Welcome!

Open Source Cloud Authors: Liz McMillan, Derek Weeks, Pat Romanski, XebiaLabs Blog, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: Open Source Cloud, Java IoT, Linux Containers, Eclipse, Apache, FinTech Journal

Open Source Cloud: Article

The Science and Art of Open Source Software License Management

Protect your organization from risk while ensuring continuous innovation

The industrial revolution continues - starting with the steam engines of the 18th century, continuing with large-scale steel production, oil exploitation, electrical and photographic innovations of the 19th century, and moving on to the transportation, communications, computation and electronics of the 20th century. It is still early in the 21st century, but we can safely say software has become the engine that feeds the industrial, economic, medical, and gradually the political issues of our existence. The only way to satisfy the demand for the volume and complexity of the software that is needed to keep our world moving is to maximally share and reuse code within and across application domains.

Open Source Software (OSS) is the epitome of code reuse, enabling complex applications to be realized rapidly, economically and safely. Probably the largest collaborative endeavor in human kind to date, open source feeds on itself. Independent studies have converged on the fact that open source is everywhere, and depending on the source of the study, 80-100% of all software organizations now use open source software in their products or operations.

There is an implicit understanding that good developers do not write code from scratch any more. Rather, they can adapt a piece of existing code to furnish a desired function. Use of off-the-shelf code such as OSS brings the usual due diligence and precautions associated with deployment of any third-party content within an organization. The pedigree of the code, its ownership attributes, and the rules around the use of open source code (typically captured in a license document) govern its introduction within an organization and its suitability for an end-target use.

Open source software brings with it an unusual set of ownership issues. Unlike other commodities, open source code can be brought into an organization freely. While anything that is purchased in a transaction has implied ownership, ownership and usage of OSS can be confusing to many developers or organizations. Generally, the copyright ownership of OSS always stays with the creator of the open source code. The OSS copyright owner creates and communicates a license that explicitly sets out the rules governing the use of that open source software.

Continuous Versus One-Time OSS Assessment
Detecting and complying with OSS code in a software project has become an important part of a quality and governance process in organizations that create or consume software.

Product quality considerations and standards require that a recorded knowledge of all the third-party components within a product be maintained at all times. These records should also include attributes such as pedigree, defect history and improvements over time, potential vulnerabilities, and code propagation within the organization. These records can be best maintained, not by a one-time examination of the organization's code portfolio, but through an ongoing and structured third-party and open source software adoption process. The practice of creating and updating the records automatically as development proceeds ensures ongoing compliance with the requirements of a quality organization.

As opposed to the continuous recordkeeping requirements of a quality process, a software audit is a one-time activity targeted at providing insight into the intellectual property (IP) ownership or IP rights, in anticipation of a transaction such as an M&A or a product shipment to market.

Open source software audits, generally carried out by an external body, involves an examination of a software portfolio in order to detect OSS and third-party code within that portfolio. The result of the audit is a report which highlights open source and third party components and their attributes. At a high level, statistics such as the names of any public-domain software packages and whether they are used in a modified or unmodified format, composition of the license mix, copyrights, vulnerabilities, languages, and open source lines of code are provided. At a more detailed level, specific open source or proprietary packages that were discovered, their license attributes, links to resources that contain additional information, text of the licenses, copyrights, and know security vulnerabilities associated with the components of the software are provided.

An audit process would highlight code that is specifically copyrighted, but for which no license is offered or mentioned. These cases are one of the challenging aspects in establishing IP ownership, as the copyright owner must be contacted for explicit permission to use their code. Also, any code that is not in the public domain and has no identifying information, such as headers, must be highlighted as requiring further investigation.

The Science: Detecting Third-Party Packages in a Portfolio
Once all OSS and other third-party packages are identified and a software Bill of Materials (BoM) is available, then the list can be examined for properties such as licenses, known deficiencies, security vulnerabilities, various obligations associated with their use, and functions such as encryption that could restrict its use in certain markets.

A number of methods can be used to identify open source and commercial software within a software portfolio. A short list of these methods will include the following.

