The Past and Future of Linux Standards

“The nice thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.” --Professor Andrew S. Tanebaum (author of MINIX).
Linux and Future Standards

Is it enough for Linux developers to make their own way based on standards developed by outside groups such as the IEEE, The Open Group, ISO and ANSI? Probably not. Linux developers have been able to pick and choose which standards to adopt and how to implement them, but as standards are revised and extended, Linux developers want to ensure future standards also meet their needs.

One such revision in progress is a joint revision of the POSIX standards by the IEEE, The Open Group and ISO. The group revising the standard is known as the Austin Group. Unlike previous POSIX standards, the goal is a common set of documents shared by all three organizations. USENIX, the Advanced Computing Systems Association, is helping to fund two Linux developers to attend meetings and participate in the revision. The two developers are Ulrich Drepper, the glibc maintainer, and H. Peter Anvin, author of the kernel automounter and maintainer of the Linux device list. The POSIX revision, Ulrich says, will throw away or at least make optional some of the less wanted parts of the old standards (such as STREAMS). This is a good thing for Linux because those parts have not been adopted by the entire Linux community. The result is that fuller compliance with POSIX will become more likely.

In addition, Ulrich adds, there are functions he would like to see standardized in the new POSIX specification. Some of those function specifications may come directly from the glibc project. If that happens, maybe some future operating system can put some of the standardization blame on Linux.


Daniel Quinlan ( is the chair (i.e., project leader) of the LSB, the editor of the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard and a member of the Linux International technical board. He is employed as a System Administrator at Transmeta Corporation. Outside work, he is currently getting into indoor rock climbing.