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27 August 2010, 10:42

Glibc finally free software

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Fedora Engineering Manager Tom 'spot' Callaway has announced that glibc, the GNU C Library, is finally free software after working with Oracle to get Sun code from 1985 placed under an unrestricted licence. Glibc is typically included with most programs that are compiled with the GNU C compiler. The code at the heart of the issue derives from an RPC library which was written by Sun as part of implementing RFC 707. In 1985, it would be another year before there was even a formal definition of free software, but the code was still widely shared under what was a relatively permissive licence for the time. There was, though, one clause -

Users may copy or modify Sun RPC without charge, but are not authorized to license or distribute it to anyone else except as part of a product or program developed by the user.

- that made the licence non-free in modern terms by placing restrictions on redistribution. This licence restriction was often ignored though and the code and its licence became widely used in software such as NFS implementations on Unix and over time it was added, under the same licence, to glibc. In 2002, a bug was filed for Debian pointing this out while in 2005, Red Hat identified the same problem after a licence audit.

An attempt to fix the issue in 2009 was made which resulted in Sun's open source officer Simon Phipps announcing at FOSDEM that the Sun RPC code would be released under a three clause BSD licence, but the change was never actually made. Red Hat had also been working with Sun to relicense other files under the same "Sun RPC" licence and despite getting some code relicensed, the task was incomplete for glibc, krb5 and netkit-rusers. By this time though, Sun was being acquired by Oracle and the complexities of that acquisition meant Sun were unable to respond.

The effort was restarted with Oracle and with the permission of Wim Coekaerts on behalf of Oracle America, the remaining known files that were under the Sun RPC licence were relicensed under the BSD licence. The glibc code has been committed to Red Hat's source repository. The krb5 change is in progress but, says Callaway, the netkit-rusers code appears to be abandoned and asks for anyone who can help make the changes to get in touch.


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