Posts Tagged ‘compliance’

Compliance Engineering

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Compliance engineering as a topic covers those activities that make it possible to ship a (consumer electronics) product that complies with the license(s) of the software contained in that product. That includes things like: figuring out what software actually is in the product (you’d be surprised how often vendors don’t even know); ensuring that you know what configurations and versions were chosen to put in the product; finding out what the licenses on those versions of the software are; finding out out what the obligations under those licenses are; and finally actually doing what those obligations demand. Hence, comply.

Comply or explain (to one of the organizations that look into enforcing software license obligations, like the BSA or

The FSFE has long had a brief article on how to report and fix violations and Armijn Hemel at Loohuis Consulting has written a fairly lengthy compliance engineering guide (also some articles on LWN).

One popular license for software that tends to end up in consumer electronics products is the GPL. Either version 2 or version 3. It has some specific obligations that make compliance both important and sensitive. Those are the clauses requiring the complete corresponding source code, which means you need to know what the code is and how to provide it. It also means that for every binary release you need to provide the sources that can be used to create exactly that binary release. Not every company does that consistently.

Heck, I’ll name names: Conceptronic, a Dutch consumer electronics company, tries hard to comply. It delivers source code for the firmware shipped with the original release of devices, and it sometimes updates the available source tarballs. But not always. Dennis, the guy responsible, knows this is a problem. He tries, but time pressure and the upstream don’t always make it possible to do the right thing.

So there’s a company technically in the wrong where I’m willing to believe that they could be in the right if there was a little less effort involved, or a little better support in the compliance engineering process.

Enter, once more, Armijn and Shane, in their business guises of Loohuis Consulting and Opendawn Consulting. They work, shall we say, both sides of the fence: both in helping people improve their compliance processes and in tracking down violators later. For both sides, knowing which sources should have been supplied with a given binary release is of paramount importance.

So Shane and Armijn — supported by the Linux Foundation and Stichting NLnet — have produced a tool that helps in identifying what software has gone into a binary firmware image. It’s still in its infancy, but it can usefully detect Linux kernel versions, Busybox versions and configurations. That means it can be used — for products containing those pieces of software — to answer questions like “what sources and configuration files and scripts should be delivered with this product?” And that’s important because of the requirement in the GPL to provide (when necessary as defined by the other license obligations) the complete corresponding source code. Not just a bunch of tarballs and a “figure it out” notice; not just the upstream code, but whatever patches went into the device as well; and preferably not a whole bunch of extraneous cruft, either.

The tool makes it easier to do compliance checking from the outside, and easier and cheaper (as in Free beer) to do basic checking on the inside. It’s no replacement for a dedicated compliance engineer, but it does help a lot in answering questions about “what’s in here?” before firmware goes out the door.

I should add that the tool understands some common firmware packaging styles, so it will find and unpack and check things in a squashfs image. Upcoming features will add more filesystems, like concatenated squashfs filesystems, which will save a lot of time compared to running od -c, grepping for magic numbers, dd-ing things apart and then loopback mounting parts individually — that will become automatic.

You can find the tool (which is Free Software under the Apache license) at BA to the rescue. Man, I love it when a plan comes together.

Checkin’ out the goods

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Just a touch of compliance today. If I wanted to do real compliance engineering, I would turn to (in Europe, and please note they are still looking for a new webmaster) or to Brad Kuhn/SFLC (in North America) to do the actual engineering and checking of product. But here’s a mostly happy story.

I spotted the LG NAS N2R1 at a local webshop. Two drives, DVD burner, UPnP, bla bla. Not something I need, but it struck me that that’s exactly the kind of device that does poorly in compliance — ships with Linux and busybox, no sources. So with my usual assumption of malice in place, I went looking. While the firmware downloads for the device (say from LG’s Dutch site) do not mention corresponding source code, the file is clearly and unashamedly a Linux image: a .zip containing a .bin which is actually a .tar containing a .tgz which is the result of tar czf – / on a Debian installation. Somehow I expected a firmware update to be a little more sophisticated than that, you know?

No README or other indications of the licenses in the firmware, but when I downloaded the users manual for the device, imagine my surprise to find pages 159-164 filled with license information: which parts of the firmware are covered by GPLv2, GPLv3, LGPL, other liceses, and a compilation of copyright notices and BSD variants. There’s a written offer for a CD with sources in the users manual. Pretty good, all in all — although of course one might consider checking that the sources are the complete corresponding sources for each firmware version.

