt Mullenweg announced on his blog that WordPress has decided to move away from React due to its BSD + Patents clause licensing. Gutenberg engineers will be rewriting the new editor to use another JavaScript framework and Automattic plans to rewrite Calypso as well:

We had a many-thousand word announcement talking about how great React is and how we’re officially adopting it for WordPress, and encouraging plugins to do the same. I’ve been sitting on that post, hoping that the patent issue would be resolved in a way we were comfortable passing down to our users.

That post won’t be published, and instead I’m here to say that the Gutenberg team is going to take a step back and rewrite Gutenberg using a different library. It will likely delay Gutenberg at least a few weeks, and may push the release into next year.

Mullenweg clarified that Automattic has been happy with React and that the company’s general counsel didn’t think they would ever run into the patent issue. He also commended Facebook on being “one of the better open source contributors out there” and for making their intentions clear. Ultimately, Mullenweg decided that he wasn’t comfortable with the larger WordPress community inheriting the patents clause:

Automattic will also use whatever we choose for Gutenberg to rewrite Calypso — that will take a lot longer, and Automattic still has no issue with the patents clause, but the long-term consistency with core is worth more than a short-term hit to Automattic’s business from a rewrite. Core WordPress updates go out to over a quarter of all websites, having them all inherit the patents clause isn’t something I’m comfortable with.

After the Apache Software Foundation added Facebook’s BSD+Patents license to its Category X list of disallowed licenses, many open source project leaders and developers petitioned Facebook to consider re-licensing React, as many React-based projects are now having to be rewritten. Facebook decided it wasn’t budging on the patents clause and opted to continue protecting its own interests, fully recognizing that it may lose some React community members.

In the past Mullenweg has been outspoken about how Automattic was betting on React. Many in the community considered WordPress adopting React to be a foregone conclusion, given that both Calypso and Jetpack’s new admin interface were built on it, as well as WordPress’ new Gutenberg editor. In making the costly decision to rewrite Gutenberg and Automattic’s products in another library, Mullenweg has demonstrated he is willing to lead the WordPress project in a direction where the community can feel confident about continuing to use and extend the software.

“The decision on which library to use going forward will be another post; it’ll be primarily a technical decision,” Mullenweg said. “We’ll look for something with most of the benefits of React, but without the baggage of a patents clause that’s confusing and threatening to many people. Thank you to everyone who took time to share their thoughts and give feedback on these issues thus far — we’re always listening.”

Gutenberg could certainly use the extra time and may gain a new crop of contributors, given that the learning curve for the new library isn’t likely to be as steep as learning React.

At the end of May, WordPress core contributors had narrowed their considerations for a new JavaScript framework to React and Vue. It appears that Vue is still a strong contender. After a commenter on Mullenweg’s post suggested switching to Vue, he replied that it has been frequently suggested and that the team has met with Evan You, Vue’s lead developer.

When I interviewed Evan You in June, he said he didn’t have enough perspective on WordPress core to make an unbiased recommendation but offered feedback on some technical issues being discussed at the time. He also clarified some common misconceptions about Vue, which WordPress’ React proponents had been using as leverage in their arguments against adopting it.

Mullenweg also confirmed in the comments of his post that Preact is another library under consideration. Preact.js is a lightweight 3kB alternative to React that uses the same API but is MIT-licensed. Some are already speculating about Preact being the front-runner for the replacement, as Gutenberg already has a branch devoted to trying it.

Also, Mullenweg’s comment that the decision “will likely delay Gutenberg at least a few weeks, and may push the release into next year,” seems to only be feasible if the team rewrites the project using Preact.

Public reactions to the news that WordPress is shifting away from React have so far been overwhelmingly positive. Many are thankful and relieved that Mullenweg made the tough decision to change course and select another library after investing so heavily in React.

The discussion regarding the new framework continues behind closed doors and is not open to the public, although a pull request for using Preact in Gutenberg is open on the project’s GitHub repo and some community discussion regarding the library selection is happening there.

Source: WordPress