Monthly Archives: February 2016

Are GPLv2 and CDDL incompatible?

Canonical recently threw this issue into sharp relief by their decision to ship CDDL licensed ZFS as a module of the GPLv2 licensed Linux kernel.  Reading their legal justification for this leaves me somewhat unconvinced because it’s essentially the same “not a derivative work” argument that a number of dubious actors have used to justify binary modules.  So what I’d like to do is look at this issue from a completely different viewpoint.  First by accepting the premise that CDDL and GPLv2 are incompatible (since there’s some debate on this) and secondly by accepting the even more controversial proposition that creating a kernel module is a derivative work.  I don’t want to debate these premises because it’s a worst case assumption I’m using as inputs to make the following analysis possible.

What is compliance?

One of the curious thing about CDDL and GPLv2 is that they’re both copyleft (albeit in differing forms) and the compliance requirements: the release of complete corresponding source code for your binary containing the licensed work.  In fact, the only significant difference is the requirement for build scripts, which is in GPLv2 but not in CDDL.  Therefore you can say that if you follow the compliance regime for GPLv2 on CDDL code, you’ll be in full compliance with the CDDL.  The licences do, in fact, have compatible compliance requirements.  This fact becomes very relevant when you consider the requirements for bringing a copyright lawsuit in the first place.

Where’s the Harm?

Copyright law is something called a tort in law.  That essentially means a branch of law for resolving disputes between individual parties.  However, in order to stem what could be seen as frivolous lawsuits, bringing a claim under tort law requires not just a showing that someone broke the rules of whatever agreement they were under but also that quantifiable harm resulted1.  The essential elements of a tort claim are a showing of a violation, a theory of the harm produced and a request for damages based on the harm2.

All of the bodies which do GPL enforcement recently published a charter in which they make clear that the sole requirement from an enforcement action should be compliance with the terms of the licence.  However, as I showed above, it is perfectly possible to be compatibly in compliance with both the CDDL and the GPLv2.  So the question becomes if the party is already in compliance, even though there’s a technical violation of the terms of the licence produced by the combination, what would our theory of harm be given that we don’t really seem to have anything extra we’d ask of the violating party?

Of course, one can wax lyrical about the “harm to the licence” of allowing incompatible combinations.  However, here we’re on a very sticky wicket because there have been a lot of works published (including by the FSF itself) bemoaning the problems of licence incompatibility.  Indeed, part of the design of the GPLv3 process was to make the licence more amenable to combination with other open source licences.  So suddenly becoming ardent advocates for the benefits of licence incompatibility is probably to be unlikely to fly before a judge as a theory of harm.


What the above analysis shows is that even though we presumed combination of GPLv2 and CDDL works to be a technical violation, there’s no way actually to prosecute such a violation because we can’t develop a convincing theory of harm resulting.  Because this makes it impossible to take the case to court, effectively it must be concluded that the combination of GPLv2 and CDDL, provided you’re following a GPLv2 compliance regime for all the code, is allowable.  This conclusion is the same as the one Canonical reached, but the means by which I got there are very different.

Note that this conclusion would apply to mixing any open source licence with GPLv2: provided the compliance regimes are compatible and the stricter one is followed, it’s difficult to develop a theory of harm and thus the combination is allowable.

Final Thought

The above analysis is all from the point of view of the Linux kernel compliance activities.  However, with ZFS, there is another copyright holder: Oracle.  Nothing prevents Oracle suing for copyright violation with a theory of harm that says something like the CDDL was deliberately designed to be incompatible with GPLv2 to prevent ZFS being shipped in Linux and as the shipper of products base on ZFS, they’ve suffered commercial harm (which would be quantifiable) by this action.

efitools arm 32 bit build fixed

It turned out there was a bug in gnu-efi, in the linker script.  I’ve added a local fix for this to the OBS UEFI project and filed a bug with gnu-efi on sourceforge.  The net result is that the arm 32 bit binaries are now passing most of their tests (the remaining problems may be due to faults in the UEFI environment, still investigating).  I should also have the OVMF image for arm (the ArmVirt package) building for 32 bit arm shortly.

