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Top CNCF Projects to look out for in 2023

If you were thinking you only needed Kubernetes for developing and deploying cloud-native applications, we’re sorry, it’s not! But that’s actually good news and we’re going to tell you why. Kubernetes automates the deployment, scaling, and management of applications. That’s already a lot, but there are so many more challenges around cloud computing, that now and then a new project arises to address one of them. In this post, we will tell you which are the top CNCF projects to look out for in 2023.

CNCF landscape

Before diving into the top 10 CNCF projects, let’s clarify what is the CNCF part. CNCF stands for Cloud Native Computing Foundation. It was created by Google and the Linux Foundation in 2015 to encourage the development and collaboration of Kubernetes and other cloud-native solutions. It defines itself as “the open-source, vendor-neutral hub of cloud-native computing, hosting projects like Kubernetes and Prometheus to make cloud-native universal and sustainable.”

They currently host 147 projects, categorized as Graduated, Incubating, Sandbox, and Archived, according to their maturity. Sandbox projects are in an early stage and require more community involvement before being deployed in production. Incubating and Graduated projects are both considered stable and used successfully in production. The difference is in the adoption rate, the governance process, and other indicators of maturity. Archived projects are at the end of their lifecycle and so the CNCF no longer provides services and marketing for them. The CNCF landscape is an interactive tool you can use to visualize the current state and category of all the CNCF projects.

CNCF incubating projects

As of today, there are 35 incubating projects in the CNCF. Here you have the top 5 in no particular order:

  • Cilium is in the category of Runtime / Cloud Native Network, which means that it provides networking functionalities to containerized applications. It uses eBPF (extended Berkeley Packet Filter), a revolutionary kernel technology, for providing, securing, and observing network connectivity between container workloads. It is getting a lot of action with 500+ contributors, making it into the top 10 of CNCF projects with the most contributors.
  • Backstage is a project categorized as App Definition and Development / Application Definition & Image Build, and the one that got the most commits this year of all 147 CNCF projects. It is a framework for building developer portals that was created at Spotify and then donated to the CNCF. Its main goal is to simplify and standardize procedures so that developers can make the most of their time.
  • Thanos belongs in Observability and Analysis / Monitoring as it is based on Prometheus, a monitoring CNCF project. It makes it easier to scale Prometheus horizontally and obtain a global view of data from several Prometheus servers. Thanos promises high availability and virtually unlimited historical data storage. This year, it got in the top 5 CNCF projects with the most contributors.
  • gRPC is the Incubating project with the most GitHub stars and the only CNCF project in the category of Orchestration & Management / Remote Procedure Call (RPC). RPC is a way of handling communication between services. It allows for bandwidth-efficient communications and many programming languages enable RPC interface implementations.
  • Istio is an Orchestration & Management / Service Mesh project. With a service mesh, traffic between services is handled at a platform level. This way, reliability, observability, and security features can be tackled here and provided uniformly across all services, instead of being delegated to developers to include in their code. Istio has become the second Incubating CNCF project with the most stars and with most contributors this year.

Top 10 CNCF Projects

Now that we have covered the most promising Incubating projects, let’s move on to the CNCF Top 10 of 2022. These were the 10 projects with the most GitHub starts (from low to high):

  • Backstage (Incubating) – We have already explained that Backstage provides an open platform for building developer portals. This is the youngest project (its first commit was just 3 years ago) to make the top 10.
  • Kubevela (Sandbox) – Kubevela is a software delivery platform that makes deploying and operating applications across hybrid, multi-cloud environments easier, faster, and more reliable. It is infrastructure agnostic, programmable, and application-centric.
  • Envoy (Graduated) – Envoy is a proxy that serves as a data plane for service mesh. It provides load balancing and resiliency features and can be used as a network API gateway.
  • k3s (Sandbox) – This is an exceptionally starred Sandbox project! It is a lightweight, certified Kubernetes – also known as K8s – distribution, built for IoT (Internet of Things) and Edge computing.
  • Helm (Graduated) – It provides a versionable way of defining, installing, and upgrading Kubernetes applications. Self-declared as “the package manager for Kubernetes”, it was introduced at the first KubeCon and became the tenth CNCF project to graduate.
  • Istio (Incubating) – We presented Istio in the previous section as a service mesh. It extends Kubernetes to establish a programmable, application-aware network using the Envoy service proxy.
  • gRPC (Incubating) – It is the best-rated Incubating project on the list. As we explained in the previous section, it is an RPC framework to efficiently connect services.
  • etcd (Graduated) – It is “a strongly consistent, distributed key-value store that provides a reliable way to store data that needs to be accessed by a distributed system or cluster of machines.” It is, in fact, a component of Kubernetes’ control plane.
  • Prometheus (Graduated) – It is an open-source system monitoring and alerting toolkit. It was created in 2012 and joined the CNCF in 2016 as the second hosted project.
  • Kubernetes (Graduated) – The inaugural project of the CNCF is still the most starred. Kubernetes is an orchestration tool that has become the heart of cloud computing development.


Cloud-native computing is fast evolving. Each year, new challenges pop up and new solutions are proposed. In this post, we have given a look at the top CNCF projects to look out for in 2023, based on community metrics such as GitHub stars, community count, and the number of commits. If you want to keep up to date, have a look at the CNCF landscape every so often, and save the Napptive blog to your bookmarks.

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