Since GPL Require Source Posted Public states about

But if you release the modified version to the public in some way, the GPL requires you to make the modified source code available to the program's users, under the GPL.

So I want to find the definition about release. It's seems like a quite basic problem but it's hard to find online due to "release" is frequently tied with other keywords...

Tried following keywords on google.

  • release definition
  • opensource definition of release It least to wiki of opensource but it doesn't specifically state the definition of "release".

I also search through GPL-faq and found Why should I use the GNU GPL rather than other free software licenses? navigates to Copyleft: Pragmatic Idealism but both articles doesn't specify the definition of release.

Then I found this definition

A release is the distribution of the final version of an application. A software release may be either public or private and generally constitutes the initial generation of a new or upgraded application. A release is preceded by the distribution of alpha and then beta versions of the software.

So the problem could become "what is distribution" and then it leads to wiki of Software Distribution.

My understanding of release.

  1. In a form of source code or binary.
  2. An end user not considered as developer would using it.
  3. Even an end user doesn't directly use it. If it provide the environment for a user to use, it's consider as released. Eg: BIOS / UBOOT.

To restate my question:

  • Is there an official definition of release/distribute in GPL (in GPLv2 and GPLv3)? Or it's too simple to be consider as a basic knowledge?
  • GPLv2 doesn't contain the word release. GPLv3 does, twice, but once is in the preamble. The other is in s5b and forms part of what must be said, not the conditions under which you must say it, so no interpretation is needed.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 5:25
  • @MadHatter If you mean the word "release" is common sense so not needed to be explained for GPLv2 and v3, Could you lead me a way to the "common sense"? Eg: a link or an article. It seems except "release", every other thing are well defined.. I'd like to know if there are any references to this term ( if any ).
    – Louis Go
    Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 6:01
  • 5
    Your question specifically asks how the GPL defines the term, and I'm saying since the word isn't used by the GPL in a prescriptive way, as far as the GPL is concerned it doesn't need to be defined, as it doesn't matter.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 6:52
  • 4
    And the ambiguities in the definition of distribute in GPLv2 are what led to the adoption and definition of propagate and convey in GPLv3, so I still don't think the question admits of a useful answer.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 7:43
  • 1
    In the context of the GPL FAQ statement that you are quoting "The GPL does not require you to release your modified version, or any part of it" -- that sense of 'release' simply means 'distribute' or 'give away.'
    – Brandin
    Commented Sep 29, 2020 at 12:59

1 Answer 1


Is there an official definition of release/distribute in GPL (in GPLv2 and GPLv3)? Or it's too simple to be consider as a basic knowledge?

No, there is no official definition of either "release" or "distribute" in GPLv2 nor GPLv3.

The term "release" is not used in either license in a context where an official definition is needed.

The term "distribute" is only used in the GPLv2 and it is the ambiguities around that term that caused it to be dropped from the GPLv3, which uses and defines the terms "propagate" and "convey" instead.

The term "distribute" is also used in the US Copyright law, with the meaning "the right to make a work available to the public by sale, rental, lease, or lending".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.