In its role as an ISO PAS submitter, JDF and LF now can move from idea to code, to standard, to an internationally recognized standard, vastly improving the reach and availability of the technologies created by our amazing communities.
This week, we are proud to announce that the Joint Development Foundation (JDF), which became part of the Linux Foundation family in 2019, has been accepted as an ISO/IEC JTC 1 PAS (“Publicly Available Specification”) Submitter. The OpenChain Specification is the first specification submitted for JTC 1 review and recognition as an international standard.
The JDF was formed to simplify the process of creating new technical specification collaboration efforts. Standards and specifications are vitally important for the creation or advancement of new technologies, ensuring that the resulting products are well defined, provide predictable performance and that different implementations can interoperate with one another.
Why the Linux Foundation cares about standards
The Linux Foundation itself was formed out of the merger of the Free Standards Group, which maintained the LSB (“Linux Standards Base”) and the Open Source Development Labs. Open standards and open source software have been part of the mission from the very beginning.
Standards play a role in everyone’s life. Think about the things you touch every day, as simple as a power plug, the USB connector on your phone or laptop, or the WiFi that you use in your business and your home to connect your mobile devices wirelessly. All of these devices need to be able to interoperate with each other.
A pragmatic and sensible approach to solving interoperability issues would be to create open source software projects everyone can use. However, there are cases where open source software alone will not solve all the implementation challenges that open standards can achieve.
Open source software in and of itself may not solve particular situations where there will be many implementations in many different device or delivery models (e.g., video codecs or 3D printer designs with many software design tools and many hardware printers and scanners). Still, in other cases, that fragmentation is due to different device capabilities, implementation details, or limitations that open source software cannot resolve alone.
The design and capacities of many things are defined by industry stakeholders as a standard so that every plug and device is interoperable and capable of the same connectivity. Every country in the world has its own national standards bodies that define the standards it deems necessary, from power transmission, radio spectrum, food safety, and others.
Not all standards bodies are national standards bodies, with standards organizations coming in many shapes and sizes. Many standards are developed by industry-specific organizations that have a common set of technical objectives and are seeking a common set of use cases, a shared set of key design and performance criteria, and a common test specification to ensure interoperability.
For the Linux Foundation, our collaborations can range in size from small to large, but their impact can extend internationally. There is not a Linux kernel per country or an Open Container Initiative specification per country, and so on. The world is dependent on our communities.
Like Linux Foundation source code projects, JDF standards and specification development projects can range from small, industry-specific efforts, to large multi-industry collaborations. And it is the JDF’’s goal to serve these various communities. By obtaining PAS status, JDF can help specification and standards communities ranging from the smallest collaborations through to international standardization.
How Open Standards differ from Open Source projects
Open standards are best defined as specifications made available to the public, which are developed and maintained via an inclusive, collaborative, transparent, and consensus-driven process. Open standards facilitate interoperability and data exchange among different products or services and are intended for widespread adoption.
Open source software is defined by the OSI’s Open Source Definition. In practice, we generally care more about communities that form to work on open source software in a public, transparent collaboration where the code evolves over time to address new use cases, features, requirements, and gaps.
Sustainable open source software communities also see continuous improvements as bugs and security issues are identified and fixed. Open source code is typically created as a collaborative effort in which programmers improve upon the code and often share the changes among the programming community for such projects. At a high level, open source licenses allow users the freedom to use, modify, and distribute the source code without requiring any further permission.
So, for example, software such as the Linux kernel is open source software in an open community, whereas the IETF curates open standards that enable the world to connect through an open Internet.
Another excellent example of how standards come into play across different hardware and software platforms are web servers. There are many web server platforms, both open source, and proprietary — such as Apache’s and Microsoft’s IIS. Some are optimized for speed, others for large deployments, some for low power devices, and for other applications. But as long as they can all speak HTTP (and other standards), they can still all communicate across the spectrum of devices.
The process of creating standards
Standards bodies are usually formed by industry stakeholders to support the activities needed to develop a specific solution to a common problem. The resulting solution is generally referred to as a specification, a blueprint for building an implementation of a solution to the problem. In some cases, the same group may also create an open source implementation, but the implementation will be specific to a set of use cases and requirements.
A standards body is the legal organization often created to provide a neutral home to the collaboration, including financial and legal support, guardrails against antitrust issues, managing copyrights and other intellectual property terms that might bear on the specification. Many will say the most important role of a standards body is to provide a neutral governance model that enables inclusive participation from all parties, where no one organization controls the specification.
The challenges in creating specifications
For something as crucial as a specification, the process of creating a specification setting body can be complicated.
And even when the participants are aligned, the devil is always in the details. The negotiations to establish a new standards organization often involves hundreds of hours of lawyer time and a method of negotiating the nuances of the working rules and the license terms for copyrights, patents, and trademarks related to the effort. The entire process can take many months — and it’s a requisite precursor in most cases to the technical contributors getting started. So before anyone knows what the output will be, or if it will even work, many organizations collectively invest thousands to millions of dollars on months of negotiations that delay the start.
