Can you under the GPL distribute executables without full sources?

David Johnson david at
Tue Aug 27 02:14:29 UTC 2002

On Thursday 22 August 2002 07:32 am, James Michael DuPont wrote:

> Can a person distribute just a DLL or lib without the source code being
> able to compile directly?
> Or Even worse :
> if other people base thier DLLS just on the DLLS provided, but no-one
> is able to recompile the entire thing from scratch, is that legal?

>From my understanding of the (L)GPL, the answer is yes. As common courtesy, I 
would also make it very evident to all comers that the source code is broken.

> As far as I can tell from the GPL, all sources that do not belong
> to the standard system install have to be provided, not just the name
> of the lib used.

It depends a little bit on what you are distributing. If you are distributing 
"some GNOME libs I'm trying to port to Windows, but are currently broken", 
then you have a lot of leeway. It's broken, so they can't build it anyway. 
But if it wasn't broken (or at least not intended to be broken), then 
everything in the software chain down to the OS must be GPL compatible.

What exactly this "systems software" clause covers is a topic of minor debate. 
The FSF argued in the past that the Qt library did not count, even for 
systems where it was installed by default. On the other hand, the MFC 
libraries do count, even though they do not ship with the OS.

In my opinion, as long as this software is broken, you don't have to 
distribute anything it depends on, since it can't, by definition, depend on 

Standard Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Even if no one is paying you to do 
this coding, you should still hire an expensive attorney to review the GPL 
and advise you in all legal matters pertaining to your porting activities. At 
least that's what my attorney told me.

David Johnson
pgp public key on website
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