Qt is available under a commercial license, GPL v3 and LGPL v2. All editions support many compilers, including the GCC C++ compiler and the Visual Studio suite.
Qt is developed by Digia, who owns the Qt trademark, and the Qt Project under open governance, involving individual developers and firms working to advance Qt. Before the launch of the Qt Project, it was produced by Nokia's Qt Development Frameworks division, which came into existence after Nokia's acquisition of the Norwegian company Trolltech, the original producer of Qt. In February 2011, Nokia announced its decision to drop Symbian technologies and base their future smartphones on Microsoft platform instead. One month later, Nokia announced the sale of Qt's commercial licensing and professional services to Digia, with the immediate goal of taking Qt support to Android, iOS and Windows 8 platforms, and to continue focusing on desktop and embedded development, although Nokia was to remain the main development force behind the framework at that time.
Haavard Nord and Eirik Chambe-Eng (the original developers of Qt and the CEO and President, respectively, of Trolltech) began development of "Qt" in 1991, three years before the company was incorporated as Quasar Technologies, then changed the name to Troll Tech and then to Trolltech.
The toolkit was called Qt because the letter Q looked appealing in Haavard's Emacs typeface, and "t" was inspired by Xt, the X toolkit.
The first two versions of Qt had only two flavors: Qt/X11 for Unix and Qt/Windows for Windows. The Windows platform was only available under a proprietary license, which meant free/open source applications written in Qt for X11 could not be ported to Windows without purchasing the proprietary edition.
At the end of 2001, Trolltech released Qt 3.0, which added support for Mac OS X. The Mac OS X support was available only in the proprietary license until June 2003, when Trolltech released Qt 3.2 with Mac OS X support available under the GPL.
Nokia acquired Trolltech ASA on 17 June 2008 and changed the name first to Qt Software, then to Qt Development Frameworks. Since then it focused on Qt development to turn it into the main development platform for its devices, including a port to the SymbianS60 platform. Version 1.0 of the Nokia Qt SDK was released on 23 June 2010. The source code was made available over Gitorious, a community oriented git source code repository, to gather an even broader community that is not only using Qt but also helping to improve it.
At all times, Qt was available under a commercial license that allows developing proprietary applications with no restrictions on licensing. In addition, Qt has been gradually made available under several increasingly free licenses.
Until version 1.45, source code for Qt was released under the FreeQt license. This was viewed as not compliant with the open source principle by the Open Source Initiative and the free software definition by Free Software Foundation because, while the source was available, it did not allow the redistribution of modified versions.
Controversy erupted around 1998 when it became clear that the K Desktop Environment (now known as the KDE Software Compilation) was going to become one of the leading desktop environments for Linux. As it was based on Qt, many people in the free software movement worried that an essential piece of one of their major operating systems would be proprietary.
With the release of version 2.0 of the toolkit, the license was changed to the Q Public License (QPL), a free software license but one regarded by the Free Software Foundation as incompatible with the GPL. Compromises were sought between KDE and Trolltech whereby Qt would not be able to fall under a more restrictive license than the QPL, even if Trolltech was bought out or went bankrupt. This led to the creation of the KDE Free Qt foundation, which guarantees that Qt would fall under a BSD-style license should no free/open source version of Qt be released during 12 months.
In 2000, Qt/X11 2.2 was released under the GPL v2, ending all controversy regarding GPL compatibility.
In 2002, members of the KDE on Cygwin project began porting the GPL licensed Qt/X11 code base to Windows. This was in response to Trolltech's refusal to license Qt/Windows under the GPL on the grounds that Windows was not a free/open source software platform. The project achieved reasonable success although it never reached production quality.
This was resolved when Trolltech released Qt/Windows 4 under the GPL in June 2005. Qt 4 now supports the same set of platforms in the free software/open source editions as in the proprietary edition, so it is now possible to create GPL-licensed free/open source applications using Qt on all supported platforms. The GPL v3 with special exception was later added as an added licensing option. The GPL exception allows the final application to be licensed under various GPL-incompatible free software/open source licenses such as the Mozilla Public License 1.1.
On 14 January 2009, Qt version 4.5 added another option, the LGPL, which should make Qt even more attractive for non-GPL open source projects and for closed applications.
In March 2011, Nokia sold the commercial licensing part of Qt to Digia creating Qt Commercial.
Wayland – Qt for Wayland. Qt applications can switch between graphical backends like X and Wayland at load time with the -platform command line option. This allows a seamless transition of Qt applications from X11 to Wayland.
There are two editions of Qt available, the Qt Enterprise Edition (additional functionality and libraries included, e.g. Charts and Data Visualization), a commercial edition sold by Digia, and the Open Source edition.
Framework development of Qt 5 moved to open governance, taking place at qt-project.org. It is now possible for developers outside Digia to submit patches and have them reviewed.
Qt 5.2 provides several improvements, including a new Scene graph renderer that has much better performance for drawing vector objects by using an OpenGL backend and minimizing GPU overdraws. Benchmarks of development versions shows significant improvements in speed and a visible decrease in CPU usage, because of the better usage of GPU rendering. The vision is to have game-like performance for the drawing canvas and QML renderer. Additionally, Qt 5.2 introduces new functionalities for KDE Frameworks 5 and many other improvements.
Qt, when it was first released, relied on a few key concepts:
Complete abstraction of the GUI – When first released, Qt used its own paint engine and controls, emulating the look of the different platforms it runs on when it drew its widgets. This made the porting work easier because very few classes in Qt depended really on the target platform; however, this occasionally led to slight discrepancies where that emulation was imperfect.
Recent versions of Qt use the native style APIs of the different platforms, on platforms that have a native widget set, to query metrics and draw most controls, and do not suffer from such issues as much.
On some platforms (such as MeeGo and KDE) Qt is the native API.
Some other portable graphical toolkits have made different design decisions; for example, wxWidgets uses the toolkits of the target platform for its implementations.
Signals and slots - a language construct introduced in Qt for communication between objects which makes it easy to implement the Observer pattern while avoiding boilerplate code. The concept is that GUI widgets can send signals containing event information which can be received by other controls using special functions known as slots.
Metaobject compiler - The metaobject compiler, termed moc, is a tool that is run on the sources of a Qt program. It interprets certain macros from the C++ code as annotations, and uses them to generate added C++ code with Meta Information about the classes used in the program. This meta information is used by Qt to provide programming features not available natively in C++: signals and slots, introspection and asynchronous function calls.