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How did Debian manage to include ZFS in its unstable branch?

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May 16, 2016

To most Linux Debian lovers, they were happy to see that the ZFS file system has come to the popular distribution, but in a way, Debian's backers think that won't kick up another row over the compatibility of open source licences.

Whether that happens or not is besides the point for now. To be sure, Ubuntu 16.04 has already added ZFS, despite pre-release grumblings from Richard Stallman to the effect that anything licensed under the GNU GPL v2 can only be accompanied by code also released under the GNU GPL v2.

ZFS is issued under a Common Development and Distribution License, version 1 (CDDLv1). So how did Debian manage to include ZFS in its unstable branch? That's a good question, but we'll try our best to explain what we're seeing here.

Debian has decided to include the source code only, rather than take Ubuntu's approach of shipping pre-built kernel modules. And that source code will be included in contrib, the archive Debian describes as containing “supplemental packages intended to work with the Debian distribution, but which require software outside of the distribution to either build or function.”

If you choose to compile ZFS and run it, that's your problem. It's difficult to say just how big a problem it is if only because it's equally difficult to imagine how anyone would know what you're running or who would sue you for doing something that is already eminently possible.

The Software Freedom Conservancy have assisted cases in the past against vendors it felt breached the GPL, as the case against VMware last year shows.

But that case suggests that VMware has made open-source code a key component of a commercial and closed-source product.

That's a long way from an individual or organization deciding to roll-their-own ZFS-on-Debian installation, however. We'll see what happens next, but for now get ready to see more of the same for the next few months.

In other Linux and open source news

Open source solutions developer TurnKey has announced the general availability of its TurnKey Linux 14.1 release, the 1st point version of the Debian-based virtual appliance (VA) library distributed as ISO images or virtual machines.

In case you weren't sure, TurnKey Linux 14.1 has been in development for the past six months, during which the ever-growing team of developers behind the project implemented many improvements, fixed a lot of software bugs reported by the Linux community, and upgraded most of the appliances on the latest Debian release.

"About seven months after the release of v14.0, we are proud to announce the updated v14.1 release," asserted Jeremy Davis in the announcement. "Once again this release has been a community affair. We've had lots of great contributions from many motivated and helpful people," he added.

Based on the Debian GNU/Linux 8.4 "Jessie" operating system, the TurnKey Linux 14.1 release gives users instant and free access to a huge library of over one-hundred appliances that integrates some of the best open-source software, thus offering ready-to-use solutions to the community.

Among the most popular virtual appliances, we can mention WordPress, Joomla, phpBB, Apache Tomcat, Drupal, Bugzilla, TWiki, MediaWiki, Rails, PostgreSQL, MySQL, MovableType, LAMP, Zimra, Magento, Torrent Server, StatusNet, and File Server.

As part of the launch of Turnkey Linux 14.1, the open source team is also proud to announce a new appliance called TurnKey MediaServer, which has been designed from the ground up to offer users a simple network-attached media storage solution for bringing their home videos, photos, and music together.

TurnKey Linux 14.1 also comes with an updated version of the open-source and widely used Webmin web-based system configuration tool for Unix-like systems.

In other Linux and open source news

Free Software Foundation president Richard Stallman has weighed in on the argument over whether Ubuntu can legally include ZFS in Linux. His answer: a resounding No.

Stallman has issued a statement he says “explains some issues about the meaning and enforcement of the GNU General Public License. The specific view for this article is the violation of combining Linux with ZFS”.

Stallman needs to consider that combination because Ubuntu has signalled it will soon add OpenZFS to version 16.04 of its distribution.

The Free Software Conservancy (FSF) argued that the Common Development and Distribution License, version 1 (dubbed CDDLv1), under which ZFS is published means that it cannot be added to a Linux distribution.

But Ubuntu disagrees. Stallman is arguing that “Code under GPL-incompatible licenses cannot be added, neither in source nor binary form, without violating the GPL.” He continues-- “if you distribute modules meant to be linked together by the user, you have made them into a combined work, and you must release the entire combined work under the GNU GPL.”

