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Heckert GNU white.svg
Company / developer Community
Written in Various (Notably C and Assembly)
OS family Unix-like[1]
Working state Current
Source model mainly Free Software
Initial release 1983 (1992 as GNU/Linux)
Marketing target Personal computers, mobile devices, embedded devices, servers, mainframes, supercomputers
Available in Multilingual
Update method Various
Package manager Various
Supported platforms IA-32 (with Hurd kernel only) and Alpha, ARC, ARM, AVR32, Blackfin, C6x, ETRAX CRIS, FR-V, H8/300, Hexagon, Itanium, M32R, m68k, META, Microblaze, MIPS, MN103, OpenRISC, PA-RISC, PowerPC, s390, S+core, SuperH, SPARC, TILE64, Unicore32, x86, Xtensa (with Linux-libre kernel only)
Kernel type Multiserver Microkernel (GNU Hurd) or Monolithic kernel (GNU Linux-libre, fork of Linux kernel)
Userland Various, with GNU C Library
Default user interface Many
License GNU General Public License and other free software licenses
Official website
Debian GNU/Hurd console startup and login

GNU Listeni/ɡn/[2][3] is a Unix-like computer operating system developed by the GNU Project. It is composed wholly of free software. It is based on the GNU Hurd kernel and is intended to be a "complete Unix-compatible software system"[1][4][5] GNU is a recursive acronym for "GNU's Not Unix!",[1][6] chosen because GNU's design is Unix-like, but differs from Unix by being free software and containing no Unix code.[7]

Development of GNU was initiated by Richard Stallman in 1983[1][8] and was the original focus of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), but no stable release of GNU yet exists as of January 2014.[1][9][10][11] However, non-GNU kernels, most famously the Linux kernel, can also be used with GNU software.[12][13][14] Stallman views GNU as a "technical means to a social end."[15]


Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project

The plan for the GNU ("GNU's Not Unix!") operating system was publicly announced on September 27, 1983, on the net.unix-wizards and net.usoft newsgroups by Richard Stallman.[16][17] Software development began on January 5, 1984, when Stallman quit his job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Artificial Intelligence Laboratory so that they could not claim ownership or interfere with distributing GNU as free software.[18] Richard Stallman chose the name by using various plays on words, including the song The Gnu.[3](00:45:30)

The goal was to bring a wholly free software operating system into existence. Stallman wanted computer users to be "free", as most were in the 1960s and 1970s – free to study the source code of the software they use, free to share the software with other people, free to modify the behavior of the software, and free to publish their modified versions of the software. This philosophy was later published as the GNU Manifesto in March 1985.[17]

Richard Stallman's experience with the Incompatible Timesharing System (ITS),[18] an early operating system written in assembly language that became obsolete due to discontinuation of PDP-10, the computer architecture for which ITS was written, led to a decision that a portable system was necessary.[3](00:40:52)[19] It was thus decided that GNU would be mostly compatible with Unix.[20] At the time, Unix was already a popular proprietary operating system. The design of Unix was modular, so it could be reimplemented piece by piece.[19]

Much of the needed software had to be written from scratch, but existing compatible third-party free software components were also used such as the TeX typesetting system, the X Window System,[17] and the Mach microkernel that forms the basis of the GNU Mach core of GNU Hurd (the official kernel of GNU).[21] With the exception of the aforementioned third-party components, most of GNU has been written by volunteers of the GNU Project; some in their spare time, some paid by companies,[22] educational institutions, and other non-profit organizations. In October 1985, Stallman set up the Free Software Foundation (FSF). In the late 1980s and 1990s, the FSF hired software developers to write the software needed for GNU.[23][24]

As GNU gained prominence, interested businesses began contributing to development or selling GNU software and technical support. The most prominent and successful of these was Cygnus Solutions,[22] now part of Red Hat.[25]


