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    Subject[RFD] Explicitly documenting patch submission


    This is a request for discussion..

    Some of you may have heard of this crazy company called SCO (aka "Smoking
    Crack Organization") who seem to have a hard time believing that open
    source works better than their five engineers do. They've apparently made
    a couple of outlandish claims about where our source code comes from,
    including claiming to own code that was clearly written by me over a
    decade ago.

    People have been pretty good (understatement of the year) at debunking
    those claims, but the fact is that part of that debunking involved
    searching kernel mailing list archives from 1992 etc. Not much fun.

    For example, in the case of "ctype.h", what made it so clear that it was
    original work was the horrible bugs it contained originally, and since we
    obviously don't do bugs any more (right?), we should probably plan on
    having other ways to document the origin of the code.

    So, to avoid these kinds of issues ten years from now, I'm suggesting that
    we put in more of a process to explicitly document not only where a patch
    comes from (which we do actually already document pretty well in the
    changelogs), but the path it came through.

    Why the full path, and not just originator?

    These days, most of the patches in the kernel don't actually get sent
    directly to me. That not just wouldn't scale, but the fact is, there's a
    lot of subsystems I have no clue about, and thus no way of judging how
    good the patch is. So I end up seeing mostly the maintainers of the
    subsystem, and when a bug happens, what I want to see is the maintainer
    name, not a random developer who I don't even know if he is active any
    more. So at least for me, the _chain_ is actually mostly more important
    than the actual originator.

    There is also another issue, namely the fact than when I (or anybody else,
    for that matter) get an emailed patch, the only thing I can see directly
    is the sender information, and that's the part I trust. When Andrew sends
    me a patch, I trust it because it comes from him - even if the original
    author may be somebody I don't know. So the _path_ the patch came in
    through actually documents that chain of trust - we all tend to know the
    "next hop", but we do _not_ necessarily have direct knowledge of the full

    So what I'm suggesting is that we start "signing off" on patches, to show
    the path it has come through, and to document that chain of trust. It
    also allows middle parties to edit the patch without somehow "losing"
    their names - quite often the patch that reaches the final kernel is not
    exactly the same as the original one, as it has gone through a few layers
    of people.

    The plan is to make this very light-weight, and to fit in with how we
    already pass patches around - just add the sign-off to the end of the
    explanation part of the patch. That sign-off would be just a single line
    at the end (possibly after _other_ peoples sign-offs), saying:

    Signed-off-by: Random J Developer <>

    To keep the rules as simple as possible, and yet making it clear what it
    means to sign off on the patch, I've been discussing a "Developer's
    Certificate of Origin" with a random collection of other kernel
    developers (mainly subsystem maintainers). This would basically be what
    a developer (or a maintainer that passes through a patch) signs up for
    when he signs off, so that the downstream (upstream?) developers know
    that it's all ok:

    Developer's Certificate of Origin 1.0

    By making a contribution to this project, I certify that:

    (a) The contribution was created in whole or in part by me and I
    have the right to submit it under the open source license
    indicated in the file; or

    (b) The contribution is based upon previous work that, to the best
    of my knowledge, is covered under an appropriate open source
    license and I have the right under that license to submit that
    work with modifications, whether created in whole or in part
    by me, under the same open source license (unless I am
    permitted to submit under a different license), as indicated
    in the file; or

    (c) The contribution was provided directly to me by some other
    person who certified (a), (b) or (c) and I have not modified

    This basically allows people to sign off on other peoples patches, as long
    as they see that the previous entry in the chain has been signed off on.
    And at the same time it makes the "personal trust" explicit to people who
    don't necessarily understand how these things work.

    The above also allows for companies that have "release criteria" to have
    the company "release person" sign off on a patch, so that a company can
    easily incorporate their own internal release procedures and see that all
    the patches have gone through the right channel. At the same time it is
    meant to _not_ cause anybody to have to change how they work (ie there is
    no "extra paperwork" at any point).

    Comments, improvements, ideas? And yes, I know about digital signatures
    etc, and that is _not_ what this is about. This is not about proving
    authorship - it's about documenting the process. This does not replace or
    preclude things like PGP-signed emails, this is _documenting_ how we work,
    so that we can show people who don't understand the open source process.


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