Benevolent dictator for life

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For the political term, see Benevolent dictatorship.

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.[1][2] Shortly after van Rossum joined the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), the term 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.[1]

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).[3] 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.

Persons sometimes referred to as "benevolent dictators for life"[edit]

Name Project Type Ref
Dries Buytaert Drupal content management framework [4]
Rasmus Lerdorf PHP scripting language [5]
Guido van Rossum Python programming language [6]
Linus Torvalds Linux operating system kernel [7][verification needed]
Patrick Volkerding Slackware Linux distribution [8]
Larry Wall Perl programming language [9]


  1. ^ a b Guido van Rossum (July 31, 2008). "Origin of BDFL". Retrieved August 1, 2008. 
  2. ^ "Python Creator Scripts Inside Google". Retrieved May 13, 2008. 
  3. ^ Eric S. Raymond. "Homesteading the Noosphere". Retrieved August 1, 2008. 
  4. ^ Randy Fay, "How Do Open Source Communities Govern Themselves?"
  5. ^ Marneweck, Jacques (February 28, 2006). "Jacques Marneweck's Blog: Rasmus's no-framework PHP MVC framework". Retrieved June 1, 2011. 
  6. ^ "The Four Hundred—Next Up on the System i: Python". Retrieved May 13, 2008. 
  7. ^ LeBlanc, Dee-Ann. Linux For Dummies (7th ed.). John Wiley & Sons. p. 15. ISBN 0470047933. 
  8. ^ "Stories of Linux: A Look at Slackware Linux". 
  9. ^ "The Art of Ballistic Programming".