What Is GNU In GNU/Linux?


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We have been using a lot of free and open source software and often this software is licensed under GNU/GPL. Our very famous Linux Project, the base for tens of modern operating systems, is itself licensed under GNU and is often called GNU/LINUX as it uses most software licensed under GNU.  

​What is GNU?

GNU is an operating system and an extensive collection of free and open source software all of which are licensed under GPL(General Public License). A lot of people often get confused with the full form of GNU. Well, the full form of GNU is GNU’s Not UNIX. Yes, this is not a typing error and you read it right. It is a recursive word and has no actual meaning.

However, an animal called Wildebeest is in some places called GNU, hence it was chosen as the official mascot for GNU.  

How GNU started?

Richard stallman
Richard stallman

Till the ’70s, the software was often shared among people and developers would see each other code and often modify each other’s software. This golden era didn’t last long and by the early ’80s, the term proprietary software had been coined. Most of the software became proprietary and it became impossible to Richard Stallman started the GNU project in 1983 with a view to creating and distributing software that could be used freely by anyone.around the world.

Richard Stallman wanted to create a fully free operating system that had components and software which were freely available to the general public.

Stallman wanted an environment where users could use, understand and modify the source code and even distribute modified versions of the same. This later was published as GNU Manifesto.  

GNU vs. GNU/Linux

GNU vs. GNU/Linux

So GNU is an operating system and Linux is a kernel. Both of them are based on UNIX. GNU has its own environment with the GNU OS and the GNU tools. Linux, on the other hand, is just a kernel and it uses GNU tools and software to interact with the kernel. When you are using bash on your Linux desktop, you are using GNU’s software which is compiled using GNU’s compilers to use for Linux kernel.  

The Naming Controversy

There has always been a controversy regarding whether Linux should be called GNU/Linux or just plain Linux. The reason is that GNU promoters believe that GNU was already a  complete system and the Linux kernel merely filled the void by creating a very famous kernel since most of Linux Software comes under GNU, it should be called GNU/Linux. However, some Linux enthusiasts like to side the fact that Linux should be called Linux only.  


Richard Stallman created GNU project and that work led to fame and popularity of Linux Based OS in modern-day as we know it. The GNU project is complete with every tool and software needed to create and run software from compilers and editors to utility software. GNU/Linux is often used for Linux as a whole system using Linux kernel and GNU tools. You can read more about Richard Stallman in our article here.