MSCFOSS/DIF122/Software Development Practices/Unit IV/BDFL

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Benevolent Dictator for Life (BDFL) is a title given to a small number of open-source software development leaders, typically project founders who retain the final say in disputes or arguments within the community.

The phrase originated in 1995 with reference to Guido van Rossum, creator of the Python programming language. Shortly after van Rossum joined the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), it appeared in a follow-up mail by Ken Manheimer to a meeting trying to create a semi-formal group that would oversee Python development and workshops.

BDFL should not be confused with the more common term for open-source leaders, "benevolent dictator", which was popularized by Eric S. Raymond's essay "Homesteading the Noosphere" (1999). Among other topics related to hacker culture, Raymond elaborates on how the nature of open source forces the "dictatorship" to keep itself benevolent, since a strong disagreement can lead to the forking of the project under the rule of new leaders.

Examples of people sometimes referred to as Benevolent Dictators for Life

  • Guido van Rossum, creator of Python
  • Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel
  • Mark Shuttleworth calls himself the "Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life", or SABDFL, and the Ubuntu community often uses this name to refer to him
  • Ton Roosendaal, creator of Blender
  • Steve Coast, the founder of OpenStreetMap
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