MySQL Moves to Quiet Licensing Critics

Open source database vendor MySQL AB is floating a new license exception among members of the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) community in a bid to permit bundling of MySQL alongside PHP .

In the view of at least one prominent member of the community though, the Free Software Foundation (FSF), backer of the GPL license that is at the root of the controversy, really doesn’t represent the needs or opinion of the core base of PHP, the popular open source scripting language.

The move comes after MySQL recently issued an incremental release (version 4.0.20), and a change in license from the less restrictive LGPL, or “Lesser” General Public License, to the GPL in some of its included software libraries.

Under LGPL, non-GPL or proprietary software may be tightly linked with it. But such is not the case with GPL-licensed software.

The licensing issue prevents the latest versions of MySQL from being included in certain Linux distributions and working together, from a licensing perspective, with PHP. The open source PHP scripting language, which recently released version 5.0, is pervasive in the open source community and part of the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) acronym that dominates much of open source development.

MySQL AB made its first public attempt at solving the licensing issue back in March with something called the FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) Licensing exception, though for a number of reasons it wasn’t sufficient to alleviate community concerns. The new exception currently in discussion has made a few changes in response to those concerns.

“The single most important change in this version of the exception is
that we removed the restriction that forbid distribution of the client
and server together when the exception was used,” MySQL community advocate Zak Greant told

“The issue with this restriction was that it made it impossible for GNU/Linux distributions like Debian and Fedora to distribute a complete and configure AMP (Apache + MySQL + PHP) platform.”

According to Greant, the new exception should be included in the next production release of the MySQL C API, which will be included in MySQL Server version 4.0.21, as well as the next releases of the alpha (5.0.1) and beta (4.1.4) software.

The next releases of the Connector/J (3.2) and Connector/ODBC (3.53) MySQL API are expected to include the new exception as well. The next production release of the MySQL Server should occur within 6 weeks.

One of PHP’s founders, Andi Gutmans, doesn’t believe there is any real problem — from a PHP end user’s perspective — with MySQL’s latest effort. “I think they pretty much addressed usage of MySQL libraries with PHP and open source software,” Gutmans told “As long as they are not inhibited from being able to use PHP I don’t see a problem from the end user’s perspective. Personally I don’t really see a big problem.”

The dispute helps frame the larger and ongoing debate between the Free and Open Source communities about what constitutes “Free” and how FOSS software can be used with commercial software.

“We like the fact that it (PHP) is very open. It’s a long discussion about what Free really means,” Gutmans said. “When I think of free, my users can do whatever they want.”

The Free Software side of the debate is anchored by the GPL and its backer, the Free Software Foundation, with its GNU community. In Gutman’s view, it’s a community that doesn’t represent the PHP user base.

“The GNU community, in my opinion, is a very fanatic community and I don’t think it represents the real serious open source users. It definitely doesn’t represent the PHP user base,” Gutmans said.

“Most of PHP’s user base are people that are using PHP to make a living and they wouldn’t care less. “They are just happy that it’s a PHP license and they can do whatever they want with it and can ship it with their commercial products,” he said.

Gutmans said he has exchanged e-mails with FSF founder Richard Stallman in the past on such issues.

“We definitely don’t see eye to eye on the issue of licensing. He [Richard Stallman] doesn’t like our licensing and we know that,” Gutmans said. “We’re aware of each other, but the PHP project has no intention of moving to some sort of GPL license.”

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