It's therefore not possible to release ZFS alongside GNU GPL-licensed code because ZFS is licensed under CDDLv1, he added.

Ubuntu has previously stated that it has sought legal advice and believes it can bundle ZFS without breaching any licences. But is that really the case?

Oracle, which since acquiring Sun Microsystems has decided the licence under which ZFS is published, has never shown any inclination to change the licence.

Stallman hopes that this will change-- “the copyright holders of ZFS (the version that is actually used) can give permission to use it under the GNU GPL, version 2 or later, in addition to any other license.”

“This would make it possible to combine that version with Linux without violating the license of Linux. This would be the ideal resolution and we urge the copyright holders of ZFS to do so,” he asserted.

So you decide, Oracle... Or would allowing ZFS to be compatible with the GNU GPL threaten your billion-dollar ZFS business? It will soon be interesting to see how Larry Ellison treats this dilemma. We'll keep you posted.

In other Linux and open source news

Earlier today, Google said it has developed load-balancing open source software using its 'Go Language' it developed last year.

Google is now offering the software to the Linux and open source community.

The company has released the 'Seesaw Load Balancer' for Linux, built to replace two existing systems that were developed a few years ago.

The code has been released to GitHub this morning. Google’s site reliability engineer, Joel Sing, blogged that Seesaw would increase the availability of service and reduce the management overhead compared to what was available until today.

“We are pleased to be able to make this platform available to the rest of the world and hope that other enterprises will be able to benefit,” Sing said.

Overall, Seesaw will handle internet server traffic for unicast and anycast virtual IP addresses, perform load balancing with NAT (network address translation) and direct routing, and assess the health of the systems involved. That's quite a feat.

According to Sing, Google had employed two load-balancing systems up to now, which had led to various issues managing the overall infrastructure as well as a few problems with stability and redundancy.

Sing added that one of the requirements on Seesaw were that it was built using Google's Go language, offered as a modular multi-process architecture and with the added ability to abort and terminate a process if it had entered an unknown state.

Google says it has released more than 900 projects to the open source community, equating to about 20 million plus lines of code in total.

Apart from Go, Google's better known open-source projects include WebM, the V8 JavaScript engine, and the Android mobile operating system.

In other Linux and open source news

Today, the Linux community is proud to announce that version 4.4 of the Linux kernel has been finalized and released to the public.

Linus Torvalds announced the release himself last night. So what's new this time around?

Support for GPUs seem the headline item, with plenty of new drivers and hooks for AMD processors.

Perhaps most notable is the adoption of the Virgil 3D project which makes it possible to parcel up virtual GPUs.

With virtual Linux desktops now on offer from Citrix and VMware, those who want to deliver virtual desktops with workstation-style graphics capabilities will be happy.

Raspberry Pi owners also have better graphics to look forward to, thanks to a new Pi KMS driver that will be updated with acceleration code in future releases.

There's also better 64-bit ARM support and fixes for memory leaks on Intel's Skylake CPUs.

Torvalds also says the new release caught a recent issue by unbreaking the x86-32 sysenter ABI, when somebody misused it by not using the vdso and instead using the instruction directly.

Naturally, it will be months before the new kernel pops up in a majority of production Linux releases, but it's out there for those who want it now.

And Torvalds is letting us know he's about to start work on version 4.5. He's been pretty busy as of late, and things are looking up in deed.

In other Linux and open source news

Linux OS creator/developer Linus Torvalds says the fourth release candidate of the Linux 4.4 kernel contained a nasty core bug that's since been repaired, but may not initially have rang that many alarm bells.

“Another week, another rc,” Torvalds writes on the Linux Kernel mailing list, before going on to say that development work in Linux labs is progressing as usual save for “A fairly bad core bug that was introduced in rc4 that is now fixed in rc5,” he said.

Torvalds declares that bug a bit embarrassing but added “I don't think that many people in the Linux community actually ever saw the bug in the first place.”

Torvalds' next dilemma is deciding when to schedule the release of the now fixed version 4.4.