I’ve released version 1.6.1 of efitools to make sure a new version gets rebuilt.

efitools for arm released

Thanks to using architecture emulation containers, I can now build and test efitools for arm (both 64 bit: aarch64 and 32 bit armv7l) on my x86_64 laptop.  To test the actual EFI binaries, you need the arm equivalent of OVMF which is ArmVirt.  I’ve got the build service spitting out the images (still called OVMF because of package naming requirements) for those who want to try this at home.  To run the UEFI image, you need qemu-system-<arch> which, on SUSE, is provided by the qemu-arm package.  The Linaro ARM64 site has detailed instructions, but for the impatient, the required command line (for aarch64) is

qemu-system-aarch64 \
        -m 2048 \
        -cpu cortex-a57 \
        -M virt \
        -bios /home/jejb/ovmf-aarch64.bin \
        -serial stdio \
        -drive if=none,file=fat:.,id=hd0 \
        -device virtio-blk-device,drive=hd0

Which brings up the UEFI bios image and mounts the current directory as an additional fat volume.  The Linaro site recommends 1024 for the memory size, but if you want to boot a kernel or do anything fancy, you’ll find 2048 is the minimum.  The same thing will work for 32 bit arm (except that you want to remove the -cpu line).

To get efitools to build, I had to get the arm versions of sbsigntools up and running, which I have.  The source tree I used for this is here.  There were a few modifications necessary to build arm, but nothing drastic.  Since the Ubuntu version of the git tree appears to be dead, I’ve merged back all the ubuntu patches and will maintain this going forwards.  I’ll bump the release version to 0.8 when I’m sure everything is stable.


Using this, the current status is that the aarch64 binaries are all running fine and have verified nicely.  Unfortunately, there’s still some problem with generating efi binaries for the 32 bit arm systems.  Most of the simple binaries are running OK, but the more complex ones (like KeyTool) are showing symptoms of data relocation problems which I’m still investigating.  I’ll push a new release of efitools when I can get this sorted out, although it looks like a more generic problem inside gnu-efi itself.  Edk2 builds of am32 efi binaries seem to be working, so I’ll see if I can deduce what’s missing from gnu-efi.

Constructing Architecture Emulation Containers

Usually container related stuff goes on $EMPLOYER blog, but this time, I had a container need for my hobbies. the problem: how to build and test efitools for arm and aarch64 while not possessing any physical hardware.  The solution is to build an architecture emulation container using qemu and mount namespaces such that when its entered you find yourself in your home directory but with the rest of Linux running natively (well emulated natively via qemu) as a new architecture.  Binary emulation in Linux is nothing new: the binfmt_misc kernel module does it, and can execute anything provided you’ve told it what header to expect and how to do the execution.  Most distributions come with a qemu-linux-user package which will usually install the necessary binary emulators via qemu to run non-native binaries.  However, there’s a problem here: the installed binary emulator usually runs as /usr/bin/qemu-${arch}, so if you’re running a full operating system container, you can’t install any package that would overwrite that.  Unfortunately for me, the openSUSE Build Service package osc requires qemu-linux-user and would cause the overwrite of the emulator and the failure of the container.  The solution to this was to bind mount the required emulator into the / directory, where it wouldn’t be overwritten and to adjust the binfmt_misc paths accordingly.

Aside about binfmt_misc

The documentation for this only properly seems to exist in the kernel Documentation directory as binfmt_misc.txt.  However, very roughly, the format is


name is just a handle which will appear in /proc/sys/fs/binfmt_misc, type is M for magic or E for extension (Magic means recognise the type by the binary header, the usual UNIX way and E means recognise the type by the file extension, the Windows way). offset is where in the file to find the magic header to recognise;  magic and mask are the mask to and the binary string with and the magic to find once the masking is done.  Interpreter is the name of the interpreter to execute and flags tells binfmt_misc how to execute the interpreter.  For qemu, the flags always need to be OC meaning open the binary and generate credentials based on it (this can be seen as a security problem because the interpreter will execute with the same user and permissions as the binary, so you have to trust it).