Once the mass negotiation is done, the legal entity needs to file for non-profit status, set up bank accounts, set up accounting, finance, and HR operations, collect fees from its members, and file its taxes, just like a commercial company. These activities need to occur even if all the initiating organizations are 100% aligned on the need for the specification. Once that is all done, the engineers can get together to develop a specification, often a year after the initial idea was created.
The JDF was founded to make the entire process of forming a new standards body faster, and remove the negotiations. The JDF has created a set of default terms that reflect industry best practices and proven widely accepted legal terms. By providing a choice of pre-existing, industry-accepted terms, JDF replaces custom negotiation with a “check the box” model. This model adopts best practices while giving flexibility through a few commonly known choices to the founders about essential terms such as copyright, intellectual property licensing, source code licensing, and governance structures. It also allows JDF projects to be customized to meet the needs of the community, without resorting to time-consuming line-by-line negotiations.
And once those terms are in place, the new project is formed as an entity under the non-profit JDF. In combination with world-class operational support programs, a new project can get started in a matter of days, with resources ready to go, rather than the months to the years-long process required to form a traditional standards body. The cost of this effort is so low that a specification project can be established without any funding needed for the creation or ongoing entity management.
In essence, the JDF provides a “standards organization in a box.” Just pick a few menu options, give the effort a name and off you go creating specifications.
The net impact of the JDF process means that companies with the need to collaborate can form the project, define the technical scope and begin inviting engineers to contribute to the project in a matter of days with minimal friction.
Internationally recognized standards through the ISO/IEC JTC 1 PAS process
One method of recognizing international standards is via the ISO/IEC JTC 1 PAS (Publicly Available Specification) Process. Once accepted through this process, the specification is recognized as an international standard.
ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organization with a membership of 164 national standards bodies, and its standards are among the most universally recognized and accepted throughout the world.
The IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) is the world’s leading organization for the preparation and publication of International Standards for all electrical, electronic, and related technologies.
ISO and IEC joined together to create ISO/IEC JTC 1, which is the international group dedicated to developing worldwide Information and Technology (ICT) standards. JTC 1 has been responsible for many key IT standards — including video compression technology and programming languages, among many others.
The Publicly Available Specification (“PAS”) process was created by a collaboration between ISO/IEC JTC 1 to allow for transposition of technical specifications from recognized standards bodies, which will enable them to become an ISO/IEC recognized standard.
PAS Submitters must first be approved after a review of an extensive set of criteria by the external standards bodies. Once approved, a PAS Submitter may put forward some of its specifications (the publicly available specifications, PAS) to JTC 1 for national body approval and thereby international recognition.
And once ISO/IEC JTC 1 approves a PAS submission, it becomes an international standard.
The JDF’s acceptance as a PAS Submitter is vital to the industry because it reduces friction on the path from great ideas, to well-formed technical specifications, to international recognition of the best of those specifications. JDF has the responsibility for ensuring that the process of creating the specifications is rigorous, inclusive, and conforms to the quality standards set by ISO/IEC JTC 1. The benefit of having a professionally managed standards organization like JDF is that we help ensure those requirements are met.
And it also means that JDF provides a capability that few other organizations can — a path for communities to start from a small collaboration and grow to become an international standard.
Understanding the OpenChain specification, our first PAS submission
The OpenChain Specification identifies the key requirements of a quality open source compliance program. It is intended to foster a software supply chain where open source is delivered with trusted and consistent compliance information. It provides a clear way to achieve effective management of open source for software supply chain participants, such that the requirements and associated collateral are developed collaboratively and openly by representatives from the software supply chain, open source community, and academia.
“The OpenChain Project is a clear example of cooperative development to share a common challenge,” says Shane Coughlan, OpenChain General Manager. “Hundreds of companies have come together, shared knowledge, and built a clear, focused industry standard based on their experience. The result is a compact but effective standard suitable for companies of all sizes in all markets.”
The OpenChain Specification has been in the market since late 2016 and has seen increasingly broad adoption to-date. The OpenChain participants include national user groups exceeding 100 participants and over 3,500 subscribers to the primary communication channel mailing list. ISO/IEC JTC 1 recognition will help to guide the evolution of the specification from de facto to de jure standard, and in the process assist procurement, sales, and other departments around the world adopt and manage OpenChain specification-related activities easily.
With its recognition as a PAS Submitter, JDF now provides the broadest range of support to standards communities – from small collaborations to those seeking international standards. As part of the Linux Foundation family, JDF is providing communities with new ways to collaborate.
By affiliating with JDF, the Linux Foundation ecosystem can benefit from the support and expertise to move open source specifications into an open standards-track, that empowers engineers and developers to collaborate in the creation of a specification and standard. By using this new submissions process, they can take their standard a step further to achieve international recognition. Conversely, the importance of the JDF joining the Linux Foundation family is significant because it is in alignment with the organization’s overall goal of furthering the commitment to neutral governance and alignment of open source software and open standards.
— Jim Zemlin, Executive Director, The Linux Foundation