OpenSSL, LibreSSL, LibreTLS and all the terminological irony

While we’re discussing the fate of LibreSSL, it’s worth noting how confusing the names of these packages became. I’d like to take this opportunity to provide a short note on what’s what.

First of all, SSL and its successor TLS are protocols used to implement network connection security. For historical reasons, many libraries carry ‘SSL’ in their name (OpenSSL, LibreSSL, PolarSSL) but nowadays they all support TLS.

OpenSSL is the ‘original’ crypto/SSL/TLS library. It is maintained independently of a specific operating system. It provides two main libraries: libcrypto and libssl (that also implements TLS).

LibreSSL is a fork of OpenSSL. It is maintained by OpenBSD as part of its base system. However, the upstream also maintains LibreSSL-portable repository that provides build system and portability glue for using it on other systems. LibreSSL provides partially compatible versions of libcrypto and libssl, and a new libtls library. Both libssl and libtls can be used for TLS support in your applications.

LibreTLS is a lightweight fork of libtls from LibreSSL that builds it against OpenSSL. This makes it possible to build programs written for libtls against OpenSSL+LibreTLS instead of LibreSSL.

So, to summarize. OpenSSL is the original, while LibreSSL is the OpenBSD fork. libtls is the LibreSSL original library, while LibreTLS is its fork for OpenSSL. Makes sense, right? And finally, despite the name, they all implement TLS.