WordPress GPL License

WordPress License: What Is GPL and Why You Need to Know It

Millions of websites run on WordPress. What makes it stand out? It’s not just the user-friendly features but the power of open source! The source code of WordPress is freely available for anyone to use, modify, and distribute. This openness encourages a collaborative environment where developers worldwide can contribute to WordPress’ improvement and innovation.

But what fuels this open-source engine? The answer lies in the GNU General Public License (GPL), which propels WordPress and unlocks freedom for users and developers alike. This guide will help you dive into the world of GPL. Let’s start with the definition of WordPress GPL license. We’ll explore other aspects of GPL later part in this post.

What Is WordPress GPL?

What Is WordPress GPL license?

WordPress is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), version 2 or later. This free software license ensures end users can run, study, share, and modify the software. It grants users specific freedoms and impacts how plugins and themes function within the WordPress ecosystem. Here’s a breakdown of GPL and its connection to WordPress plugins and themes:

The reasons for WordPress releasing under the GPL are both practical and idealistic. WordPress was born of the very freedom mentioned earlier. The predecessor to the WordPress project, b2/cafelog, was also an open source project.


Free Software: GPL refers to “free software” in the sense of freedom, not necessarily price. Users have the right to:

  • Run the program for any purpose.
  • Study and modify the code to fit their needs.
  • Redistribute copies to share with others.
  • Create derivative works based on the original code but with the condition.

Copyleft: Themes and plugins developed for WordPress are considered derivative works and must be distributed under the GPL. This means that anyone can modify and share these themes and plugins freely. So, all your new creations must also be open source, keeping the source code freely available.

The Four Freedoms of GPL: Owning Your WordPress Experience

The GPL grants you four key rights to truly own your WordPress experience, like magical tools in your web developer’s toolkit. Let’s learn what these four freedoms are.

1. Freedom to Run: Build Anything You Imagine

There are no restrictions on the type of website you create with WordPress, whether it’s a personal portfolio, online store, or community forum. For example, a small business can use it to create an e-commerce site, while a non-profit organization can use it to build an informational portal.

2. Freedom to Learn: Explore How It Works

With GPL, you can access the source code, the underlying blueprint that makes WordPress tick. This allows developers to study how it works, modify it for specific needs, and even contribute improvements back to the community.

WordPress plugin development best practices

3. Freedom to Modify: Make WordPress Your Own

GPL empowers you to build derivative works based on the core software. This could be anything from a niche plugin that optimizes image SEO to a full-fledged theme that transforms your website’s visual identity. But here’s the twist – the GPL requires your derivative work to inherit the same open-source spirit.

4. Freedom to Share: Spread the WordPress Love

The beauty of WordPress extends to sharing it with others. You can redistribute copies of the software, allowing friends and colleagues to set up their websites with ease. Users can also distribute their modified versions of WordPress to others. This ensures that improvements and innovations can benefit the wider WordPress community.

GPL vs. Other Open Source Licenses (With a Comparison Table)

Here’s a table summarizing the key differences among GPL, LGPL, BSD, and MIT:

FeatureGPLLGPLBSD LicenseMIT License
Derivative WorksMust be GPL-licensedCan be closed sourceCan be open or closedCan be open or closed
Commercial UseAllowedAllowedAllowedAllowed
FocusOpen source & collaborationFlexibility for developersWider adoptionEase of use
RestrictionsModifying GPL code requires keeping it open sourceLess restrictive than GPLFew restrictions, but copyright notice requiredVery permissive, minimal obligations
SuitabilityProjects where source code openness and community contribution are crucialLibraries or components used in both open-source and closed-source projectsProjects seeking widespread adoption and potential commercializationSmall code snippets or projects where ease of use and minimal restrictions are desired

The GNU General Public License (GPL) is a popular open-source license, but it’s not the only option. Let’s have a look at the three other major licenses that uphold the open-source spirit as well.

LGPL (GNU Lesser General Public License): More permissive than GPL. Allows linking GPL code with proprietary software without requiring the proprietary code itself to be open source.

BSD License (Berkeley Software Distribution License): Highly permissive. Grants users broad freedom to use, modify, and distribute the code, even for commercial purposes, with or without keeping the source code open.

MIT License (Massachusetts Institute of Technology License): Extremely permissive. Similar to BSD, grants users almost complete freedom with minimal obligations. Requires copyright and license notice to be included in derivative works.

