The Road Towards KF6 & SPDX License Identifiers

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to join the planning sprint for KDE Frameworks 6 in Berlin. KF6 will be the next major version release of the KDE Frameworks (a set of add-on libraries to make your life much easier when developing libraries on top of Qt), which will be based on Qt6. There are several blogs out in the wild about the goals for this release. Mainly, we aim for the following:

  • Getting a better separation between logic and platform UI + backend, which will help much on non-Linux systems as Android, MacOS, and Windows.
  • Cleaning up dependencies and making it easier to use the existing Tier 3 frameworks. Note that the Framework libraries are organized in Tiers, which define a layer based dependency tree. Tier 1 libraries may only depend on Qt; Tier 2 libraries may depend on Qt and Tier 1 libraries; and Tier 3 libraries may depend on Qt, Tier 1 and Tier 2 libraries — you see the problem with Tier 3 😉

For details about the framework splittings and cleanups I want to point to the excellent blog posts by David, Christoph 1 / 2 / 3, Kevin, Kai Uwe, Volker, and Nico. However, in this post I want to focus on one of my pet projects in the KF6 cleanup:

Software Package Data Exchange (SPDX)

With KF6, I want to see SPDX license identifiers being introduced into KDE frameworks in order to ease the framework re-use in other projects. This follows the same approach e.g. the Linux Kernel took over the last years.

The problem that the SPDX markers address is the following: When publishing source code under an open source license, each source code file shall explicitly state the license it is released with. The usual way this is done is that a developer copies a license header text from the KDE licensing policies wiki, from another source file, or from somewhere else from the internet and puts it at the top of their newly created source code file. Thus the result is that today we have many slightly different license headers all over our frameworks source files (even if they only differ in formatting). Yet, these small differences make it very hard to introduce automatic checks for the source code licenses in terms of static analysis. This problem becomes even more urgent when one wants to check that a library, which consists of several source files with different licenses, does only contain compatible licenses.

The SPDX headers solve this problem by introducing a standardized language that annotates every source code file with license information in the SPDX syntax. This syntax is rich enough to express all of our existing license information and it can also cover more complicated cases like e.g. dual-licensed source files. For example, an “LGPL 2.1 or any later version” license header of a source file looks as:

// SPDX-License-Identifier: LGPL-2.1-or-later

The full list of all existing SPDX markers are available in the SPDX license registry.

The first step now is to define how to handle the GPL and LGPL license headers with specific KDE mentioning, as their is no direct equivalent in the SPDX registry. This is a question we are about to discuss with OSI. After deciding that we have to discuss in the KDE community if SPDX is the way to go (gladly, there was no objection yet to my mail to the community list) and to adapt our KDE licensing policy. And the final big step then will be to get the tooling ready for checking all existing licenses headers and to replace them (after review) with SPDX markers.

PS: Many thanks to MBition for the great planning location for the KF6 sprint in the MBition offices and to the KDE e.V. for the travel support!


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