If you’re on a systemd system, you can put all the above into /etc/binfmt.d/file.conf and systemd will feed it to binfmt_misc on boot.  Here’s an example of the aarch64 emulation file I use.


To bring up a minimal environment that’s fully native, you need to bootstrap it by installing just enough binaries using your native system before you can enter the container.  At a minimum, this is enough shared libraries and binaries to run the shell.  If you’re on a debian system, you probably already know how to use debootstrap to do this, but if you’re on openSUSE, like me, this is a much harder proposition because persuading zypper to install non native binaries isn’t easy.  The first thing you need to know is that you need to install an architectural override for libzypp in the file pointed to by the ZYPP_CONF environment variable. Here’s an example of a susebootstrap shell script that will install enough of the architecture to run zypper (so you can install all the packages you actually need).  Just run it as (note, you must have the qemu-<arch> binary installed because the installer will try to run pre and post scripts which may fail if they’re binary unless the emulation is working):

susebootstrap --arch <arch> <location>

And the bootstrap image will be build at <location> (I usually choose somewhere in my home directory, but you can use /var/tmp or anywhere else in your filesystem tree).  Note this script must be run as root because zypper can’t change ownership of files otherwise.  Now you are ready to start the architecture emulation container with <location> as the root.

Building an Architecture Emulation Container

All you really need now is a mount namespace with <location> as the real root and all the necessary Linux filesystems like /sys and /proc mounted.  Additionally, you usually want /home and I also mount /var/tmp so there’s a standard location for all my obs build directories.  Building a mount namespace is easy: simply unshare –mount and then bind mount everything you need.  Finally you use pivot_root to swap the new and old roots and unmount -l the old root (-l is necessary because the mount point is in-use outside the mount namespace as your real root, so you just need it unbinding, you don’t need to wait until no-one is using it).

All of this is easily scripted and I created this script to perform these actions.  As a final act, the script binds the process and creates an entry link in /run/build-container/<arch>.  This is the command line I used for the example below:

build-container --arch arm --location /home/jejb/tmp/arm

Now entering the build container is easy (you still have to enter the namespace as root, but you can exec su – <user> to become whatever your non-root user is).

jejb@jarvis:~> sudo -s
jarvis:/home/jejb # uname -m
jarvis:/home/jejb # nsenter --mount=/run/build-container/arm
jarvis:/ # uname -m
jarvis:/ # exec su - jejb
jejb@jarvis:~> uname -m
jejb@jarvis:~> pwd

And there you are, all ready to build binaries and run them on an armv7 system.

Aside about systemd and Shared Subtrees

On a normal linux system, you wouldn’t need to worry about any of this, but if you’re running systemd, you do, because systemd has some very inimical properties (to mount namespaces) you need to be aware of.

In Linux, a bind mount creates a subtree.  Because you can bind mount from practically anywhere to anywhere, you can have many such subtrees that are substantially related.  The default way to create subtrees is “private” this means that even if the subtrees are effectively the same set of files, a mount operation on one isn’t seen by any of the others.  This is great, because it’s precisely what you want for containers.  However, if a subtree is set to shared (with the mount –make-shared command) then all mount and unmount operations a propagated to every shared copy.  The reason this matters for systemd is because systemd at start of day sets every mount point in the system to shared.  Unless you re-privatise the bind mounts as you create the architecture emulation container, you’ll notice some very weird effects.  Firstly, because pivot_root won’t pivot to a shared subtree, that call will fail but secondly, you’ll notice that when you umount -l /old-root it will propagate to the real root and unmount everything (like your root /proc /dev and /sys) effectively rendering your system unusable.  the mount –make-rprivate /old-root recursively descends the /old-root and sets all the mounts to private so the umount -l simply detached the /old-root instead of propagating all the umount events.