From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Developer(s)The XFree86 Project, Inc.
Initial release1991
Written inC
Operating systemmultiple
Available inVarious
TypeWindowing system
LicenseXFree86 License 1.1

XFree86 is an implementation of the X Window System. It was originally written for Unix-like operating systems on IBM PC compatibles and is now available for many other operating systems and platforms. It is free and open source software under the XFree86 License version 1.1. It is developed by the XFree86 Project, Inc. The lead developer is David Dawes. The current version is 4.8.0, released December 2008.

For most of the 1990s and early 2000s, the project was the source of most innovation in X and was the de facto steward of X development. Until early 2004, it was almost universal on Linux and the BSDs.

In February 2004, with version 4.4.0, The XFree86 Project adopted a license change that the Free Software Foundation considered GPL incompatible. Most open source operating systems using XFree86 found the potential legal issues unacceptable and moved to a fork from before the license change.[1] The first fork was the abortive Xouvert, but X.Org Server soon became dominant. Most XFree86 developers also moved to X.Org. The last XFree86 CVS commit (as of March 2013) was made on February 1, 2009.[2][3]


While XFree86 was used in most distributions before its license change with version 4.4.0, it has mostly been replaced by its fork X.org and is used rarely nowadays. The last remaining operating system distribution to use it is NetBSD, which still ships some platforms with 4.5.0 by default[4] (though Xorg can be installed from pkgsrc).


XFree86 consists of client libraries used to write X applications ("clients"), and an X server responsible for the display. Clients and servers communicate via the X protocol, which allows them to run on different computers.

The XFree86 server communicates with the host operating system's kernel to drive input and output devices, with the exception of graphics cards. These are generally managed directly by XFree86, so it includes its own drivers for all graphic cards a user might have. Some cards are supported by vendors themselves via binary-only drivers.

Since version 4.0, XFree86 has supported certain accelerated 3D graphics cards via the GLX and DRI extensions.

Because the server usually needs low level access to graphics hardware, on many configurations it needs to run as the superuser, or a user with UID 0. However, on some systems and configurations it is possible to run the server as a normal user.

It is also possible to use XFree86 in a framebuffer device, which in turn uses a kernel graphics card driver.

On a typical POSIX-system, the directory /etc/X11 includes the configuration files. The basic configuration file is /etc/X11/XF86Config (or XF86Config-4) that includes variables about the screen (monitor), keyboard and graphics card. The program xf86config is often used, although xf86cfg also comes with the XFree86 server and is certainly friendlier. Many Linux distributions used to include a configuration tool that was easier to use (such as Debian's debconf) or autodetected most (if not all) settings (Red Hat Linux and Fedora's Anaconda, SuSE's YaST and Mandrake Linux used to choose this path).


Early history and naming

The project began in 1992 when David Wexelblat, Glenn Lai, David Dawes and Jim Tsillas joined forces addressing bugs in the source code of the X386 X server (written by Thomas Roell), as contributed to X11R5. This version was initially called X386 1.2E. As newer versions of the (originally freeware) X386 were being sold under a proprietary software license by SGCS (of which Roell was a partner), confusion existed between the projects. After discussion, the project was renamed XFree86, as a pun (compare X-three-eighty-six to X-free-eighty-six). Roell has continued to sell proprietary X servers, most recently under the name Accelerated-X.

Rise with Linux

As Linux grew in popularity, XFree86 rose with it, as the main X project with drivers for PC video cards.

By the late 1990s, official X development was moribund.[5] Most technical advancement was happening in the XFree86 project. In 1999, XFree86 was sponsored onto X.Org (the official industry consortium) by various hardware companies interested in its use with Linux and its status as the most popular version of X.[6]

2002: growing dissent within the project

By 2002, while Linux's popularity, and hence the installed base of X, surged, X.Org was all but inactive; active development was largely carried out by XFree86.[7] However, there was considerable dissent within XFree86.