The Power of GPL in Action: WordPress Themes and Plugins

WordPress GPL license

Consider the vast library of WordPress plugins and themes. These extensions often rely on core WordPress functionalities to operate. Since they’re derivative works, they inherit the GPL license. This ensures that themes and plugins remain open-source within the WordPress ecosystem.

For instance, let’s say you develop a plugin that adds a sleek contact form to WordPress websites. Under GPL, users can freely download and install your plugin. They can even modify the code to customize the form’s appearance or functionality, perhaps adding a CAPTCHA verification for spam protection.

While you can’t restrict users from modifying or redistributing your GPL-licensed plugin, you can offer additional services like premium support or automatic updates to provide value beyond the core functionality.

Benefits of GPL for WordPress Users, Developers, and the Community

The GPL license isn’t just about free software – it’s about creating a win-win-win situation. Users benefit from a vast ecosystem of free and customizable tools. Developers have the opportunity to contribute, innovate, and build sustainable businesses. And the entire WordPress community flourishes thanks to a collaborative environment.

Benefits for Users: Free software, a vast library of customizable plugins and themes, and the freedom to tinker with the code – that’s the magic of GPL for users. You can build your dream website without breaking the bank, and even modify things to fit your specific needs.

Why Become a Software Developer: The Reasons to Know

Benefits for Developers: GPL opens doors for developers who want to make their mark. They can contribute to the core project, and innovate by building upon existing code. They can even build a business by offering premium support or custom development services for their GPL-licensed creations.

Now of course we know that these companies can make millions of tens of millions of dollars while being GPL, and it’s amazing to be able to point to that. I love pointing to the experience of those people who are GPL when people come to me and they’re scared about open sourcing their work.

Matt Mullenweg on companies making money while being GPL

Benefits for Community: With open access to the code, developers worldwide can work together to improve WordPress. The open-source spirit promotes a culture of sharing and collaboration, leading to a constant stream of improvements. This results in a wider variety of plugins and themes, and a richer experience for everyone who uses WordPress.

…software is repaired, advanced, and extended faster and better when it’s open. When more people can share it, inspect it, tweak it, and pass it along, you get better and stronger software. Innovation, it turns out, works better with more people collaborating than when less do.

Chris Lema on the power of community

So, the next time you leverage the power of WordPress, remember the invisible force behind it – the GPL license that ensures a vibrant and ever-evolving platform for everyone.

The Complexities of Dealing with WordPress GPL License

While the GPL license unlocks a treasure of benefits in WordPress, it’s not without its complexities. Here’s a peek into some of the gray areas you might encounter:

Derivative Works vs. Bundled Resources: The line can blur between a derivative work (which inherits the GPL) and resources bundled with a plugin or theme (like images or fonts). These resources might have separate licenses.

Attribution Requirements: Some GPL licenses might require you to provide attribution (mention the original author) when using their code. Understanding these requirements is crucial.

Modifications and Sharing: While GPL grants you the freedom to modify GPL-licensed code, there can be confusion about how much you can modify it before it’s considered a derivative work that requires separate licensing.

GPL and Commercial Use: Although GPL allows commercial use of modified code, some users might misinterpret this and believe they can redistribute paid plugins for free. It’s important to clarify that using a plugin for commercial gain and freely distributing it are two different things.

Tips for Smooth Sailing with GPL

By following the below tips and familiarizing yourself with the resources available, you can confidently navigate the open-source world of WordPress. Let’s leverage the full potential of the GPL license.

  • Consult the Official Resources: The WordPress license page (https://wordpress.org/about/license/) is a great starting point to understand the specifics of GPL as it applies to WordPress.
  • Seek Legal Guidance for Complexities: For intricate scenarios, consulting a lawyer specializing in open-source licensing can provide valuable insights and ensure you’re on solid legal ground.
  • Embrace the Open-Source Community: The WordPress community thrives on collaboration. Don’t hesitate to reach out to developers or forums if you have questions about specific licenses.
  • Know Your Limits: Some GPL licenses require attribution (crediting the original author). Be mindful of these requirements. Similarly, understand the boundaries of modifying GPL code. Extensive changes might create a derivative work requiring separate licensing.

Clear Up the Confusion Between Nulled and GPL Software

nulled wordpress plugins

When it comes to WordPress plugins and themes, two options can cause confusion: nulled software and GPL-licensed software. Both might appear to offer free tools, but understanding the key differences is crucial for a secure and successful WordPress experience.

Nulled software is often illegally obtained from unreliable sources. These sources can inject malicious code into the plugin, putting your website at risk of data breaches, spam attacks, or even complete website breakdowns.