The system's basic components include the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC), the GNU C library (glibc), and GNU Core Utilities (coreutils),[1] but also the GNU Debugger (GDB), GNU Binary Utilities (binutils),[26] the bash shell[21][27] and the GNOME desktop environment.[28] GNU developers have contributed Linux ports of GNU applications and utilities, which are now also widely used on other operating systems such as BSD variants, Solaris and Mac OS X.[29]

Many GNU programs have been ported to other operating systems, including proprietary platforms such as Microsoft Windows[30] and Mac OS X.[31] Compared to their proprietary Unix counterparts, GNU programs have also been shown to be more reliable.[32]

As of 2007, there are a total of 319 GNU packages hosted on the official GNU development site.[33]

Parabola, an example of a FSF approved distribution that uses a rolling release model

GNU variants[edit]

The official kernel of GNU Project is the GNU Hurd microkernel; however, as of 2012, the Linux kernel is officially part of the GNU Project in the form of Linux-libre, a variant of Linux with all proprietary components removed.[34]

Other kernels like the FreeBSD kernel also work together with GNU software to form a working operating system.[35] The FSF maintains that Linux, when used with GNU tools and utilities, should be considered a variant of GNU, and promotes the term GNU/Linux for such systems (leading to the GNU/Linux naming controversy).[36][37][38] The GNU Project has endorsed variants using the Linux kernel, such as gNewSense, Trisquel and Parabola GNU/Linux.[39] Other GNU variants which do not use the Hurd as a kernel include Nexenta Core (GNU plus the kernel of OpenSolaris)[40] and GNU-Darwin.[41] Debian GNU/kFreeBSD and Debian GNU/NetBSD from Debian bring the early plan of GNU on a BSD kernel full circle.

Copyright, GNU licenses, and stewardship[edit]

The GNU Project recommends that contributors assign the copyright for GNU packages to the Free Software Foundation,[42][43] though the Free Software Foundation considers it acceptable to release small changes to an existing project to the public domain.[44] However, this is not required; package maintainers may retain copyright to the GNU packages they maintain, though since only the copyright holder may enforce the license used (such as the GNU GPL), the copyright holder in this case enforces it rather than the Free Software Foundation.[45]

For the software developed under the GNU Project, Stallman wrote a license called the GNU General Public License (first called Emacs General Public License), with the goal to guarantee users freedom to share and change free software.[46] Stallman wrote this license after his experience with James Gosling and a program called UniPress, over a controversy around software code use in the GNU Emacs program.[47][48] For most of the 80s, each GNU package had its own license: the Emacs General Public License, the GCC General Public License, etc. In 1989, FSF published a single license they could use for all their software, and which could be used by non-GNU projects: the GNU General Public License (GPL).[47][49]

This license is now used by most GNU programs, as well as a large number of free software programs that are not part of the GNU Project; it is also the most commonly used free software license.[50] It gives all recipients of a program the right to run, copy, modify and distribute it, while forbidding them from imposing further restrictions on any copies they distribute. This idea is often referred to as copyleft.[51]

In 1991, the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), then known as the Library General Public License, was written for the GNU C Library to allow it to be linked with proprietary software.[52] 1991 also saw the release of version 2 of the GNU GPL. The GNU Free Documentation License (FDL), for documentation, followed in 2000.[53] The GPL and LGPL were revised to version 3 in 2007, adding clauses to protect users against hardware restrictions that prevent user to run modified software on their own devices.[54]

In addition to GNU's own packages, the GNU Project's licenses are also used by many unrelated projects, such as the Linux kernel, which is often used with GNU software. A minority of the software used by GNU, such as the X Window System, is licensed under permissive free software licenses.


