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Oleg Vinichenko
Reference Bug

Funtoo Linux Optimization Proposal: FFmpeg

Funtoo Linux prefers FFmpeg. Some enlightenment about our choice and why we prefer this or could switch to alternative in future.


FFmpeg and Libav are libraries for multimedia decoding (and more). Both libraries expose almost the same API and features.

Note that both libraries actually come as a set of libraries, and both projects use the same library names. The libraries are named libavcodec, libavformat, libavutil, and more. There is a FFmpeg libavcodec and a Libav libavcodec.

Many packages for video decoding, are done via FFmpeg or Libav. Differences between FFmpeg and Libav can have a major impact on its behavior: the number of files it can decode, whether it decodes correctly, what video and audio filters are provided, network behavior, and more.

FFmpeg and Libav history

In 2011, parts of the FFmpeg developers were unhappy about the FFmpeg leadership, and decided to take over. This didn't quite work out. Apparently Fabrice Bellard, original FFmpeg developer and owner of the ffmpeg.org domain name, decided not to hand over the domain name to the new maintainers. So they followed Plan B, and forked FFmpeg, resulting in Libav. Since then, Libav did its own development, and completely ignored whatever FFmpeg did. FFmpeg, on the other hand, started to merge literally everything Libav did.

The reason for the fork is most likely that the developers hate each other. While this formulation seems somewhat sloppy, it is most likely the truth. To this date, the #libav-devel IRC channel still has Michael Niedermayer (the FFmpeg maintainer since 2004 according to Wikipedia) on their ban list (similar misbehavior is exhibited by some FFmpeg developers). There is little to no cooperation between the two projects.

More about FFmpeg's history and the fork incident can be found on Wikipedia

Situation today

FFmpeg has more features and slightly more active development than Libav, going by mailing list and commit volume. In particular, FFmpeg's features are a superset of Libav's features. This is because FFmpeg merges Libav's git master on a daily basis. Libav on the other hand seems to prefer to ignore FFmpeg development (with occasional cherry-picking of bug fixes and features).

Some Linux distributions, especially those that had Libav developers as FFmpeg package maintainers, replaced FFmpeg with Libav, while other distributions stick with FFmpeg. Application developers typically have to make sure their code works with both libraries. This can be trivial to hard, depending on the details. One larger problem is that the difference between the libraries makes it hard to keep up a consistent level of the user experience, since either library might silently or blatantly be not up to the task. It also encourages library users to implement some features themselves, rather than dealing with the library differences, or the question to which project to contribute.

FFmpeg and Libav developers also seem to have the tendency to ignore the damage their rivalry is causing. Apparently fighting out these issues on the users' backs is better than reconciling. This means everyone using these libraries either has to suffer from the differences, or reimplement functionality that is not the same between FFmpeg and Libav.

Is FFmpeg or Libav preferred for use ?

Funtoo Linux default is FFmpeg. Decision made by Oleg, forced by #funtoo community and bugtracker reports.

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