Unlike legitimate developers who provide updates and bug fixes, nulled software remains stagnant. You’ll not get any support or future updates of the product.

Moreover, using nulled software is essentially stealing. Developers dedicate time and effort to creating these tools, and they deserve to be compensated for their work. By using nulled plugins, you deprive them of their rightful income.

Important: Copyright laws protect intellectual property. Using nulled software can lead to legal trouble if caught.

Choosing the Right Path: Nulled vs GPL-Licensed Software

While nulled software might seem tempting initially, the risks far outweigh the benefits. GPL-licensed software offers a safe, ethical, and feature-rich alternative. Here’s why it’s the clear winner:

  • Free and Secure: GPL offers a vast collection of secure plugins that won’t compromise your website’s safety.
  • Support the Community: Choosing GPL empowers developers and nurtures innovation within the WordPress community.
  • Long-Term Benefits: With GPL, you receive regular updates and support, ensuring a smooth and secure experience.

Also Read: Why You Should Avoid Nulled WordPress Plugins and Themes – 9 Valid Reasons

Frequently Asked Questions About the WordPress GPL License

The GNU General Public License (GPL) is the foundation of WordPress’s open-source philosophy. Here are some commonly asked questions about the WordPress GPL license:

1. Why are GPL and WordPress connected?

GPL aligns perfectly with WordPress’s core values of transparency, collaboration, and accessibility. WordPress is open-source (GPL) for a reason! It’s free, which means more people use it. Developers can build on each other’s work. Plus, GPL lets you customize WordPress to perfectly fit your website’s needs.

2. Why are plugins and themes considered derivative works of WordPress?

Plugins and themes are built upon the core functionality of WordPress, adding new features and capabilities. They often interact with the core WordPress code to function. That’s why these are considered derivatives of WordPress.

3. Are GPL plugins/themes safe?

Generally, yes! Since GPL code is open-source, anyone can inspect it for security risks. This transparency makes it harder to hide malicious code. Additionally, many GPL plugins have active development communities constantly fixing bugs and releasing updates. However, downloading from trusted sources is crucial to avoid modified versions containing malware.

4. Why should I pay for GPL themes/plugins?

You might pay extra for premium features, like advanced customization options. Additionally, you could pay for priority support from the developer if you run into any issues. Moreover, some GPL products offer white-labeling, allowing you to remove the developer’s branding and resell the plugin or theme under your own name.

5. Can I use a GPL plugin commercially?

Yes! The GPL license allows you to use GPL-modified code for commercial purposes. This means you can build a website for a client using a GPL plugin and still charge them for your services.

6. Can I remove the GPL license from WordPress products?

Nope! The GPL license sticks like glue. It’s in the code and can’t be removed. It’s part of the open-source deal. Your options are to build something new from scratch or double-check the actual license (it might not be true GPL).

7. Can I integrate non-GPL plugins and themes with WordPress?

Yes, you can use non-GPL plugins with WordPress, but be cautious. They might conflict with the GPL license, limit your control, and have fewer security checks or support. Stick with GPL plugins for a safer and more open experience.

In Conclusion: Embrace the Open Road with GPL

Nulled software, those tempting “free” alternatives, might seem like a quick fix. But they’re more like-trapped chests – filled with potential security vulnerabilities, no updates or support, and the ethical dilemma of stealing from developers. But, with GPL-licensed plugins and themes, you get a smooth, secure, and ethical journey.

So, How Do You Get Started? The good news? You’re already halfway there! WordPress itself is GPL-licensed. Now, all you need to do is:

  • Explore the official directory: The WordPress plugin directory is a treasure trove of free and GPL-licensed tools.
  • Seek out reputable developers: Look for developers with a strong reputation and a commitment to open-source principles.
  • Embrace the community: The WordPress community is a wealth of knowledge and support. Don’t hesitate to ask questions!

By sticking with GPL-licensed plugins and themes, you’re not just getting free software – you’re contributing to a collaborative spirit and ensuring a secure, ethical journey for your WordPress website. So, buckle up, embrace the open road of GPL, and enjoy the ride!


Md. Tanvir Faisal is a Content Writer at Appsero with over 7 years of experience in Content Writing, Copywriting, Proofreading, and Editing. He specializes in creating helpful content that engages readers, drives social media shares, and improves SEO ranking. In his free time, Tanvir enjoys exploring new cuisines, traveling to unknown places, and spending quality time with his family.