The logo for GNU is a gnu head. Originally drawn by Etienne Suvasa, a bolder and simpler version designed by Aurelio Heckert is now preferred.[55][56] It appears in GNU software and in printed and electronic documentation for the GNU Project, and is also used in Free Software Foundation materials.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kirk St.Amant & Brian Still. Handbook of Research on Open Source Software: Technological, Economic, and Social Perspectives. ISBN 1591409993. 
  2. ^ "What is GNU?". The GNU Operating System. Free Software Foundation. September 4, 2009. Retrieved October 9, 2009. "The name "GNU" is a recursive acronym for "GNU's Not Unix!"; it is pronounced g-noo, as one syllable with no vowel sound between the g and the n." 
  3. ^ a b c Stallman, Richard (March 9, 2006). The Free Software Movement and the Future of Freedom. Zagreb, Croatia: FSF Europe. Retrieved February 20, 2007. Lay summary. 
  4. ^ "GNU Manifesto". Retrieved 2011-07-27. 
  5. ^ Raymond, Eric (2001-02-01). The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. pp. 10–12. ISBN 9780596001087. 
  6. ^ "GNU's Not Unix". Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  7. ^ "The GNU Operating system". Retrieved 2008-08-18. 
  8. ^ Marshall, Rosalie (2008-11-17). "Q&A: Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation". PC & Tech Authority. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  9. ^ Vaughan-Nichols, Steven J. "Opinion: The top 10 operating system stinkers" in Computerworld, April 9, 2009: "But after more than 25 years in development, GNU remains incomplete: Its kernel, Hurd, has never really made it out of the starting blocks. ... Almost no one has actually been able to use the OS; it's really more a set of ideas than an operating system."
  10. ^ Hillesley, Richard. "GNU HURD: Altered visions and lost promise", June 30, 2010. See especially page 3: "Nearly twenty years later the HURD has still to reach maturity, and has never achieved production quality." ... "Some of us are still wishing and hoping for the real deal, a GNU operating system with a GNU kernel."
  11. ^ Lessig, Lawrence. The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, p. 54. Random House, Inc., 2001. ISBN 978-0-375-50578-2. Referring to Stallman, Lessig wrote, "He had mixed all of the ingredients needed for an operating system to function, but he was missing the core."
  12. ^ "Information about the Linux OS (Operating System)". Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  13. ^ "[Chapter 1] 1.2 What is Linux?". 1991-10-05. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  14. ^ "What is GNU/Linux?". Retrieved 2014-04-17. 
  15. ^ Richard Stallman's speech in Stockholm, Sweden in 1986
  16. ^ Stallman, Richard (September 27, 1983). "new UNIX implementation". net.unix-wizards. Web link. Retrieved August 18, 2008.
  17. ^ a b c Lambert, Laura (2005). Poole, Hilary, ed. The Internet: A Historical Encyclopedia. Biographies, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 215–216. ISBN 1-85109-664-7. 
  18. ^ a b Holmevik, Jan Rune; Bogost, Ian; Ulmer, Gregory (March 2012). Inter/vention: Free Play in the Age of Electracy. MIT Press. pp. 69–71. ISBN 978-0-262-01705-3. 
  19. ^ a b DiBona, Chris; Stone, Mark; Cooper, Danese (October 2005). Open Sources 2.0: The Continuing Evolution. pp. 38–40. ISBN 9780596008024. 
  20. ^ Seebach, Peter (November 2008). Beginning Portable Shell Scripting: From Novice to Professional (Expert's Voice in Open Source). pp. 177–178. ISBN 9781430210436. 
  21. ^ a b Kerrisk, Michael (October 2010). The Linux Programming Interface: A Linux and UNIX System Programming Handbook. pp. 5–6. ISBN 9781593272203. 
  22. ^ a b Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution. O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. January 1999. ISBN 1-56592-582-3. 
