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Understanding WordPress GPL: The Key to an Open-Source Web

In the vast realm of website creation and content management, WordPress reigns as an undisputed champion, empowering millions of websites worldwide. But beyond its user-friendly interface and extensive plugin library lies a fundamental aspect that sets this CMS apart—the WordPress GPL (General Public License). WordPress employs the GNU General Public License (GPL) to safeguard its software, ensuring that any derivative work, such as themes and plugins developed for the platform, automatically falls under the purview of the GPL license. This approach promotes the open-source philosophy, encouraging collaboration and innovation within the WordPress community.

Understanding the mechanics of the license is of utmost importance for WordPress developers to ensure strict compliance when distributing themes, plugins, and software patches. Similarly, WordPress users who incorporate any byproducts of the WordPress code into their websites must also grasp the intricacies of the license to adhere to its guidelines effectively. Being well-versed in the license requirements ensures a harmonious and legally sound ecosystem within the WordPress community.

In this blog, we embark on an exploration of WordPress GPL, unraveling its significance in shaping the platform’s open-source nature and how it fosters a collaborative community of developers, enthusiasts, and contributors.

What is WordPress GPL?

The General Public License (GPL) is a free software license designed to promote the principles of open-source software. It was created by Richard Stallman in 1989 and since then has become a widely adopted license model in the software development community.

In the case of WordPress, the core software (the code that runs WordPress) is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). This means that WordPress is free to use, modify, and distribute by anyone under the terms of the GPL license.

WordPress GPL

How Does WordPress GPL Work?

The WordPress GPL license operates on three fundamental principles:

  • Freedom to use: Users have the freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  • Freedom to study and modify: Users can access and modify software’s source code, granting them the ability to personalize it according to their needs.
  • Freedom to distribute: Users are allowed to distribute the authentic or modified versions of the software to others, either for free or for a fee.

WordPress adopts the GPL license to align with its open-source philosophy, granting site owners and developers unrestricted access to its source code. This approach empowers them to introduce novel features and contribute to enhancing the CMS through valuable suggestions.

As a consequence of the GPL license, any modifications or derivative works of WordPress inherit the same licensing terms. This requirement extends to plugin and theme developers, who must ensure that their creations adhere to the four essential freedoms of the GPL when publishing them on WordPress’ official directory.

By embracing the GPL, WordPress fosters a collaborative community where knowledge sharing thrives, leading to continuous improvements to the CMS. The essence of WordPress being freely accessible can be attributed largely to the principles upheld by the GPL license.

WordPress GPL Compared to Other Licenses

Several other licenses exist in the software world, and they differ in terms of their usage and restrictions. Unlike GPL, some licenses may not grant users the freedom to bring about modifications in the software and then distribution of the software without limitations. Here are a few licenses that are often compared to GPL:

  • MIT License: The MIT License is more permissive than GPL. It permits users to use, modify, and distribute the software, but it doesn’t require derivative works to be released under the same license.
  • GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL): LGPL is similar to GPL but with more relaxed requirements for linking with non-GPL software. This makes it suitable for certain libraries and plugins.
  • Proprietary Licenses: Proprietary licenses impose strict restrictions on the use, modification, and distribution of software. Users usually need to purchase a license and may not have access to the source code.

How WordPress GPL License Works With Plugins and Themes

WordPress’s GPL license also applies to plugins and themes created for the platform. If you develop a plugin or theme for WordPress, it must be licensed under the GPL or a compatible license. This means that if you distribute a plugin or theme, the recipient has the same rights you have under the GPL – the freedom to use, modify, and distribute the work.

Additionally, if you modify an existing WordPress GPL-licensed plugin or theme and distribute the modified version, you must also release it under the GPL. This “viral” aspect of the GPL ensures that the freedom granted by the license is preserved throughout the community.

Crucial Notice: It’s essential to understand that WordPress GPL licensed software, though freely available, is distinct from nulled software. Nulled software refers to a hacked version of premium software, often infused with malicious code like malware. Even if offered at a discounted price, purchasing nulled software doesn’t support the original developers financially.

