During the installation process I can check the box Install third-party software for graphics and Wi-Fi hardware and additional media formats. [...] Some is proprietary. I think there might be some drivers then that are proprietary. Also, if I install apps manually, there might be some that are not open-source.

However, which other parts of Ubuntu 20.04 are proprietary by default?

  • 4
    Ubuntu does have an option to use only open-source (free) software. Intel/AMD microcode is an example of closed-source code that is usually expected (by most users) to be available.
    – guiverc
    Jul 6, 2020 at 13:55
  • 1
    Most Broadcom wireless drivers and firmware are also proprietary and there is no open source alternative.
    – chili555
    Jul 6, 2020 at 14:00
  • 1
    A bit confusing: You mention kernel modules (drivers), then mention proprietary applications, but then seem to ask only about the installer with no additional options checked ("proprietary by default")...after bringing up the installer's third-party checkbox. I cannot tell which side of the road you are driving upon. You can edit your question to clarify what you want to learn.
    – user535733
    Jul 6, 2020 at 15:02
  • I think I read that there is a legal requirement that the user actively selects these blobs for the distribution to work (as opposed to the distribution packager making the choice). Jul 7, 2020 at 12:42

3 Answers 3


The kernel of common linux distributions quite inevitably contain some proprietary binary "blobs" in the kernel for hardware drivers. Without such blobs, hardware support of Linux would be much more seriously limited than it is already to some extent.

Apart from that, the presence of proprietary software in most Linux distributions is quite limited. Ubuntu does not install proprietary applications by default. However, it offers proprietary software through the Software Center or Snap Store, and it can offer to install additional proprietary drivers for graphics cards or modems. So you need to inform yourself about the software license before installing additional software if this is a concern.


Ubuntu packages are classified into four components based on two properties: a “fully supported” core vs other packages provided “as is”; free vs proprietary software. “Main” is fully supported and free, “restricted” is fully supported and proprietary, “universe” is as is and free, and “multiverse” is as is and proprietary. By default, Ubuntu only enables packages from the “main” component. If you tick this checkbox, the “restricted” component is enabled as well. You can enable “universe” and “multiverse” after the installation. You're asked about “restricted” during the installation because your hardware might require proprietary drivers without which the installation wouldn't work.

Here are a few ways to find the list of packages in a component.

On the Ubuntu website, there's a list of packages per release and section, e.g. 20.04 administration utilities. The component is in brackets if it isn't “main”, so you can search for e.g. [restricted].

You can also read the full package list (e.g. 20.04), again with the component in brackets if it isn't “main”. There's also a package list with more information including package descriptions (that's actually the list that the package manager uses to know what packages are available, their dependencies, etc.), and this one is sorted by component, e.g. 20.04 restricted for 64-bit PC.

Not all of these packages are installed by default, of course. I can't find a convenient list of packages installed by default. The manifest (e.g. for 20.04 desktop) lists much more than what's installed by default, but doesn't appear to include restricted software. I think what ends up being installed depends on your hardware anyway.

On your own Ubuntu machine, if you've enabled a component, you can read the package list at e.g. /var/lib/apt/lists/archive.ubuntu.com_ubuntu_dists_focal_restricted_binary-amd64_Packages (adapt for your download mirror site, version, component and processor architecture). With aptitude, you can list installed packages from a component with e.g.

aptitude search '~srestricted ~i'

To list available packages and not just installed ones, remove ~i.

  • 2
    @Rinzwind “Open source” and “free” are synonyms in this context, so I don't know what you mean by “open source but not free”. Opensourceness (freeness) has multiple definitions which are not always exactly synonymous, so it can happen that one organization decides that a certain piece of software is open-source/free and another organization decides that it isn't. I don't know the full situation for Chromium, but if it's in universe, it's because Debian has accepted it as free. I guess Ubuntu has decided that it's non-free? Where do the Ubuntu software center labels come from? Jul 7, 2020 at 12:58
  • Those labels are generated automatically. Chromium has 1 component somewhere buried deep that is not free. Found it: third_party/swiftshader/third_party/llvm-subzero/lib/Support/ConvertUTF.cpp is proprietary according to Canonical. and ... seems to be fixed in version 69. bugs.debian.org/cgi-bin/bugreport.cgi?bug=900596 so gonna remove the comment :=)
    – Rinzwind
    Jul 7, 2020 at 14:42

The kernel Ubuntu is built upon will have firmware blobs. Those are required for hardware to work.

However, which other parts of Ubuntu 20.04 are proprietary by default?

None, as Canonical does not "pay" for software to be included in the default. That kind of software would have to be included in a different repository than "main".

All of the proprietary options during the installation of Ubuntu you need to confirm yourself and are additional. On the install disk there are, since 20.04, firmware blobs for the nVidia drivers, but those are not installed by default, as you mentioned yourself. Plus those are proprietary for another reason than to make money: those are actually to prevent people from copying code.

To expand a little bit: Canonical needs to pay for any software on the installer that is proprietary. Either a license fee OR a legal agreement limiting usage in exchange for not getting sues. The nVidia blob is on the installer because nVidia agreed to not sueing Linux (in general). The same goes for all the blobs in the kernel.

If any proprietary software is installed by default and there is no license paid or no agreement about it, Canonical would be sued.

  • I was a tiny bit faster ;) Our answers are quite the same, though.
    – vanadium
    Jul 6, 2020 at 13:56
  • I was quicker but got distracted by work before submitting >:-) Have an upvote ;-)
    – Rinzwind
    Jul 6, 2020 at 13:57
  • 21
    Proprietary doesn't imply Canonical paying! Jul 6, 2020 at 23:57
  • 1
    @curiousdannii in this case it does. ANY proprietary software on the installer needs to be paid for. Either with money or with a legal agreement restricting something. Otherwise you set your self up for a legal case.
    – Rinzwind
    Jul 7, 2020 at 6:22
  • 13
    "Paying with a legal agreement" seems stretching the meaning of terms. With the same definition, you pay to install Ubuntu, too. Jul 7, 2020 at 7:41

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