He's tossing up pausing things for a week to let people enjoy the season, or proceeding at the usual pace and waiting a week before opening the version 4.5 merge window.

No matter how you look at this, Linux kernel coders will get two weeks off soon, at a time of year it makes lots of sense to get some rest. Happy Linux Christmas to all.

In other Linux and open source news

A snippet of new code can give Linux servers a boost by addressing an unnoticed bug in a congestion control algorithm in the operating system's kernel.

The new code was provided by Google's transport networking team, with contributions from Jana Iyengar, Neal Cardwell and a few others.

It repairs an old bug in a set of routines called TCP CUBIC designed to address the slow response of TCP in long-distance networks, according to its creators.

Like any congestion control algorithm, TCP CUBIC makes network-level decisions based on traffic congestion reports.

If the network becomes very busy with sudden bursts of traffic, hosts are told to slow down.

As Mozilla developer Patrick McManus explains, the bug was simple-- TCP CUBIC interprets a lack of congestion reports as an opportunity to send data at a faster rate. That's it. Nothing more.

But of course, that condition could arise merely because the system hasn't been getting any congestion update reports in a while. That's something else, but nothing that can't be addressed.

What's supposed to happen in congestion control is that the operating system starts sending data slowly, increases its transmission rate until the network says 'that's enough', and then backs off a bit. The design is really simple but smart when you think of it.

The bug in TCP CUBIC fools the system into thinking it has a clear run at the network and should transmit at the maximum possible rate, crashing into other traffic, and ruining the performance and the efficiency of the system.

“The end result is that applications that toggle between transmitting lots of data and then laying quiescent for a bit before returning to high rates of sending will transmit way too fast when returning to the sending state,” McManus explained to us in an email.

However, that condition could be quite common, he notes. A server may have sent a short burst of data over HTTP containing a web form for someone to fill out, and go quiet waiting for a response, then assume there's no congestion, and burst out of the blocks at top-rate when it gets the user's response back.

“A far more dangerous class of triggers is likely to be the various HTTP based adaptive streaming media formats where a series of chunks of media are transferred over time on the same HTTP channel”, McManus asserted.

That's why a fix for that old flaw could be important. Linux is used in many media servers, and for the past ten years or more, an important slate of congestion control hasn't been working quite efficiently in some cases.

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The code snippet forces the Linux kernel to act a little more intelligently after an idle period.

A more technical description is included with the bug fix. The code snippet is available on Google's website.

In other Linux and open source news

The open source router OpenWrt version 15.05 has hit the streets and the new release is now operational.

One highlight of the new iteration is an upgrade to Version 3.18 of the Linux kernel, and security has been beefed up with ed-25519 package signing support, and also support for jails and hardened builds as well.

But the big news is a fully writable filesystem with package management, according to the project's founders.

This, OpenWrt explains, offers users different options for the installation and the customisation of the upgraded routing system.

Instead of having to use a vendor's application and selection framework, OpenWrt can now be configured using developer-supplied applications, the group said.

“OpenWrt is a framework to build an application without having to build a complete firmware from the ground up”, the announcement says, while users get “full customization to use the device in ways never envisioned in the past”.

Of course, that almost sounds like a challenge to the FCC, which just a few weeks ago issued a proposed new rule-making that would demand Wi-Fi lock down on several systems.

The proposed regulation specifically proposes requiring Wi-Fi vendors to lock down their firmware and names OpenWrt as a potential issue.

As the rule states, router vendors selling new equipment in America would have to answer “What prevents third parties from loading non-US versions of the software/firmware on the device? Describe in detail how the device is protected from “flashing” and the installation of third-party firmware such as DD-WRT,” the new ruling states.

The FCC's overall concerns are that third-party firmware could allow end users to mess around with their wireless settings, and in careless or malicious hands, that could end up with a Wi-Fi router operating outside its radio spectrum certification.

With OpenWrt's new upgrade, its device support has now passed 950 products from 159 vendors, with new devices added from Marvell, Broadcom and Raspberry Pi.

Source: Debian Linux.

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