3 min read

Prior to news of Linus Torvalds self-imposed leave from the project, Linux leaders – including Torvalds – revised its Code of Conflict, moving instead to a Code of Conduct.

A new Linux Code of Conduct was submitted by Greg Kroah-Hartman on Saturday 15 September. Kroah-Hartman wrote that “the Code of Conflict is not achieving its implicit goal of fostering civility and the spirit of ‘be excellent to each other.'”

Read the new Linux Code of Conduct here.

The change was committed yesterday (16 September) by Torvalds. Other leading figures in the Linux project also put their names behind the move, including Olof Johansson and Steve Rostedt.

It’s not immediately clear to what extent the new Code of Conduct has something to do with Torvalds’ hiatus, but it’s impossible to avoid making a connection between the two.

What’s new in the Linux Code of Conduct?

Linux’s Code of Conflict has always felt combative. The naming makes clear that disagreement is part and parcel of open source development.

It was always clear that “critique and criticism” were simply a part of what it means to be in the Linux community.

“The Linux kernel development effort is a very personal process compared to “traditional” ways of developing software. Your code and ideas behind it will be carefully reviewed, often resulting in critique and criticism. The review will almost always require improvements to the code before it can be included in the kernel. Know that this happens because everyone involved wants to see the best possible solution for the overall success of Linux.”

By switching to a Code of Conduct, Linux is immediately placing emphasis on how contributors and maintainers work together to cultivate an open and safe community that people want to be involved in.

Contrast this with the section from the Code of Conflict above:

“In the interest of fostering an open and welcoming environment, we as contributors and maintainers pledge to making participation in our project and our community a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of age, body size, disability, ethnicity, sex characteristics, gender identity and expression, level of experience, education, socio-economic status, nationality, personal appearance, race, religion, or sexual identity and orientation.”

The Code of Conduct then goes on to outline specific examples of what is and isn’t acceptable. “Using welcoming and accepting language” and “showing empathy to other community members” are just two examples of how the code suggests community members can help to create a positive working environment.

The new Code of Conduct then goes on to detail the responsibilities of Linux maintainers. They are presented as custodians or stewards for Linux. They are responsible for “clarifying the standards of acceptable behavior and are expected to take appropriate and fair corrective action in response to any instances of unacceptable behavior.”

The reaction to the new Linux Code of Conduct

Reaction to the news – coupled with Linus Torvalds apology today – has caused considerable reaction on Twitter and across the open source community.

For some, this is an example of politics entering into open source code – with some suggesting that it could be detrimental to the Linux project overall.

Of course, the link between a more positive, inclusive and respectful community environment to a weaker project does seem strange to say the least.

Taken alongside news last week that Python is dumping ‘master’ and ‘slave’ in its documentation, it would seem that we’re starting to see open source projects take inclusivity and accessibility seriously. Some in the community might see that as a threat to them – but, if we really do think ‘be excellent to each other’ is the philosophy we should live by, shouldn’t we do everything to make sure we’re always held to that standard?

Co-editor of the Packt Hub. Interested in politics, tech culture, and how software and business are changing each other.