Glossary of Free Software Terms

This manual contains a list of free software terms.


  • Affero General Public License (AGPL): Essentially the GPL, but with an extra provision; all network users of AGPL'ed software must be able to receive the source code.
  • Binary blob: Object code distributed without source code.
  • Copyleft: This is the use of copyright to ensure that software and any modified and extended versions of it remain free software. The prime example of a copyleft software license is the GNU General Public License
  • Distribution: A configuration of software which comprises an operating system. The software can vary depending on the goal of the distribution. For example, Musix's software configuration is designed for music production.
  • Distribution (Legal):
  • DRM: Digital Restrictions Management
  • Free Software: Free Software is software that respects your freedom. To be considered Free Software the software must provide:
    • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
    • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
    • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
    • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
    • See: The Free Software Definition
    • Quote: "Free as in speech, not as in beer."
  • Free Software Foundation (FSF): A nonprofit organization with a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom and to defend the rights of all free software users
  • Freeware: Proprietary software that is distributed at no charge. This sort of software should not be confused with free software as it does not respect your freedom.
  • GNU General Public License (GPL): A strong copyleft license that guarantees you all the freedoms of free software.
  • GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL): A copyleft license that allows the work to be linked with (in case of a library, to be 'used by') non LGPL'ed software, regardless of the software being free or nonfree.
    • Any software under this license will still guarantee you the four freedoms.
    • The LGPL is best used in libraries that give no technical advantage over proprietary libraries to encourage adoption.
  • GNU's not Unix! (GNU): GNU is a Unix-like operating system comprised of free software. The GNU software packages are often combined with the Linux kernel forming the combination known as GNU/Linux.
  • Linux: A kernel developed by Linus Torvalds et al. The Linux kernel is mostly free software, however it does contains some non-free software and is not suitable in its current state for usage in fully free distributions.
  • Linux-libre: A project maintained by the Free Software Foundation Latin America, which removes all non-free parts from the plain Linux kernel.
  • Nonfree Software: Software which fails to meet the definition of free software. It will fail to meet the standard of one or more of the four freedoms listed in the definition of free software.
  • Permissive License: A free software license that doesn't offer copyleft, thus allowing proprietary derivatives.
    • Best used in creating software standards so that it can be more broadly adopted. Otherwise a strong copyleft license is preferred. See (GPL).
  • Proprietary: Another name of Nonfree software. See Nonfree Software
  • Replicant: A distribution of Android based on Lineage OS that is entirely free software.
  • Reverse Engineering: The process of analyzing an existing piece of nonfree technology to ascertain how it was designed or how it operates. The data collected can then be used in creating free software.
    • The Nouveau Project is one such project which creates free drivers to replace the proprietary drivers for Nvidia cards.
    • Reverse Engineering is a FSF high priority project.
  • Richard Stallman (RMS): Founder of the GNU Project and Free Software Foundation. Stallman's personal website
  • Root: The super user on a GNU/Linux system. This is also known as the administrator of the system. They have access to all files and permissions.
  • Service as a Software Substitute (SaaSS): Software that is hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available via the Internet.
    • Since we have no control over what the server does with our data (or access to the software executable itself), we must actively reject SaaSS, even if it runs on free software.
  • Source code: Collection of computer instructions written in a programming language.
  • Tivoization: The creation of a system that incorporates software under the terms of a copyleft software license (like the GPL), but uses hardware restrictions to prevent users from running modified versions of the software on that hardware.
  • Treacherous computing: Computers that disallow users from making certain changes in the system. Enforcing this behavior is achieved by loading the hardware with a unique encryption key inaccessible to the rest of the system. See more: Can you trust your computer?
  • Tyrant device: Hardware that refuses to allow users to install a different operating system or a modified operating system. These devices have measures to block execution of anything other than the “approved” system versions. We also refer to this practice as tivoization.


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