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Linux Standard Base

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The Linux Standard Base (LSB) is a joint project by several Linux distributions under the organizational structure of the Linux Foundation to standardize the software system structure, including the filesystem hierarchy, used with Linux operating system. The LSB is based on the POSIX specification, the Single UNIX Specification, and several other open standards, but extends them in certain areas.

According to the LSB:

The goal of the LSB is to develop and promote a set of open standards that will increase compatibility among Linux distributions and enable software applications to run on any compliant system even in binary form. In addition, the LSB will help coordinate efforts to recruit software vendors to port and write products for Linux Operating System.

The LSB compliance may be certified for a product by a certification procedure.

The LSB specifies for example: standard libraries, a number of commands and utilities that extend the POSIX standard, the layout of the file system hierarchy, run levels, the printing system, including spoolers such as CUPS and tools like Foomatic and several extensions to the X Window System.

Version history

  • 1.0: Initial release 2001-06-29.
  • 1.1: Released 2002-01-22. Added hardware specific specifications (IA32).
  • 1.2: Released 2002-06-28. Added hardware specific specifications (PowerPC 32-bit). Certification began July 2002.
  • 1.2.1: Released October 2002. Added Itanium.
  • 1.3: Released 2002-12-17. Added hardware specific specifications (Itanium, Enterprise System Architecture/390, z/Architecture).
  • 2.0: Released 2004-08-31.
    • LSB is modularized to:
      • LSB-Core
      • LSB-CXX
      • LSB-Graphics
      • LSB-I18n (not released)
    • New hardware specific specifications (PowerPC 64-bit, AMD64).
    • Synchronized to Single UNIX Specification (SUS) version 3.
  • 2.0.1: Released 2004-10-21, ISO version of LSB 2.0, which included specification for all hardware architectures (except LSB-Graphics, of which only a generic version is available).
  • 2.1: Released 2005-03-11.
  • 3.0: Released 2005-07-01. Among other library changes:
    • C++ ABI is changed to the one used by gcc 3.4
    • The core specification is updated to ISO POSIX (2003)
    • Technical Corrigenda 1: 2005
  • 3.1: Released 2005-10-31. This version has been submitted as ISO/IEC 23360.
  • 3.2: Released 2008-01-28. This version has been submitted as ISO/IEC 23360.
  • 4.0: Released 2008-11-11. This version contains the following features:
    • glibc 2.4
    • Binary compatibility with LSB 3.x
    • Easier to use SDK
    • Support for newer versions of GTK and Cairo graphical libraries
    • Java (optional module)
    • Simpler ways of creating LSB-compliant RPMp packages
    • Crypto API (via the Network Security Services library) (optional module)
  • 4.1: Released 2011-02-16:
    • Java removed

Backwards compatibility

The LSB is designed to be binary-compatible and produce a stable application binary interface (ABI) for independent software vendors. To achieve backward compatibility, each subsequent version is purely additive. In other words, interfaces are only added, not removed. The LSB adopted an interface deprecation policy to give application developers enough time in case an interface is removed from the LSB. This allows the developer to rely on every interface in the LSB for a known time and also to plan for changes, without being surprised. Interfaces are only removed after having been marked "deprecated" for at least three major versions, or roughly six years.

ISO standard

The LSB is registered as an official ISO standard. The main parts of it are:

  • ISO/IEC 23360-1:2006 Linux Standard Base (LSB) core specification 3.1 -- Part 1: Generic specification
  • ISO/IEC 23360-2:2006 Linux Standard Base (LSB) core specification 3.1 -- Part 2: Specification for IA32 architecture
  • ISO/IEC 23360-3:2006 Linux Standard Base (LSB) core specification 3.1 -- Part 3: Specification for IA64 architecture
  • ISO/IEC 23360-4:2006 Linux Standard Base (LSB) core specification 3.1 -- Part 4: Specification for AMD64 architecture
  • ISO/IEC 23360-5:2006 Linux Standard Base (LSB) core specification 3.1 -- Part 5: Specification for PPC32 architecture
  • ISO/IEC 23360-6:2006 Linux Standard Base (LSB) core specification 3.1 -- Part 6: Specification for PPC64 architecture
  • ISO/IEC 23360-7:2006 Linux Standard Base (LSB) core specification 3.1 -- Part 7: Specification for S390 architecture
  • ISO/IEC 23360-8:2006 Linux Standard Base (LSB) core specification 3.1 -- Part 8: Specification for S390X architecture

There is also ISO/IEC TR 24715:2006 which identifies areas of conflict between ISO/IEC 23360 (the Linux Standard Base 3.1 specification) and the ISO/IEC 9945:2003 (POSIX) International Standard.

ISO/IEC 23360 and ISO/IEC TR 24715 can be freely downloaded from ISO website.


The LSB has been criticized for not taking input from projects, most notably the Debian project, outside the sphere of its member companies.

Choice of RPM package format

The LSB specifies that software packages should either be delivered as an LSB-compliant installer, or (preferably) be delivered in a restricted form of the RPM Package Manager format.

This choice of the package format precludes the use of Debian's deb package format, which predates rpm. Changing the underlying package format of the Debian distribution to satisfy the LSB is considered fairly unrealistic. The use of the deb format has not diminished since the introduction of LSB; on the contrary it has increased, especially with the advent of Ubuntu.

To address this, the standard does not dictate what package format the software system must use for its own packages, merely that RPM must be supported to allow packages from third-party distributors to be installed on a conforming system.

Limitations on Debian

Debian has included optional support for the LSB early on, at version 1.1 in "woody" and 2.0 in "sarge", and later 3.1 in "etch" and 3.2 in "lenny". To use foreign LSB-compliant RPM packages, the end-user needs to use Debian's Alien program to transform them into the native package format and then install them.

The LSB-specified RPM format has a restricted subset of RPM features—to block usage of RPM features that would be untranslatable to .deb with Alien or other package conversion programs, and vice versa, as each format has capabilities the other lacks. In practice, not all Linux binary packages are necessarily LSB-compliant, so while most can be converted between .rpm and .deb, this operation is restricted to a subset of packages.

By using Alien, Debian is LSB-compatible for all intents and purposes, but according to the description of their lsb package, the presence of the package "does not imply that we believe that Debian fully complies with the Linux Standard Base, and should not be construed as a statement that Debian is LSB-compliant."

In general, Debian does strive to comply with the LSB, but there may be other limitations.

Quality of compliance test suites

Additionally, the compliance test suites have been criticized for being buggy and incomplete—most notably, in 2005 Ulrich Drepper criticized the LSB for poorly written tests which can cause incompatibility between LSB-certified distributions when some implement incorrect behavior to make buggy tests work, while others apply for and receive waivers from complying with the tests. He also denounced a lack of application testing, pointing out that testing only distributions can never solve the problem of applications relying on implementation-defined behavior. However, the LSB test coverage has been improved significantly in recent years. Also, the Linux Foundation released a tool to address application compatibility testing.



Published - December 2011

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