  • Records by developers: Any records maintained by developers and development managers will assist the process.
  • Information held within a file, or folder: A quality-development practice is to include a header on every file that holds information about the software package, organization, copyright and license associated with the file or the package. Often binaries also include identifying information, such as copyright owner, project name, and the license pointers within the file. Another quality practice is to include licensing or other information about a software package within the package.
  • File/folder names and paths: These could be additional indicators of the presence of a known public domain or commercial software.
  • Similarity with public-domain software: Any similarity between a software file, or portions of a software file, and a file in public domain could accurately indicate the presence of OSS in a portfolio. A full-file code similarity to a public domain file would indicate unmodified use of the OSS software. A partial code match would indicate use of OSS in a modified form. This is significant because many open source licenses trigger different obligations based on how the file is used.

There are hundreds of thousands of public-domain projects accessible to developers. When you consider that an OSS project can have multiple versions in the public domain and each package can consist of anything between two and 200,000 files, we gain an appreciation for the task involved in this method. Manual identification of code similarity to millions of files is obviously impractical. Only intelligent automated solutions can go through a software portfolio and examine similarity between each and every file in that portfolio and software files in public domain.

The Art: Reading Between the Lines
The methods described above could theoretically provide insight into composition of a code portfolio. However, those methods alone are not sufficient to reveal an accurate view of the code composition.

  • Manual records are the least reliable method as third-party content is often brought into a project without registering a record. Also, in today's typical development environment it is very difficult to guarantee access to the original developer's piece of software.
  • File header information is not necessarily an accurate representation of the file pedigree and license. These can be changed by a developer, or automatically as in Linux kernel header files that were used in Android packages.
  • Almost all OSS uses OSS. For example, there are more than 65,000 instances of commons.logging (a popular Apache logging layer), and more than 50,000 instances each of Log4j (another Apache logging utility for Java) and JUnit (a popular testing framework for Java) code in various public-domain projects. This leads to OSS project and license nesting complexities and contributes to challenges in correctly identifying the OSS packages within a portfolio. It is critical to detect the genesis OSS project and the version of the original and framing OSS projects. Practical examples of this challenge are:
    • Open source packages that use other OSS but do not maintain or propagate the original OSS license. This action may not be legitimate depending on the original OSS license and the license of the derived OSS package and can lead to erroneous conclusions about the quality as well as usage obligations associated with the organization's software.
    • Open source packages that change the license in subsequent versions such as moving from one version of a license. For example, GPLv2 to GPLv3 on a new release of the OSS project or moving from one license to another compatible license.
    • Projects where the OSS file or folder name is modified. This happens regularly on libraries (those with .jar or .bin extensions), and less frequently on source code files.
    • Seemingly known but non-existent licenses mentioned within a file or folder. A prime example is an OSS package that claims it's released under GPL. There is no GPL, only versioned GPL such as GPL v1, v2 licenses are available.

The art of OSS audit activity and license management relies on a clear understanding of the open source software community, open source packages, open source licenses, and development practices. This understanding comes with both academic knowledge as well as experience in scanning, reviewing, and auditing hundreds of software portfolios. Automated solutions that combine the science of scanning and license management with empirical methods that embody the art of open source package detection and license discovery can significantly speed up the discovery and management process and minimize, although not eliminate, the human involvement factor.

Conclusion
Rapid software development is necessary for sustaining the pace of innovation needed in today's world and the use of OSS is perhaps the best way to maintain this pace. While most organizations are now using open source to their advantage, they must avoid potential complications that OSS license obligations present. The complexity that OSS licenses present makes it almost impossible to manage obligations manually. This is where automated solutions come in. Conducting a one-time audit, or preferably, having a continuous process in place to automatically detect OSS licenses and their obligations is the best way to protect your organization from risk while ensuring continuous innovation.