But this brings me to a mystery point in the GPLv2. You may distribute versions of the Program in object code (section 3) under the terms of section 1 and 2 provided you offer the source code in some way. So — since this firmware is clearly distribution in object form — we need to check if the conditions are satisfied. The source code offer is ok. But what does “under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above” mean? Section 1 is about verbatim copies of source code; section 2 is about modified versions (which might be understood to include object form). I guess the question comes down to this: does the condition in section 1, “give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this License along with the Program” apply to distribution in object form, or not?

Doing it right (on the wrong side of town)

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Ah, the Powder Blues band. Apologies, mostly.

I know a place on the wrong side of town,
Where the band width is cookin and they’re loading on down,
Joe compiles like his souls on fire,
Baking a new firmware for a telephone wire,
Rev up the sources, compliance comes down,
Doin it right on the wrong side of town!

In these troubled times, I thought I’d share some tales of companies doing it (relatively) right. Thanks to the quiet pressure and diplomacy of and their (and FSFE, too) desire to work on dialogue and long-term solutions, it’s possible to find consumer electronics in Europe that are compliant (within the wriggle room that is left in the notion of “compliance”).

In September I picked up a Lacie Network Space drive. 1TB, I think, UPnP server, black, glossy. So of course the first thing I did was go looking for GPL violations. This ended up with a half dozen folks standing around a table, red wine in hand, an improvised network on the floor. The manual of the product doesn’t mention the GPL. If you boot it up, you can get the syslog:

Jan 1 00:00:28 syslogd started: BusyBox v1.1.0 (2006.11.03-14:53+0000)
Jan 1 00:00:29 kernel: klogd started: BusyBox v1.1.0 (2006.11.03-14:53+0000)
Jan 1 00:00:29 kernel: Linux version (jrichefeu@grp-horus) (gcc version 3.4.4 (release) (CodeSourcery ARM 2005q3-2)) #3 Tue Feb 3 14:04:45 CET 2009
Jan 1 00:00:29 kernel: CPU: ARM926EJ-Sid(wb) [41069260] revision 0 (ARMv5TEJ)

I should add it’s really quiet a nice piece of kit, except it never spins the disk down. And of course, the manual doesn’t mention the GPL. But the support section of the website does, and it’s not difficult to find the source downloads section. I haven’t verified that these are the complete and corresponding sources. It looks reasonable, though.

More recently I bought a Conceptronic Media Giant Plus, which is a HDD plus codecs and a bunch of A/V plugs, so it goes right into the TV — and then videos and whatnot go on the HDD, and play from there. The UI is a little clunky, but it works well enough, and if it saves having to go through and find the right DVD for the kids all the time, that’s fine by me. I don’t know what the hardware inside is exactly; it’s been on only once so far to copy the Eefje Wentelteefje TV Show onto it.

The box comes with a thin leaflet of license compliance statements. “Great!” I thought, but it turns out to be MPEG-4 compliance, and Fraunhofer, and all kinds of commercial licenses, patent licenses, consortium licenses, etc. No mention of the GPL. No mention of the software actually running on the machine. “Drat!” thought I. I don’t rub my hands together and cackle evilly then, though.

So my surprise was a little greater when I leafed through the (thick and comprehensive) user manual and found, at the back, a chapter “Licensing Information”.

This Conceptronic product (Media Giant) includes copyrighted third-party software licensed under the terms of the GNU General Public License. .. the following parts of this product are subject to the GNU GPL: (list including busybox, xine, Linux kernel). … Conceptronic as eposed (sic – exposed?) the full source code of the GPL licensed software, including any scripts to control compilation and installation of the object code. All future firmware updates will also be accompanied with their respective source code. For more information on how you can obtain our open source code, please visit our web site.

That text is followed by the full text of the GPL version 2, the LGPL version 2.1 and the FreeType license, 2006-Jan-27.

So, that’s pretty thorough except that a “visit our website” isn’t all that specific. I couldn’t find any links to the source on the product page, but some searching turned up the source at last.

So here’s two cases of “yeah, that’s ok, could be better, keep trying” — it’s like dealing with my son learning to ride a bicycle, they need some encouragement and support, because they’re still learning.