I’ve been a fan of ISC for a long time. Long enough, in fact, that I remember when it stood for Internet Software Consortium rather than Internet Systems Consortium, and BIND’s version number started with a “4.” Followed by an “8.”
(BIND, in case you haven’t heard of it, stands for Berkeley Internet Name Domain, and it’s the leading open source implementation of a DNS server. A sizeable proportion of the internet’s DNS servers run on it, and BIND has now reached version 9.10.)
And why wouldn’t I be a fan? ISC has developed some of the most important software on the internet (and most important to the internet), including BIND and the ISC DHCP server. ISC’s employees haven’t gotten rich—not from working for ISC, anyway. They’ve beavered away, writing code and participating in endless IETF meetings, largely unsung.
Years ago, when Matt Larson and I started a company called Acme Byte & Wire, we became ISC’s official training partner. We taught classes on DNS and BIND and split the proceeds with ISC. Our partnership was mutually beneficial: Acme gained ISC’s imprimatur, and Acme helped ISC fill a need while also providing a little funding.
Infoblox, which develops some products that incorporate both BIND and the ISC DHCP server, goes even further. We’ve funded ISC for years, which is only appropriate given the value we derive from ISC’s work. But we’re also partners. Infoblox has extensive test infrastructure, as befits a company in our line of business, and of course we share the results of our testing with ISC, including testing of patches and full releases. We’ve caught errors in critical security patches. We’ve contributed testing tools. We’ve contributed code. We’ve sponsored the development of features that became part of BIND’s releases.
I think that together, ISC and its supporters, including Infoblox, have built better DNS and DHCP protocol engines, making the internet more reliable and more secure. I’m proud of the work we’ve done.
I mention this because ISC is contemplating changing BIND’s software license, as explained in a recent blog post. BIND has long been distributed under the ISC License, which is generally referred to as a BSD license type, named after the Berkeley Software Distribution of Unix—the “B” in BIND stands for Berkeley, after all. (Go Bears!) BSD licenses are very permissive, imposing minimal restrictions on BIND’s redistribution. ISC is considering changing to the Mozilla Public License version 2.0, or MPLv2, named for the popular web browser. Relicensing BIND under the MPLv2 would allow ISC to require organizations releasing products based on BIND to either contribute their modifications back to ISC or pay for the privilege of using BIND. Folks using BIND to run name servers or redistributing BIND unmodified wouldn’t have to pay.
This new licensing scheme seems very fair to me. It places the burden on commercial organizations already using BIND for their own benefit (rather than on users), and leaves to them the choice of supporting ISC financially or simply contributing their changes to ISC quid pro quo. And it helps bolster an organization with a long history of doing important work for the internet.
All of which reminds me, did I remember to renew my National Public Radio membership?