More Stories By Kamyar Emami

Kamyar Emami has 20+ years of international technology and business experience in transportation, telecommunications, and the oil and gas industries. He is currently the COO of Protecode (www.protecode.com), and oversees the development of the company’s open source license management tools.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
The question before companies today is not whether to become intelligent, it’s a question of how and how fast. The key is to adopt and deploy an intelligent application strategy while simultaneously preparing to scale that intelligence. In her session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sangeeta Chakraborty, Chief Customer Officer at Ayasdi, will provide a tactical framework to become a truly intelligent enterprise, including how to identify the right applications for AI, how to build a Center of Excellence to ...
"We're a cybersecurity firm that specializes in engineering security solutions both at the software and hardware level. Security cannot be an after-the-fact afterthought, which is what it's become," stated Richard Blech, Chief Executive Officer at Secure Channels, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Massive Networks mission is simple. To help your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions. Improve your customer's experience with outstanding connections to your cloud.
Everything run by electricity will eventually be connected to the Internet. Get ahead of the Internet of Things revolution and join Akvelon expert and IoT industry leader, Sergey Grebnov, in his session at @ThingsExpo, for an educational dive into the world of managing your home, workplace and all the devices they contain with the power of machine-based AI and intelligent Bot services for a completely streamlined experience.
Because IoT devices are deployed in mission-critical environments more than ever before, it’s increasingly imperative they be truly smart. IoT sensors simply stockpiling data isn’t useful. IoT must be artificially and naturally intelligent in order to provide more value In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Crupi, Vice President and Engineering System Architect at Greenwave Systems, will discuss how IoT artificial intelligence (AI) can be carried out via edge analytics and machine learning techn...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
Consumers increasingly expect their electronic "things" to be connected to smart phones, tablets and the Internet. When that thing happens to be a medical device, the risks and benefits of connectivity must be carefully weighed. Once the decision is made that connecting the device is beneficial, medical device manufacturers must design their products to maintain patient safety and prevent compromised personal health information in the face of cybersecurity threats. In his session at @ThingsExpo...
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Arvind Radhakrishnen discussed how IoT offers new business models in banking and financial services organizations with the capability to revolutionize products, payments, channels, business processes and asset management built on strong architectural foundation. The following topics were covered: How IoT stands to impact various business parameters including customer experience, cost and risk management within BFS organizations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named "Platinum Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business - from apparel to energy - is being rewritten by software. From planning to development to management to security, CA creates software that fuels transformation for companies in the applic...
From 2013, NTT Communications has been providing cPaaS service, SkyWay. Its customer’s expectations for leveraging WebRTC technology are not only typical real-time communication use cases such as Web conference, remote education, but also IoT use cases such as remote camera monitoring, smart-glass, and robotic. Because of this, NTT Communications has numerous IoT business use-cases that its customers are developing on top of PaaS. WebRTC will lead IoT businesses to be more innovative and address...
An increasing number of companies are creating products that combine data with analytical capabilities. Running interactive queries on Big Data requires complex architectures to store and query data effectively, typically involving data streams, an choosing efficient file format/database and multiple independent systems that are tied together through custom-engineered pipelines. In his session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Tomer Levi, a senior software engineer at Intel’s Advanced Analytics ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that App2Cloud will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. App2Cloud is an online Platform, specializing in migrating legacy applications to any Cloud Providers (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud).
Recently, IoT seems emerging as a solution vehicle for data analytics on real-world scenarios from setting a room temperature setting to predicting a component failure of an aircraft. Compared with developing an application or deploying a cloud service, is an IoT solution unique? If so, how? How does a typical IoT solution architecture consist? And what are the essential components and how are they relevant to each other? How does the security play out? What are the best practices in formulating...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev, a client-oriented software development company, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MobiDev is a software company that develops and delivers turn-key mobile apps, websites, web services, and complex software systems for startups and enterprises. Since 2009 it has grown from a small group of passionate engineers and business...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dasher Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Dasher Technologies, Inc. ® is a premier IT solution provider that delivers expert technical resources along with trusted account executives to architect and deliver complete IT solutions and services to help our clients execute their goals, plans and objectives. Since 1999, we'v...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ayehu will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Ayehu provides IT Process Automation & Orchestration solutions for IT and Security professionals to identify and resolve critical incidents and enable rapid containment, eradication, and recovery from cyber security breaches. Ayehu provides customers greater control over IT infrastructure throu...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Grape Up will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Grape Up is a software company specializing in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market across the U.S. and Europe, Grape Up works with a variety of customers from emergi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Elastifile will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Elastifile Cloud File System (ECFS) is software-defined data infrastructure designed for seamless and efficient management of dynamic workloads across heterogeneous environments. Elastifile provides the architecture needed to optimize your hybrid cloud environment, by facilitating efficient...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Grape Up will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Grape Up is a software company specializing in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market across the U.S. and Europe, Grape Up works with a variety of customers from emergi...