XFree86 used to have a Core Team which was made up of experienced developers, selected by other Core Team members for their merits. Only the members of this Core Team were allowed to commit to CVS. This was perceived as far too cathedral-like in its development model: developers were unable to get commit rights quickly and vendors ended up maintaining extensive patches.[8][9]

A key event was Keith Packard losing his commit rights. Hours before the feature freeze window for XFree86 4.3.0 started, he committed the XFIXES extension, without prior discussion or without review within the Core Team. The Core Team decided to remove Keith's commit access, but without removing him from the Core Team itself, and the XFIXES extension was backed out 6 weeks later.[10][11]

2003: The fork and the disbanding of the Core Team

In March, the Core Team claimed that Keith Packard had been trying to fork the XFree86 project by working inside the project while trying to attract core developers to a new X Server project of his own making. Packard denied this had been his aim, but some emails were provided as evidence otherwise.[12] Keith Packard was subsequently expelled from the Core Team.[13][14][15]

A short time later, Keith Packard created xwin.org, which mainly served as a meeting point for cultivating the XFree86 fork.[16] The rest of the year, many of the developers that were still active at XFree86 went over to the project that was being set up at the freedesktop.org and X.org domains.[17]

By the end of the year, due to dwindling active membership and limited remaining development capacity, the XFree86 Core Team voted to disband itself.[18]

2004: Licensing controversy

Versions of XFree86 up to and including some release candidates for 4.4.0 were under the MIT License, a permissive, non-copyleft free software license. In February 2004, XFree86 4.4 was released with a change to the XFree86 license, by adding a credit clause,[19] similar to that in the original BSD license,[20] but broader in scope. The newer terms are referred to as the XFree86 License 1.1. Many projects relying on XFree86 found the new license unacceptable,[21] and the Free Software Foundation considers it incompatible with the version 2 of the GNU General Public License, though compatible with version 3.[22] The XFree86 Project states that the license is "as GPL compatible as any and all previous versions were", but does not mention which version or versions of the GPL this is valid for.[23]

Some projects made releases (notably OpenBSD 3.5 and 3.6, and Debian 3.1 "Sarge") based on XFree86 version 4.4 RC2, the last version under the old license. Most operating systems incorporating XFree86 (including later versions of OpenBSD and Debian) migrated to the X.Org Server.[1]

Forks of XFree86


Shortly after he was expelled from the XFree86 Core Team, Keith Packard started setting up xwin.org.[24] While this was claimed to be the fork of XFree86,[25] Keith Packard later refined this to "a forum for community participation in X".[26] Xwin saw a lot of activity in the first two months after the announcements, but most of the activity was happening behind the scenes, and Keith moved his own development to freedesktop.org.[27]


Xouvert was later also hailed as the first XFree86 fork in August 2003.[28] Even though releases were announced for October 2003 and April 2004,[29] no releases were made. The last status change was made in March 2004 and it was communicated that there were delays in setting up a revision control system.[30]


The X.Org Server became the official reference implementation of X11. The first version, X11R6.7.0, was forked from XFree86 version 4.4 RC2 to avoid the XFree86 license changes, with X11R6.6 changes merged in. Version X11R6.8 added many new extensions, drivers and fixes. It is hosted by and works closely with corporate-sponsored freedesktop.org.

Most of the open-source Unix-like operating systems have adopted the X.Org Server in place of XFree86, and most of the XFree86 developers have moved to X.Org.

Release history

Version Release date Most important changes
X386 1.1 February 11, 1991 First version by Thomas Roell, based on X11R4.
X386 1.2 August 29, 1991 Included with X11R5.
X386 1.2E 0.0 May 7, 1992 First pre-XFree86 code by eventual team members.
X386 1.2E 1.0 July 18, 1992
X386 1.2E 1.0.1 July 23, 1992
X386 1.2E 1.0.2 August 8, 1992
XFree86 1.0m September 2, 1992 First version named "XFree86".
XFree86 1.1 October 1, 1992
XFree86 1.2 February 8, 1993
XFree86 1.3 June 5, 1993
XFree86 2.0 October 24, 1993
XFree86 2.1 March 11, 1994
XFree86 2.1.1 May 4, 1994 Last version based on X11R5.
XFree86 3.0 August 26, 1994 Release for X11R6.
XFree86 3.1 September 29, 1994
XFree86 3.2 October 26, 1996
XFree86 3.2.1 1996
XFree86 3.3 May 30, 1997 XFree86 Acceleration Architecture (XAA)
XFree86 3.3.1 August 8, 1997
XFree86 3.3.2 May 24, 1998
XFree86 3.3.3 December 30, 1998
XFree86 December 30, 1998
XFree86 3.3.4 June 21, 1999
XFree86 3.3.5 August 17, 1999
XFree86 3.3.6 December 31, 1999 Last 3.x version.
XFree86 4.0 March 8, 2000 Complete new architecture. X11R6.4 included.
XFree86 4.0.1 June 30, 2000 XRender
XFree86 4.0.2 December 18, 2000
XFree86 4.0.3 March 16, 2001
XFree86 4.0.4 2001
XFree86 4.1.0 June 2, 2001
XFree86 4.2.0 January 18, 2002
XFree86 4.2.1 September 3, 2002
XFree86 4.3.0 February 26, 2003
XFree86 4.4 RC2 December 19, 2003[31] Forked to X.Org Server
XFree86 4.4.0 February 29, 2004 First version under XFree86 License 1.1.
XFree86 4.5.0 March 16, 2005
XFree86 4.6.0 May 10, 2006
XFree86 4.7.0 August 12, 2007
XFree86 4.8.0 December 15, 2008