Consequently, we strongly advise against using nulled plugins or themes to safeguard your website’s security and support the developers who have worked hard to create legitimate software versions. Opting for genuine WordPress GPL licensed software ensures a safe and ethical approach to utilizing valuable tools for your website or application.

Why might you like WordPress GPL? 

  • Freedom and Openness: The GPL is designed to promote the principles of free software and open-source development. It grants users the freedom to use, study, modify, and distribute the software. This fosters a culture of openness and collaboration, where knowledge and ideas can be openly shared and improved upon.
  • Community Collaboration: By adopting the GPL, software projects can attract a diverse community of developers, enthusiasts, and contributors who work together to enhance the software. This collaborative approach often leads to faster development, quicker bug fixes, and the implementation of innovative features.
  • Viral Nature: The “viral” nature of the GPL ensures that any derivative work must also be licensed under the same terms. This means that if you modify or extend GPL-licensed software and distribute it, you must also make your modifications available under the GPL. This perpetuates the free and open-source nature of the software throughout its lifecycle.
  • Protection of User Rights: The GPL places a strong emphasis on protecting the rights of end-users. It ensures that users have access to the source code, allowing them to verify the software’s functionality and security. This transparency builds trust between developers and users.
  • Long-Term Viability: By using the WordPress GPL, software projects can safeguard their long-term viability. Since the code remains open-source, even if the original developers abandon the project, the community can continue to maintain and improve the software.
  • Compatibility with Other GPL Software: WordPress GPL licensed software can be easily integrated with other GPL-licensed projects, creating a rich ecosystem of compatible tools and extensions.
  • Legal Framework: The WordPress GPL provides a legal framework for software distribution, making it clear how the software can be used, modified, and shared. This clarity helps to avoid legal disputes and ensures developers and users understand their rights and responsibilities.
  • Ethical Considerations: Many developers and users appreciate the ethical aspect of using GPL-licensed software. By supporting open-source projects, they contribute to the advancement of technology and knowledge for the benefit of the broader community.
  • Sense of Assurance: Practically speaking, the GPL offers WordPress end users a sense of assurance and peace of mind. WordPress is not only free in terms of cost but also in terms of freedom. Moreover, all trademarks associated with WordPress are under the ownership of the WordPress Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to guaranteeing continuous free access to the software projects it supports. In essence, this means that WordPress will always remain freely available to us, just as we are accustomed to, ensuring a reliable and enduring open-source experience.

In conclusion, 

The General Public License (GPL) is the driving force behind WordPress’s success as an open-source CMS. It promotes collaboration, innovation, and the free exchange of ideas, making WordPress a platform that continues to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing web landscape. Whether you’re a developer, designer, or user, understanding the principles of WordPress GPL empowers you to harness the full potential of this versatile content management system.


Can I commercially sell WordPress plugins and themes that are licensed under the WordPress GPL?

Yes, you can sell WordPress plugins and themes even if they are licensed under the WordPress GPL (GNU General Public License). The GPL allows you to distribute the software for a fee or any other consideration. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that the recipients of the GPL-licensed software also have the right to redistribute it freely, including selling it if they wish to do so.

Are there any limitations on using WordPress GPL licensed software?

GPL-licensed software offers considerable freedom in usage. You can use it for any purpose, modify it according to your needs, use it on multiple websites, and distribute it to others. The only requirement is that if you distribute the modified version or any derivative work, it must also be licensed under the GPL, ensuring that the openness and freedom of the software are maintained.

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

Yes, you can use non-GPL plugins and themes in conjunction with WordPress. However, it’s crucial to be cautious about potential licensing conflicts. When you combine non-GPL code with GPL-licensed code, the entire product might be considered a derivative work and must comply with the terms of the GPL license. So, if you distribute the integrated product, it would need to be licensed under the GPL.

Is it possible to remove the GPL license from a WordPress theme or plugin?

No, you cannot remove the GPL license from a WordPress theme or plugin. The GPL license is fundamental to the WordPress community, ensuring that the software remains open-source and freely distributable. Removing the GPL license from a theme or plugin would be a violation of the license terms and would not be permissible. All WordPress themes and plugins must adhere to the GPL requirements.

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