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CLA vs. DCO: What's the difference?

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In your open source adventures, you may have heard the acronyms CLA and DCO, and you may have said "LOL WTF BBQ?!?" These letters stand for Contributor License Agreement and Developer Certificate of Origin, respectively. Both have a similar intent: To say that the contributor is allowed to make the contribution and that the project has the right to distribute it under its license. With some significant projects moving from CLAs to DCOs (like Chef in late 2016 and GitLab in late 2017), the matter has received more attention lately.

So what are they? The Contributor License Agreement is the older of the two mechanisms and is often used by projects with large institutional backing (either corporate or nonprofit). Unlike software licenses, CLAs are not standardized. CLAs can vary from project to project. In some cases, they simply assert that you're submitting work that you're authorized to submit, and you permit the project to use it. Other CLAs (for example the Apache Software Foundation's) may grant copyright and/or patent licenses.

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