FOSSology Turns 10 – A Decade of Highlights

Fossology

To help celebrate Fossology’s 10th anniversary, we look at how the project makes it easier to understand and comply with open source licenses.

FOSSology turns ten this year. Far from winding down, the open source license compliance project is still going strong. The interest in the project among its thriving community has not dampened in the least, and regular contributions and cross-project contributors are steering it toward productive and meaningful iterations.

An example is the recent 3.2 release, offering significant improvements over previous versions, such as the import of SDPX files and word processor document output summarizing analysis information. Even so, the overall project goal remains the same: to make it easier to understand and comply with the licenses used in open source software.

There are thousands of licenses used in Open Source software these days, with some differing by only a few words and others pertaining to entirely different use universes. Together, they present a bewildering quagmire of requirements that must be adhered to, but only as set out in the appropriate license(s), the misunderstanding or absence of which can revert rights to a reserved status and bring about a complete halt to distribution.  

How FOSSology came to be

In short, there are over a 1000 different ways licensing can go mildly or horribly wrong, creating a desperate need to find one single way to make sure everything goes consistently right. Enter FOSSology, which as the website points out, is all about scanning: It’s a framework, toolbox and Web server application for examining software packages in a multi-user environment.

There are several important highlights since the first version of the FOSSology project was published in December 2007. The Linux Foundation started hosting it in 2015. The 3.2 release was in March 2018, which, as mentioned above, provides the ability to import SPDX files. SPDX (Software Package Data Exchange) is another Linux Foundation project that helps reduce complexity by defining standards for reporting and sharing licensing information. FOSSology is the first open source project to consume SPDX in this way.

“This project has been more successful than anticipated, because license compliance was a very special topic, and running it as an open source project is also difficult, because it has a naturally small community,” said Michael C. Jaeger, Senior Research Scientist Open Source Software at Siemens AG, Maintaining FOSSology and SW360, and Trainer at SW Compliance Academy.

When goal and delivery are tightly entwined, as are the benefactors and beneficiaries, good things come from any project.

“License compliance for open source projects is hard, and FOSSology helps here by doing most of the work, such as scanning the files to find licenses, copyright statements and more, to simplify the necessary clearing. It also generates reports which can be used to document the results, which is rather important in the context of larger companies,” said Maximilian Huber, a software consultant at TNG Technology Consulting.

A paper titled “The FOSSology Project: 10 Years Of License Scanning,” has been prepared to commemorate the 10th anniversary. Project members will be participating  at the FSFE’s Legal and Licensing Workshop in Barcelona this week to present on the project.

The project’s value and who benefits  

“It is important because it offers organizations a free software solution for license compliance – an area where commercial products have a very dominant position for more than a decade. However, with free software, especially open source projects can implement license compliance without upfront cost,” explained Jaeger.

FOSSology fits in well with the other open source compliance related projects like SPDX, OpenChain, and SW360. Indeed, there is even community and developer cross-over with some of these projects and FOSSology.

“There is one person who is a maintainer in both the SW360 and FOSSology projects, and there are some persons contributing to both projects in different roles,” said Jaeger. “Consequently and naturally, there is good coordination between both projects. The FOSSology project also has a long history for supporting SPDX since it represents the de facto standard for exchanging license compliance information.”

“With its review functionality, FOSSology was one of the first supporters of the concept of concluding a license in SPDX,” he added. “It was also the first project which allowed for importing SPDX descriptions, another elementary support because the “X” in SPDX stands for exchange and not “eXport.” As far as I know, OpenChain is not concerned very much with particular tooling; however, FOSSology helps to implement OpenChain conformance.”

And the momentum continues. More changes are on the horizon and some new obstacles as well.

“In the future, more and more open source projects will be straightforwardly licensed and the strong scan correction functionality and file review functionality of FOSSology will move to the background,” said Jaeger.

“However, questions still arise because of incompatibilities of licensings, or in considering obligations of licensing. Therefore, FOSSology needs to shift its focus from correcting scan results of not-well-formed licensing to licensing analysis and license problems on the component level.”

Modernization efforts are also under consideration.

“An important goal is to modularize the parts of FOSSology, to allow a smooth transition to a more modern architecture and software stack,” added Huber.

As even more licensing and related tools cross the horizon, simplifying the information exchange between them and FOSSology will be an ongoing task. That in turn will further cement FOSSlogy’s place in the license compliance ecosystem.

But today, all attention is on a decade of successes and the community that’s responsible for so many wins.

Happy anniversary, FOSSology!

Pam Baker

Pam Baker is a freelance journalist, writer and analyst.