Express was originally created by TJ Holowaychuk (@tj) in 2009, under the the slogan «Insanely fast (and small) server-side JavaScript web development framework». It has since grown to become one of the most widely installed package from the npm registry with over 4.5 million monthly downloads. Now, it may be facing a new beginning!

Screenshot of IBM's acquisition of StrongLoop in TechCrunch

Transferred to StrongLoop

To understand the drama surrounding Express you need to know some of the history of the Express project. Lets rewind to the spring of 2014. Node.js is growing rapidly much thanked to modules like Express which makes it super easy for anyone to spin up websites and services using Node.js.

Since 2013 TJ had greatly reduced his involvement in Epxress development, and by May of 2014 Douglas Wilson (@dougwilson) had more or less taken over the role as lead maintainer of Express. Then, shortly thereafter, TJ announced he was leaving the Node.js community1 and the Express project would find a new home at StrongLoop2.

StrongLoop is the author of the LoopBack, a framework for creating APIs built on top of, you might have already guessed it, Express. The transfer of Express to StrongLoop came as a shock to the maintainers3. They had not been informed, and they had lost access to the main repository during the transfer.

[…] TJ has not been the one maintaining express day to day for a long time and I think this move came as a surprise to all of the current maintainers.

@defunctzombie (source)

The maintainers were upset and they felt this was a move in the wrong direction. Rumors of StrongLoop purchasing Express from TJ did not exactly help. TJ even did a follow up post in an attempt to defuse the situation4 but to little or no avail. StrongLoop co-founder Bert Belder (@piscisaureus) promised Express would remain an open source project.

[…] express will remain a community open source project; that’s what makes it interesting in the first place.

-@piscisaureus (source)

Contributors graph for the Express project

Acquired by IBM

Fast forward to September 10Th, 2015. The dust over the transfer to StrongLoop had settled, and the development of Express had slowly declined. IBM announced they had acquired StrongLoop5 and a prophecy from a year earlier may be about to come true.

Strongloop may not be a thing in 1 year or 2 years […]

@defunctzombie (source)

This leads to a very special situation where the new owner of Express, IBM, and the employer of the lead maintainer for Express, Sencha Labs, are competing companies.

[…] @dougwilson (who has maintained express for two years) can no longer contribute to the Express project because IBM is a direct competitor to his employer.

@chipersoft (source)

Whats left of the maintainers, and other concerned user, makes another attempt to have Express moved to it’s own organization on GitHub - under the banner of «returning Express back to the community». Several attempts was made with IBM during the fall of 2015 but the situation looked more deadlocked than ever. This was apparently the last drop for Doug Wilson in a growing frustration with corporate overlords.

I did not voluntarily give up on Express, IBM forced me out of this repository.

-@dougwilson (source)

By January of 2016 IBM was still figuring out what to do with the sticky situation they had inherited from StrongLoop acquisition. While more and more disgruntled users piled on the discussion about what should happen with Express next, James M Snell (@jasnell) from IBM and Ritchie Martori (@ritch) from StrongLoop was working with various stakeholders within IBM to conclude a solution6.

The express project is applying to become an incubating top level project.

@jasnell (source)

This stirred up the discussion again, and after a lengthy (and heated) discussion back and forth, the incubating application was merged. This means, if everything goes as planned, that Express will become an official Node.js project outside of what is known as Node.js core.


Express has now been transferred to it’s new home at expressjs/express, and Doug Wilson also transferred the ownership of his modules that Express depends on, either directly or indirectly, to the Node.js foundation.

I am donating all of my Node.js modules to the Node.js foundation, to go along with Express.

@dougwilson (source)

The intellectual property of Express, however, is still owned by IBM and will probably remain so for a long time. The API documentation, a blog post worthy in and of itself, will be pulled into the main repository7.

[…] currently there is no IP transfer indicated. The question over the domain name will need to be looked at again a bit later but it will not be included in this initial proposal.

@jasnell (source)

:sparkles: Stay tuned for more drama! :sparkles:



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