See also


  1. ^ a b Wheeler, David A. (2007-07-06). "The Cautionary Tale of XFree86". Retrieved 2007-07-12.
  2. ^ http://xfree86.org/cvs/changes.html
  3. ^ http://cvsweb.xfree86.org/cvsweb/xc/programs/Xserver/hw/xfree86/CHANGELOG?rev=3.3992&content-type=text/vnd.viewcvs-markup
  4. ^ http://cvsweb.netbsd.org/bsdweb.cgi/xsrc/xfree/xc/
  5. ^ Q&A: The X Factor, By Robert L. Mitchell, February 4, 2002, Computerworld Inc
  6. ^ XFree86 joins X.Org as Honorary Member, Posted by CmdrTaco on Dec 01, 1999, Slashdot
  7. ^ (forum) Another teleconference partial edited transcript, By Mike A. Harris, 13 Apr 2003
  8. ^ (forum) Keith Packard issue By Ralf Nolden, 20 Mar 2003
  9. ^ Advogato: Blog for mharris[dead link]Wayback Archived Copy
  10. ^ (forum) Suggestion for XFree86, By David Dawes, 20 Mar 2003
  11. ^ CVS commit: Finish removing XFIXES, By David Dawes, 12 Jan 2003
  12. ^ (forum) Some perspective from the cheap seats ..., By David Wexelblat, March 20, 2003
  13. ^ (forum) Invitation for public discussion about the future of X, By XFree86 BOD, 20 Mar 2003
  14. ^ (forum) A Call For Open Governance Of X Development, By Keith Packard, 21 Mar 2003
  15. ^ (forum) Notes from a teleconference held 2003-3-27, By Keith Packard, 03 Apr 2003
  16. ^ (Archived) XWin front page, By Keith Packard and others, 11 Apr 2003
  17. ^ (Archived) X.org software page at xwin.org, by Kaleb Keithley, 18 Nov 2003
  18. ^ (devel) Core Team disbands, By David Dawes, 30 Dec 2003
  19. ^ "XFree86 Licenses". XFree86 Project, Inc. 2005-01-01. Retrieved 2008-05-02.
  20. ^ Dawes, David (2004-01-29). "Announcement: Modification to the base XFree86 license". XFree86 Project. Retrieved 2007-07-12.
  21. ^ "XFree86 4.4: List of Rejecting Distributors Grows". Slashdot. 2004-02-18. Retrieved 2007-07-12.
  22. ^ "Various Licenses and Comments about Them". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  23. ^ "XFree86 Licenses". XFree86 Project. 2005-01-01. Retrieved 2007-07-12.
  24. ^ (Archived) XWin front page, By Keith Packard and others, 11 Apr 2003
  25. ^ Keith Packard's Xfree86 Fork Officially Started, Slashdot, 11 Apr 2003
  26. ^ xwin.org goals by Keith Packard, 12 Apr 2003. Template:Wayback
  27. ^ Screenshots from freedesktop.org's New X Server Osnews, 11 Nov 2003
  28. ^ XFree86 Fork Gets a Name, Website by Piethein Strengholt, 17 Aug 2003
  29. ^ The Xouvert Project by Jonathan Corbet, 20 Aug 2003
  30. ^ (archived) Xouvert front page, Mar 28, 2004.
  31. ^ http://www.spinics.net/lists/rh-xf/msg01387.html

External links