Red Hat is one of the most prominent representatives regarding Linux and has significantly impacted the development of Open Source.
That’s why every move made by the company from North Carolina is making waves among the Linux community, and the latest one is set to generate strong reactions.
As we all know, Red Hat discontinued CentOS at the end of 2021 in favor of CentOS Stream. The Linux community was taken aback but it also resulted in something positive: the birth of some great RHEL replacements, with Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux standing out.
However, now Red Hat has surprised everyone with another unexpected move, announcing that CentOS Stream will be the sole repository for public RHEL-related source code releases.
As the CentOS Stream community grows and the enterprise software world tackles new dynamics, we want to sharpen our focus on CentOS Stream as the backbone of enterprise Linux innovation. We are continuing our investment in and increasing our commitment to CentOS Stream. CentOS Stream will now be the sole repository for public RHEL-related source code releases. For Red Hat customers and partners, source code will remain available via the Red Hat Customer Portal.
This decision raises many questions and concerns about how it may affect the RHEL derivatives, especially those with large user bases such as Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux. To that end, let’s analyze the situation.
How Will Red Hat’s Decision to Limit Access to Source Code Affect RHEL-Based Distributions?
First and foremost, we must clearly state that there is no room for unnecessary panic. Here’s how things stand with the two most popular RHEL derivatives.
Referring to the AlmaLinux Wiki: “We clone the upstream sources from the CentOS git repositories.“
Referring to the Rocky Linux Wiki: “Obtain the RHEL sources via SRPM or CentOS Git.“
On the other hand, limiting access to source code cannot help but make it difficult for distributions relying on it to provide 1:1 binary compatibilities against given RHEL releases.
Because the RHEL source code is no longer publicly available but only through the Red Hat Customer Portal, any downstream distributions, such as Alma, Rocky, Oracle, and so on, will need to get it from there.
Unfortunately, another side of things directly affects the RHEL clones. Here’s what it’s all about.
Referring to section 1.2(g) of PRODUCT APPENDIX 1 to Red Hat’s Software Subscriptions and Support Subscriptions, it’s clearly stated:
Unauthorized Use of Subscription Services.
(d) using Subscription Services in connection with any redistribution of Software or (e) using Subscription Services to support or maintain any non-Red Hat Software products without purchasing Subscription Services for each such instance (collectively, “Unauthorized Subscription Services Uses”).
Referring to this text, we can conclude that you can’t legally redistribute the source RPMs; thus, if one of the RHEL derivatives uses them, those who downloaded the SRPMs can face legal consequences.
So, having a license would not help. Why? Because part of the license agreement restricts you from building your rebuild with the source.
We’ll stop here and not go into greater detail because the situation is highly complicated and involves many legal issues. But in any case, this will seriously affect the Linux community.
However, one thing is sure: regardless of how you look at it, it’s clear that Red Hat is attempting to limit the popularity of Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux as RHEL replacements, posing technical and primarily legal difficulties for them.
What can we say in conclusion? Are Red Hat legally entitled to do this? Indeed, yes, because there is no GPL violation. Is it against the spirit of free software? Again, yes! Because Red Hat would not be here if someone behaved like this 30 years ago.
There is no official statement from the leading RHEL derivatives regarding Red Hat’s decision to limit access to its source code, but we expect one soon. However, the following message appeared on AlmaLinux’s Twitter account:
So, as always, we’ll watch the situation closely and update you if anything changes.