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NetlifyCMS is Dead - Can You Trust Netlify for Open Source?

ยท 8 min read

Dum dum dum...another one bites the dust! Another massively used JavaScript project can now rest in peace, alongside the thousands of other popular yet dead and unmaintained open-source JavaScript projects.

However, why this death is sort-of important is because of NetlifyCMS' namesake and the main backer of this open-source project: Netlify.

How do we know that NetlifyCMS is well and truly dead?โ€‹

It is very very obvious. Look at the stats yourself. At time of writing:

754 issues, with bugs galore and zero discussion or follow-up.

Open issues with barely any discussion or comments

75 open pull requests, of which may are weeks/months old and have 0 comments on them.

Open pull requests with no reviews or comments

Not only that, but code commit frequency has dropped like a rock since April 2022.

Code commit frequency up until today

Oh look at that big spike at the end, perhaps the team had put in some development effort into actually getting ready for a handover...

Mysterious spike in contributions to master

Oh oops, my mistake, looks like it was just bots doing their thing. Which for some reason, Github did not exclude from the 7 month analysis.

What happened?โ€‹

Erez, the main maintainer and lead developer for the NetlifyCMS project had left Netlify, and Netlify has decided that they no longer want to bother with stewardship over the project and the community that developed around it.

In essence, Netlify has ditched their bet on NetlifyCMS as a growth channel for their platform.

This is seen even more clearly by a reply in this thread from fool, Netlify's Director of Support.

fool reply on Netlify forums

They have left the question on what to do with the codebase up in the air, as it has been for the past 8 months and counting, leaving them an out to restart the developement should there be negative backlash from the community and customers.

So, an open source project is now unmaintained, what is the big deal, Ziinc?โ€‹

The dealio here, is that the ex-steward of this project is Netlify, whose bread and butter are web developers, be it JAMstack or not. If you were a consultant and have churned out many sites for clients using NetlifyCMS, well, good luck to you if you meet a bug or if any of the OAuth/Git integrations fail. You'll have angry clients knocking on your door while you're swamped with dealing with migrating clients out of this dead-end CMS and getting clients to pay out even more for such maintenance services. In such shoes, imagine if Netlify puts out another open source product that will produce a "faster and more flexible web project" (this is the tagline for NetlifyCMS) and will integrate well with the Netlify stack, would you want to bear such risk of the company pulling out and leaving you in the dust to figure things out yourself? Where is the trust and reliability that one would expect out of a billion dollar valuation company?

Not only that, the size of the community, the level of traction as well as trust that many developers had placed into this project has now all been thrown away into the ocean of dead open source projects. This is against the backdrop of NetlifyCMS being centered in the JavaScript ecosystem, where popularity of libraries ebb and flow and the next new shiny thing pushes the previous day's projects out of the spotlight. Should we really be surprised anymore?

I think that what is even more annoying with such a situation, is that the main Home page of the project states that there is "Support when you need it" and that it is a "community driven project", but of course with such high reliance on the community to drive the project, what happens when the community can't? Like, even if the community wanted to, they would all have to fork the project in order to get any work done or do PR reviews, considering that no prominent contributors or community members given maintainer access to the project to move things along.

Coming from working in a fully open-source company, I think that this is completely terrible open-source project management with zero communication at all with developers and users. Not only that, I actively manage multiple open-source projects both professionally and as a hobby, and this complete disregard for people who have invested considerably into your vision and project and also provide free bug reports and development time, only to be left ghosted. Considering that Netlify markets itself as developer centric, I am very much put off by their zero-effort in community transition and communication. If you're one of the 45 thousand and more Github projects using NetlifyCMS (of which I am one of them -- this post is typed up in NetlifyCMS, ironically), you can take NetlifyCMS off the mantle of "best git-based CMS". I personally find it hard to consider even using any Netlify products in the future, much less recommend them to my peers. For all the great things that they are working on for their toolchain, being developer-centric and committed to open-source is not one of them.

I think they can minus off a few tens of thousands of developers for this count:

Statistic of developer counts on the Netlify platform from

I feel that the very least that Netlify could do is to either archive the project or provide a very big notice for people that the project is currently unmaintained. But instead, devs that have not been following the threads and communications are of course left in the dark and are left puzzled by the growing bug count and lack of replies to their bug reports.

Of course, with the project being MIT licensed, there is zero obligation for Netlify to continue development should they not see it move the bottom line at all. But I think that it is a little hypocritical to market oneself as developer focused and then ghost on a heavily used developer tool. There are honestly plenty of ways that the company could have integrated NetlifyCMS into their core product lineup, but who am I to speculate on their lack of product direction for NetlifyCMS.

History Repeats Itself...โ€‹

This whole situation brings be back to the good old days before Next.js gained popularity. There was this project called react-static, first created by Tanner Linsley. Tanner is a prominent JS enthusiast and produces many popular React and JavaScript libraries, and has worked on chart.js as well. React-static was worked on in part with Nozzle, the company that he co-founded. React-static was mainly competing with Gatsby and Next.js for the throne of the best React-based static site generator, and in my opinion it was very close as it had provided the most flexibility and least complexity.

However, one fine morning, Tanner and Nozzle suddenly moved away from using react-static as their main static site generator, as can be read in this issue, and moved on to the next new shiny thing, Next.js. What Tanner did slightly differently was that at least he communicated with the community that he would was no longer interested in supporting the project and the ownership and maintenance moved on to a separate maintainer. However, what left a slightly bad taste was that from the contributor trends, it was very clear that the company had already decided to move away from react-static from as early as April, and only announced it in July and completely washed their hands off the codebase once the announcement was made without the project ever going into maintenance mode. Not only that, but the marketing material and calls to get started with the framework were still plastered all over the project's README, with zero notice to users of the risks that would be involved if they were to start the project. There was no involvement of other stakeholder developers, and there was no transition period. Similar to NetlifyCMS, there was also a drastic drop in developemnt contributions throughout the time that Nozzle was migrating off react-static. At one point, this blog was using react-static and was made just before the announcement, which I find quite funny in retrospect. I obviously did not pick up on the red flags.

This was in 2019, and in JS terms was quite a while back, but I still refuse to use any tan-stack related libraries out of principle and fear that history would repeat itself, as it so often does.

What next? Should I keep using NetlifyCMS?โ€‹

Hell no, if you're thinking of starting a new project using NetlifyCMS (of which there are over 5k npm downloads weekly, based on, stay far far away and look for another alternative.

NPM trends for netlify-cms

As suggested by the aforementioned forum post by fool, there is a community fork of the NetlifyCMS codebase called StaticCMS (website and github), and ironically their website is hosted on Netlify.

Besides this fork, there isn't really a good alternative to a Git-centric CMS.