  23. ^ Buxmann, Peter; Diefenbach, Heiner; Hess, Thomas (2012-09-30). The Software Industry. pp. 187–196. ISBN 9783642315091. 
  24. ^ Practical UNIX and Internet Security, 3rd Edition. O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. February 2003. p. 18. ISBN 9781449310127. 
  25. ^ Red Hat buys software firm, shuffles CEO - CNET News
  26. ^ "GCC and GNU Toolchains for AMD Platforms | AMD Developer Central". Retrieved 2012-09-22. [dead link]
  27. ^ Matthew, Neil; Stones, Richard (2011-04-22). "The GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation". Beginning Linux Programming. ISBN 9781118058619. 
  28. ^ Sowe, Sulayman K; Stamelos, Ioannis G; Samoladas, Ioannis M (May 2007). Emerging Free and Open Source Software Practices. pp. 262–264. ISBN 9781599042107. 
  29. ^ "Linux: History and Introduction". 1991-08-25. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  30. ^ McCune, Mike (December 2000). Integrating Linux and Windows. p. 30. ISBN 9780130306708. 
  31. ^ Sobell, Mark G; Seebach, Peter (2005). A Practical Guide To Unix For Mac Os X Users. p. 4. ISBN 9780131863330. 
  32. ^ Fuzz Revisited: A Re-examination of the Reliability of UNIX Utilities and Services - October 1995 - Computer Sciences Department,University of Wisconsin
  33. ^ "Statistics [Savannah]". 2011-02-13. Retrieved 2011-07-27. 
  34. ^ "GNU Linux-libre". 2012-12-17. Retrieved 2013-02-09. 
  35. ^ Kavanagh, Paul (2004-07-26). Open Source Software: Implementation And Management. p. 129. ISBN 9781555583200. 
  36. ^ Matt Welsh (8 September 1994). "Linux is a GNU system and the DWARF support". comp.os.linux.misc. Web link. "RMS's idea (which I have heard first-hand) is that Linux systems should be considered GNU systems with Linux as the kernel.". Retrieved 3 February 2008.
  37. ^ Proffitt, Brian (2012-07-12). "Debian GNU/Linux seeks alignment with Free Software Foundation". ITworld. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  38. ^ "1.1. Linux or GNU/Linux, that is the question.". Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  39. ^ List of Free GNU/Linux Distributions - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)
  40. ^ Solter, Nicholas A; Jelinek, Jerry; Miner, David (2011-03-21). "NexentaCore". OpenSolaris Bible. ISBN 9781118080313. 
  41. ^ The GNU-Darwin Distribution
  42. ^ "Copyright Papers". Information For Maintainers of GNU Software. 2011-06-30. Retrieved 2011-07-27. 
  43. ^ "Why the FSF gets copyright assignments from contributors". 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2011-07-27. 
  44. ^ "How to choose a license for your own work". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  45. ^ "Licensing HOWTO". 2002-11-09. Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  46. ^
  47. ^ a b Kelty, Christopher M (June 2008). "Writing Copyright Licenses". Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. ISBN 9780822342649. 
  48. ^ The History of the GNU General Public License
  49. ^ GNU's Bulletin, vol. 1 no. 5 - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)
  50. ^ "Open Source License Data". Open Source Resource Center. Black Duck Software. Retrieved September 24, 2012. 
  51. ^ Chopra, Samir; Dexter, Scott (August 2007). Decoding Liberation: The Promise of Free and Open Source Software. pp. 46–52. ISBN 9780415978934. 
  52. ^ The origins of Linux and the LGPL
  53. ^ Goldman, Ron; Gabriel, Richard P (April 2005). Innovation Happens Elsewhere: Open Source as Business Strategy. pp. 133–134. ISBN 9781558608894. 
  54. ^ Smith, Roderick W (2012). "Free Software and the GPL". Linux Essentials. ISBN 9781118197394. 
  55. ^ "A GNU Head". Free Software Foundation (FSF). 2011-07-13. Retrieved 2011-07-27. 
  56. ^ "A Bold GNU Head". Free Software Foundation (FSF). 2011-07-13. Retrieved 2011-07-27. 

External links[edit]