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Nginx core developer quits project in security dispute, starts “freenginx” fork

  • A core developer of Nginx, currently the world’s most popular web server, has quit the project, stating that he no longer sees it as “a free and open source project… for the public good.” His fork, freenginx, is “going to be run by developers, and not corporate entities,” writes Maxim Dounin, and will be “free from arbitrary corporate actions.”

    Dounin is one of the earliest and still most active coders on the open source Nginx project and one of the first employees of Nginx, Inc., a company created in 2011 to commercially support the steadily growing web server. Nginx is now used on roughly one-third of the world’s web servers, ahead of Apache.

    A tricky history of creation and ownership

    Nginx Inc. was acquired by Seattle-based networking firm F5 in 2019. Later that year, two of Nginx’s leaders, Maxim Konovalov and Igor Sysoev, were detained and interrogated in their homes by armed Russian state agents. Sysoev’s former employer, Internet firm Rambler, claimed that it owned the rights to Nginx’s source code, as it was developed during Sysoev’s tenure at Rambler (where Dounin also worked). While the criminal charges and rights do not appear to have materialized, the implications of a Russian company’s intrusion into a popular open source piece of the web’s infrastructure caused some alarm.

    Sysoev left F5 and the Nginx project in early 2022. Later that year, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, F5 discontinued all operations in Russia. Some Nginx developers still in Russia formed Angie, developed in large part to support Nginx users in Russia. Dounin technically stopped working for F5 at that point, too, but maintained his role in Nginx “as a volunteer,” according to Dounin’s mailing list post.

    Dounin writes in his announcement that “new non-technical management” at F5 “recently decided that they know better how to run open source projects. In particular, they decided to interfere with security policy nginx uses for years, ignoring both the policy and developers’ position.” While it was “quite understandable,” given their ownership, Dounin wrote that it means he was “no longer able to control which changes are made in nginx,” hence his departure and fork.

    The CVEs at the center of the split

    Comments on Hacker News, including one by a purported employee of F5, suggest Dounin opposed the assigning of published CVEs (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) to bugs in aspects of QUIC. While QUIC is not enabled in the most default Nginx setup, it is included in the application’s “mainline” version, which, according to the Nginx documentation, contains “the latest features and bug fixes and is always up to date.”

    The commenter from F5, MZMegaZone, seemingly the principal security engineer at F5, notes that “a number of customers/users have the code in production, experimental or not” and adds that F5 is a CVE Numbering Authority (CNA).

    Dounin expanded on F5’s actions in a later mail response.

    The most recent “security advisory” was released despite the fact that the particular bug in the experimental HTTP/3 code is expected to be fixed as a normal bug as per the existing security policy, and all the developers, including me, agree on this.

    And, while the particular action isn’t exactly very bad, the approach in general is quite problematic.

    Asked about the potential for name confusion and trademark issues, Dounin wrote in another response about trademark concerns:

    I believe [they] do not apply here, but IANAL [I am not a lawyer]," and "the name aligns well with project goals.

    MZMegaZone confirmed the relationship between security disclosures and Dounin’s departure.

    All I know is he objected to our decision to assign CVEs, was not happy that we did, and the timing does not appear coincidental,"

    MZMegaZone wrote on Hacker News. He later added,

    I don’t think having the CVEs should reflect poorly on NGINX or Maxim. I’m sorry he feels the way he does, but I hold no ill will toward him and wish him success, seriously.

    Dounin, reached by email, pointed to his mailing list responses for clarification. He added,

    Essentially, F5 ignored both the project policy and joint developers’ position, without any discussion."

    MegaZone wrote to Ars (noting that he only spoke for himself and not F5), stating, “It’s an unfortunate situation, but I think we did the right thing for the users in assigning CVEs and following public disclosure practices. Rational people can disagree and I respect Maxim has his own view on the matter, and hold no ill will toward him or the fork. I wish it hadn’t come to this, but I respect the choice was his to make.”

    A representative for F5 wrote to Ars that:

    F5 is committed to delivering successful open source projects that require a large and diverse community of contributors, as well as applying rigorous industry standards forassigning and scoring identified vulnerabilities. We believe this is the right approach for developing highly secure software for our customers and community, and we encourage the open source community to join us in this effort.

    – Source :

  • DownPWundefined DownPW marked this topic as a regular topic on
  • @DownPW Interesting. I do wonder however if this project was forked because of the CVE’s identified, or the fact that the core developer of NGINX doesn’t like the idea of his brainchild being consumed by a large corporate. We’ve seen this happen before on numerous occasions such as the below

    • OwnCloud -> Forked to NextCloud
    • MySql -> Forked to MariaDB
    • Open Office -> Forked to Libre Office

    I’d like to think that this is all in the name of keeping Open Source software free, although part of me thinks that forks are created for other reasons aside from the original developer not agreeing or being palatable to the direction acquisition typically brings to the table. You cannot expect a larger entity to purchase your Open Source software and for it to remain in its current format, or to operate autonomously. This is not how larger corporate entities operate.

  • Just had a look through the new Free NGINX website, which looks like an 80’s throwback and that it was created using a ZX Spectrum 🙂

    Love the sarcastic note…


  • Seems that before FreeNGINX, there was “Angie” - a strange name for a fork of Nginx, but here it is nonetheless


    Core advantages over nginx include the following:

    • Supporting HTTP/3 for client connections, as well as for proxied server connections, with the ability to independently use different protocol versions (HTTP/1.x, HTTP/2, HTTP/3) on opposite sides.
    • Automatic HTTPS provisions TLS certificates using built-in ACME support.
    • Simplifying configuration: the location directive can define several matching expressions at once, which enables combining blocks with shared settings.
    • Exposing basic information about the web server, its configuration, as well as metrics of proxied servers, client connections, shared memory zones, and many other things via a RESTful API interface in JSON format.
    • Exporting statistics in Prometheus format with customizable templates.
    • Monitoring the server through the browser with the Console Light visual monitoring tool. See the online demo:
    • Automatically updating lists of proxied servers matching a domain name or retrieving such lists from SRV DNS records.
    • Session binding mode, which directs all requests within one session to the same proxied server.
    • Recommissioning upstream servers after a failure smoothly using the slow_start option of the server directive.
    • Limiting the MP4 file transfer rate proportionally to its bitrate, thus reducing the bandwidth load.
    • Extending authorization and balancing capabilities for the MQTT protocol with the mqtt_preread directive under stream.
    • Pre-built binary packages for many popular third-party modules.
    • Server- and client-side support for NTLS when using the TongSuo TLS library, enabled at build time.

    Judging by these new features, this specific fork seems very active with updates once per quarter.

  • have you test it ?
    Maybe virtualmin implement it in the future…

  • @DownPW said in Nginx core developer quits project in security dispute, starts “freenginx” fork:

    Maybe virtualmin implement it in the future…

    I don’t think they will - my guess is that they will stick with the current branch of NGINX. I’ve not personally tested it, but the GIT page seems to be very active. This is equally impressive


    I think the most impressive on here is the native support of HTTP 3

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