Debian “drops” the Linux Standard Base

LWN recently reported on a decision by the Debian community to drop most support for the Linux Standard Base (LSB). The LSB is an attempt to define as standard for compatibility across Linux distributions. Even binaries should JustWork™ on multiple distributions. At work, I take advantage of this: for many packages we use the same binaries across CentOS, Ubuntu, and SLES.

I can’t blame the Debian maintainers for not wanting to continue putting in the effort. The LSB is a large standard set and very few applications have been officially LSB certified. In addition, the LSB’s selection of RPM as the package manager puts the spec at odds with Debian anyway.

Debian’s unwillingness to put effort into keeping up with the LSB doesn’t necessarily mean that it will suddenly become incompatible with other distributions. Debian plans to continue complying with the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard, a subset of the LSB that defines what files and directories go where. I suspect this is the key standard for many people who work across distributions anyway.

In the short term, this seems like a non-story. In the longer term, I wonder what will become of the Linux ecosystem. Running a single distribution is herding cats on the best of days. Coordinating standards across multiple distributions, even with common upstreams, is madness. Among the major distributions, there are basically two camps: Debian/Ubuntu and Fedora/RHEL (and RHEL-alikes). They’ve managed not to drift too far apart, thought I thought systemd would start that process.

To many, “Linux” (as an OS, not a kernel) is a single entity. Others don’t even realize that Ubuntu and Fedora are in any way related. While reality is (sort of) closer to the former currently, I wonder if we’ll get to a point where it’s closer to the latter. Standards are important but are useful only to the degree that they are complied with. Linux has avoided the competing standards problem so far, but will that remain the case?