​Revised Linux Code of Conduct is now officially part of Linux

With the release of the Linux kernel 4.19 came not just new features and bug fixes, but the new Linux Code of Conduct as well.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Some organizations might not include their Code of Conduct in the software source code tree, but the Linux developers aren't your ordinary group. In the Linux 4.19 announcement, Greg Kroah-Hartman, Linux's leader for this release and maintainer of the stable branch, added in the Code of Conduct and some minor changes.

Kroah-Hartman explained why the Linux developers felt they needed to add a Code of Conduct:

We all need to remember that, every year new people enter our community with the goal, or requirement, to get stuff done for their job, their hobby, or just because they want to help contribute to the tool that has taken over the world and enabled everyone to have a solid operating system base on which to build their dreams.

And when they come into our community, they don't have the built-in knowledge of years of experience that thousands of us already do. Without that experience they make mistakes and fumble and have to learn how this all works. Part of learning how things work is dealing with the interaction between people, and trying to understand the basic social norms and goals that we all share. By providing a document in the kernel source tree that shows that all people, developers and maintainers alike, will be treated with respect and dignity while working together, we help to create a more welcome community to those newcomers, which our very future depends on if we all wish to see this project succeed at its goals.

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Kroah-Hartman said he used to say: "The only thing that can stop us is ourselves, it is up to us to mess this up." Unfortunately, that's what been happening. "These past few months has been a tough one for our community, as it is our community that is fighting from within itself, with prodding from others outside of it," he explained, urging developers to not "fall into the cycle of arguing about those 'others' in the 'Judean People's Front' when we are the 'We're the People's Front of Judea!' That is the trap that countless communities have fallen into over the centuries. We all share the same goal, let us never lose sight of that."

That goal has been, is now, and will continue to be to produce the best possible code. Some in the community have feared that a Code of Conduct would force Linux to accept poor-quality code just to fulfill some kind of quota. In his keynote speech at the Open Source Europe Summit in Scotland, Jon Corbet, Linux kernel developer and editor of LWN, replied to this: "These fears will prove to be unfounded."

He added:

"Kernel development used to be a bit of the Wild West. No source code management, no release disciple, no automated testing, no change tracking. We now have these things. We also have a code of conduct now. We've morphed from the Wild West to a highly professional discipline. This has caused some angst in the community, but the bottom line is we should treat each other with respect."

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The core of the revised Code of Conduct is straightforward:

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 also gives examples of good behavior, such as being respectful of differing viewpoints and experiences, as well as bad behavior, like trolling, insulting/derogatory comments, and personal or political attacks. That said, there won't be any kind of historical enforcement of the rules. These rules are for the community going forward.

To make this happen, Linux's leaders want to see the Code of Conduct enforced not as a straitjacket of rules but by the maintainers leading by example. Linus Torvalds too will be expected to set a good example.

Maintainers, as they are now, will be leaders. They're not police. According to the just released Linux Kernel Contributor Covenant Code of Conduct Interpretation, "There is no new requirement for maintainers to unilaterally handle how other people behave in the parts of the community where they are active. That responsibility is upon all of us, and ultimately the Code of Conduct documents final escalation paths in case of unresolved concerns regarding conduct issues."

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If something does goes badly awry, the Code of Conduct now has users contact a Code of Conduct Committee, rather than the Linux Foundation Technical Advisory Board (TAB). This committee will be made up of volunteer members of the TAB, and a professional mediator acting as a neutral third party. Only the mediator has been appointed at this time. That's Mishi Choudhary, the legal director of the Software Freedom Law Center's (SFLC).

Of course, not everyone is happy with this revised Code of Conduct. One developer wrote on the LKML: "Regardless of the number of acks that were given to this patchset, I believe this was patch block was not done in a public manner and so should not have been applied within the single day after its initial publication."

However, in the hours since Linux 4.19 has been released, there have been no other comments about it. So, it would seem that fears over the Code being adopted leading to great conflict were exaggerated.

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While some people are afraid that this will lead to some sort of politically correct gestapo, the leading kernel developers insist, "In the end, 'be kind to each other' is really what the end goal is for everybody. We know everyone is human and we all fail at times, but the primary goal for all of us should be to work toward amicable resolutions of problems. Enforcement of the code of conduct will only be a last resort option."

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