What is: GPL?

GPL Origin

GPL stands for General Public License and is sometimes written GNU GPL because the GPL was developed by the GNU Project, which was implemented by the non-profit Free Software Foundation. The first GNU license was created by Richard Stallman of the GNU Project in in 1989. The second version (GPLv2) was released in 1991 and the third version (GPLv3) was released in 2007.

GPL Explained

Imagine you make a cool computer program. You can decide who can use it, and what they can do with it. This is called a license.

The GPL is special because it gives everyone freedom. If a program is under the GPL:

  • Anyone can use it.
  • Anyone can change it.
  • Anyone can share it.


Lots of popular software use the GPL. This includes:

  • WordPress: The website builder we all love.
  • GIMP: A powerful tool for editing pictures.
  • Linux: An operating system used by millions.

A GNU license is what is used by WordPress and other types of free software. The term free software means much more than just the ability to download and use the software without having to pay money. The term free software also means that you can access the core code and have the right to make modifications or derivative products.

Who Needs A GPL?

When you install WordPress, a copy of the GPL license will be included. Current distributions of WordPress are licensed under the GPLv2 (GPL version 2) or later versions of this license which places certain restrictions on how the software can be modified and distributed. Specifically, anything designed for use with WordPress like a theme or plugin must be distributed under the same GPL license.

If you’re not planning on developing your own themes or plugins, or if you do plan on creating derivative products but aren’t going to distribute or sell them to other people, then you don’t need to worry about the GPL license. If all you are doing is operating a WordPress site, then the GPL license is largely irrelevant.

But for developers who plan to sell their works or distribute their works for free, it is essential that every aspect of your product be GPL compliant. This means that any CSS files, images, or other parts of your product are also free software and legally able to be distributed with the GPL license.

And remember, “free” in GPL means “free as in freedom”, not “free as in free food”. Sometimes, GPL software does cost money. Once you have it though, you’re free to use it, change it, and share it however you like!

The following two tabs change content below.

Jamie Spencer

My name is Jamie Spencer and I have spent the past 10 years building money making blogs. After growing tired of the 9-5, commuting and never seeing my family I decided that I wanted to make some changes and launched my first blog. Since then I have launched lots of successful niche blogs and after selling my survivalist blog I decided to teach other people how to do the same.