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Red Hat decided to discontinue its free CentOS 7 as a Linux distribution for the enterprise market. In doing so, the goal is to push customers toward the paid-for RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux). As a reliable open-source product, it forms the basis for several enterprise Linux rebuilds, which Red Hat wanted to eliminate by no longer publishing its source code. One of these is Rocky Linux, which says it can still survive despite the roadblocks.

In a blog, Rocky Linux announces that it stands behind open source and has no intention of abandoning it. It’s a familiar rhetoric that we also saw from SUSE when that party responded to the RHEL shutdown.

Those who buy RHEL are allowed to edit the source code. However, Red Hat’s policies prevent a publicly available rebuild of the Linux distro based on that level of access. As a “downstream” variant of RHEL, Red Hat says an alternative like Rocky Linux contributes nothing to the open-source community, which is its justification for shutting down the source code on which such a rebuild depends.

Rocky Linux now says it accesses the source code through “multiple sources.” These include the CentOS Stream provided by Red Hat and the public OBI container images that still come without a kernel or drivers. With these UBI images, the team says it’s possible to receive Red Hat sources reliably. Another possibility Rocky Linux suggests is deploying public cloud instances, which can push RHEL images to Rocky Linux’s Git repositories.

Compatible, but dependent

Rocky Linux came out in 2021 as a “RHEL rebuild.” It is fully compatible with RHEL, with new updates and existing bugs carrying over. This allows IT environments to use the Linux distribution for the same professional purposes as RHEL, but without paying for it.

The open-source community around Linux is indeed layered. For example, there are contributors to the Linux kernel (as “upstream” as it gets), who influence all new distributions of the OS. In the process, it also contributes to RHEL. To comply with the GNU General Public License (GPL), products based on the Linux kernel must allow the software to be run, studied, shared and modified. With CentOS Stream, Red Hat checks that mark, but it is more of an early beta of the next RHEL version and potentially more unstable as a result.

In the blog, Rocky Linux leaves no doubt about its perspective with regard to the somewhat cumbersome methodology for continuing the RHEL rebuild anyway. “These methods are possible because of the power of the GPL. No one can stop the redistribution of GPL software”. Now it’s up to Red Hat to see if it can close these loopholes as well.

Also read: SUSE emphasizes open-source support after closing off of RHEL