Wandering Thoughts archives


Two views of ZFS's GPL-incompatibility and the Linux kernel

As part of a thread on linux-kernel where ZFS on Linux's problem with a recent Linux kernel change in exported symbols was brought up, Greg Kroah-Hartman wrote in part in this message:

My tolerance for ZFS is pretty non-existant. Sun explicitly did not want their code to work on Linux, so why would we do extra work to get their code to work properly?

If one frames the issue this way, my answer would be that in today's world, Sun (now Oracle) is no longer at all involved in what is affected here. It stopped being 'Sun's code' years ago, when Oracle Solaris and OpenSolaris split apart, and it's now in practice the code of the people who use ZFS on Linux, with a side digression into FreeBSD and Illumos. The people affected by ZoL not working are completely disconnected from Oracle, and anything the Linux kernel does to make ZoL work will not help Oracle more than a tiny fraction.

In short, the reason to do extra work here is that the people affected are Linux users who are using their best option for a good modern filesystem, not giant corporations taking advantage of Linux.

(I suspect that the kernel developers are not happy that people would much rather use ZFS on Linux than Btrfs, but I assure them that it is still true. I am not at all interested in participating in a great experiment to make Btrfs sufficiently stable, reliable, and featureful, and I am especially not interested in having work participate in this for our new fileservers.)

However, there is a different way to frame this issue. If you take it as given that Sun did not want their code to be used with Linux (and Oracle has given no sign of feeling otherwise), then fundamental social respect for the original copyright holder and license means respecting their choice. If Sun didn't want ZFS to work on Linux, it's hostile to them for the kernel community to go to extra work to enable it to work on Linux. If people outside the kernel community hack it up so that it works anyway, that's one thing. But if the kernel community goes out of its way to enable these hacks, well, then the kernel community becomes involved and is violating the golden rule as applied to software licenses.

As a result, I can reluctantly and unhappily support or at least accept 'no extra work for ZFS' as a matter of principle for Linux kernel development. But if your concern is not principle but practical effects, then I think you are mistaken.

(And if Oracle actually wanted to take advantage of the Linux kernel for ZFS, they could easily do so. Whether they ever will or not is something I have no idea about, although I can speculate wildly and their relicensing of DTrace is potentially suggestive.)

linux/ZFSLicenseTwoViews written at 23:50:46; Add Comment

The risk that comes from ZFS on Linux not being GPL-compatible

A couple of years ago I wrote about the harm of ZFS not being GPL-compatible, which was that this kept ZFS from being bundled into most Linux distributions. License compatibility is both a legal and a social thing, and the social side is quite clear; most people who matter consider ZFS's CDDL license to be incompatible with the kernel. However, it turns out that there is another issue and another side of this that I didn't realize back at the time. This issue surfaced recently with the 5.0 kernel release candidates, as I first saw in Phoronix's ZFS On Linux Runs Into A Snag With Linux 5.0.

The Linux kernel doesn't allow kernel modules to use just any internal kernel symbols; instead they must be officially exported symbols. Some symbols (often although not entirely old ones) are exported to all kernel modules, regardless of the module's license, while others are exported in a way that marks them as restricted to GPL'd kernel modules. At the same time the kernel does not have a stable API of these exported symbols and previously exported ones can be removed as code is revived. Removed symbols may have no replacement at all or the replacement may be a GPL-only one when the previous symbol was generally available.

Modules that are part of the Linux kernel source are always going to work, so the kernel always exports enough symbols for them (although possibly as GPL-only symbols, since in-tree kernel modules are all GPL'd). Out of kernel modules that do the same sort of thing as in-kernel ones are also always going to work, at least if they're GPL'd; you're always going to be able to have out kernel modules for device drivers in general, for example. But out of kernel modules for less common things are more or less at the mercy of what symbols the kernel exports, especially if they're not GPL'd modules. If you're an out of kernel module with a GPL-compatible license, you might get the kernel developers to export some symbols you needed. If your module has a license that is seen as not GPL-compatible, well, the kernel developers may not be very sympathetic.

This is what has happened with ZFS on Linux as of the 5.0 pre-release, as covered in the Phoronix story and ZoL issue #8259. This specific problem will probably be worked around, but it shows a systemic risk for ZFS on Linux (and for any unusual non-GPL'd module), which is that you are at the mercy of the Linux kernel people to keep working in some vaguely legal way. If the Linux kernel people ever decide to be hostile they can systematically start making your life hard, and they may well make your life hard just as a side effect.

Is it likely that ZFS on Linux will someday be unable to work at all with new kernels, because crucial symbols it needs are not available at all? I think it's unlikely, but it's certainly possible and that makes it a risk for long term usage of ZFS on Linux. If it happened (hopefully far in the future), at work our answer would be to replace our current Linux-based ZFS fileservers with FreeBSD ones. On my own machines, well, I'd have to figure out some way of migrating all of my data around and what I'd put it on, and it would definitely be a pain and make me unhappy.

(It wouldn't be BTRFS, unless things change a lot by that point.)

linux/ZFSNonGPLRisk written at 23:17:29; Add Comment

Even thinking about spam makes me angry

It isn't news to me that dealing with spam makes me irritated and angry. I resent the intrusion into my email, and then I resent the time I spend dealing with it, and in fact I resent its very existence. This is not a rational irritation and hatred; I viscerally dislike spam and people and organizations who spam me. Sensible people would resent spammers only for the time and effort they take to deal with, but I am angry all out of proportion with that.

(This anger is part of what pushes me to think about and try to design elaborate potential anti-spam measures, even when this isn't necessarily wise. It is not that I enjoy the challenge of it all or the like, it is that I want to frustrate spammers.)

What I've recently clued in to is that even thinking about spam often makes me angry, not merely dealing with it. Perhaps this shouldn't surprise me, since I know my reaction is a visceral one and just being reminded of things will set off that sort of reaction, but it kind of does. I am a happier person when I can spend as long as possible paying as little attention as possible to all things involving spam; the less I think of it at all, the better it is for me.

That sounds awfully abstract, so let me make it concrete. I have yet another case of Google being a spammer mailing list provider, and I considered writing it up for Wandering Thoughts. Then I realized that even thinking about it was making me grumpy and soaking in the situation for long enough to write an entry would be even worse, since I can't write an entry about a spam incident without having the spam incident on my mind for the entire time I write.

So, I have decided that I will probably not write that entry. I am angry about the spam and angry at Google and I would like to hold them up to the light (again), but it is not worth it. I would rather be non-angry. Since any reminder about Google's culpability will probably not help, it would also be sensible for me to entirely block email from Google to my spamtrap addresses so I'm completely unaware of any future cases.

It's possible that this will cause me to write less about spam in general on Wandering Thoughts, although I'm going to have to see about that. I lump sort of spam-related issues like DKIM and so on into my spam category, and I likely still have things to talk about there.

(DMARC as a whole is not necessarily an anti-spam feature. As commonly used, it may be more of an anti-phish one, although I'm not sure that works as well as you'd like. That's another entry, though.)

spam/SpamThinkingAnger written at 02:22:21; Add Comment

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