Affero General Public License

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Not to be confused with AFPL.
GNU Affero General Public License
AGPLv3 Logo.svg
Author Free Software Foundation
Latest version 3
Publisher Free Software Foundation, Inc.
Published November 19, 2007
DFSG compatible Yes[1]
FSF approved Yes[2]
OSI approved Yes[3][4]
GPL compatible Yes (permits linking with GNU GPLv3) [5]
Copyleft Yes[2]
Linking from code with a different license Only with GNU GPLv3. The AGPL terms will apply for the AGPL part in a combined work.[2][5]

The Affero General Public License (Affero GPL, AGPL, and informally Affero License) refers to two distinct, though historically related, free software licenses. The first is the Affero General Public License, version 1 which was published by Affero, Inc. in March 2002, and is based on the GNU General Public License, version 2 (GPLv2). The second is the GNU Affero General Public License, version 3, published by the Free Software Foundation in November 2007, and based on the GNU General Public License, version 3 (GPLv3).

Both versions of the AGPL were designed to close a perceived application service provider (ASP) loophole in the ordinary GPL, where, by using but not distributing the software, the copyleft provisions are not triggered. Each version differs from the version of the GNU GPL on which it is based in having an added provision addressing use of software over a computer network. This provision requires that the full source code be made available to any network user of the AGPL-licensed work, typically a web application.

The Free Software Foundation has recommended that the GNU AGPLv3 be considered for any software that will commonly be run over a network.[2] The Open Source Initiative approved the GNU AGPLv3[3] as an open source license in March 2008 after the company Funambol submitted it for consideration.[6]


In 2000, while developing an e-learning and e-service business model, Henry Poole met with Richard Stallman in Amsterdam where they discussed the ASP loophole in GPLv2. Over the following months, Stallman and Poole discussed approaches to solving the problem. In 2001, Poole founded Affero Inc. (a web services business), and he needed a license that would require distribution by other organizations who used Affero code to create derivative web services. At that time, Poole contacted Bradley M. Kuhn and Eben Moglen of the Free Software Foundation to get advice on a new license that would close the ASP loophole in GPLv2.

Around late February 2002, Kuhn suggested, based on the idea of a quine (a program that prints its own source code), that GPLv2 be supplemented with a section 2(d) that would require derivative works to maintain a "download source" feature that would provide complete and corresponding source code. Kuhn argued that there was precedent for such a requirement in GPLv2 section 2(c), which required preserving certain features by downstream distributors and modifiers.[7]

Moglen and Kuhn wrote the text of the proposed new section 2(d), and provided it to Poole, who then requested and received permission from the FSF to publish a derivative of GPLv2 for this purpose. In March 2002, Affero, Inc. published the original Affero General Public License (AGPLv1) for use with the Affero project and made the new license available for use by other software-as-a-service developers.

The FSF contemplated including the special provision of AGPLv1 into GPLv3 but ultimately decided to publish a separate license, nearly identical to GPLv3 but containing a provision similar in purpose and effect to section 2(d) of AGPLv1. The new license was named the GNU Affero General Public License. Retaining the Affero name indicated its close historic relationship with AGPLv1. The GNU AGPL was given version number 3 for parity with the GPL, and the current GNU Affero General Public License is often abbreviated AGPLv3.

The finalized version of GNU AGPLv3[8] was published by the FSF on November 19, 2007.

Stet was the first software system known to be released under AGPLv3, on November 21, 2007,[7] and is the only known program to be used mainly for the production of its own license.

Compatibility with the GPL[edit]

Both versions of the AGPL, like the corresponding versions of the GNU GPL on which they are based, are strong copyleft licenses. In the FSF's judgment, the added requirement in section 2(d) of AGPLv1 made it incompatible with the otherwise nearly identical GPLv2. That is to say, one cannot distribute a single work formed by combining components covered by each license.

By contrast, GPLv3 and AGPLv3 each include clauses (in section 13 of each license) that together achieve a form of mutual compatibility for the two licenses. These clauses explicitly allow the "conveying" of a work formed by linking code licensed under the one license against code licensed under the other license,[9] despite the licenses otherwise not allowing relicensing under the terms of each other.[2] In this way, the copyleft of each license is relaxed to allow distributing such combinations.[2]

To establish an upgrade path from Affero's original AGPLv1 to the GNU AGPLv3, Affero, Inc. published the Affero General Public License version 2, which is merely a transitional license that allows recipients of software licensed under "AGPLv1 or any later version as published by Affero, Inc." to distribute the software, or derivative works, under the GNU AGPLv3.

Examples of applications under GNU AGPL[edit]

Flask developer Armin Ronacher noted in 2013 that the AGPLv3 is a "terrible success" as "vehicle for dual commercial licensing" and gave MongoDB, RethinkDB, OpenERP, SugarCRM, and WURFL as examples.[10]

Some of the best-known examples of AGPL software include:

  • the application development and maintenance software Launchpad
  • the distributed social networking service Diaspora
  • the social network kit Humhub
  • the network monitoring application Shinken
  • the cross-platform document-oriented database MongoDB
  • the integrated development environment for the statistics language R, RStudio
  • the G-Code generator software Slic3r

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jaspert, Joerg (November 28, 2008). " Is AGPLv3 DFSG-free?". The Debian Project. Retrieved December 1, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f List of free-software licences on the FSF website: “We recommend that developers consider using the GNU AGPL for any software which will commonly be run over a network”.
  3. ^ a b "OSI approved licenses". Open Source initiative. 
  4. ^ "OSI approved", Licenses, TL;DR legal .
  5. ^ a b "Licenses section 13", GNU AGPLv3, GNU Project .
  6. ^ "Funambol Helps New AGPLv3 Open Source License Gain Formal OSI Approval" (press release). Funambol. Mar 13, 2008. 
  7. ^ a b Kuhn, Bradley M. (November 21, 2007). "stet and AGPLv3". Software Freedom Law Center. Archived from the original on March 15, 2008. Retrieved June 14, 2008. 
  8. ^ "License text of GNU AGPLv3". Free Software Foundation (US). November 19, 2007. Archived from the original on 20 November 2007. Retrieved November 19, 2007. 
  9. ^ The GNU General Public License – GNU Project – Free Software Foundation (FSF)
  10. ^ Ronacher, Armin (2013-07-23). "Licensing in a Post Copyright World". Retrieved 2015-11-18. The AGPLv3 was a terrible success, especially among the startup community that found the perfect base license to make dual licensing with a commercial license feasible. MongoDB, RethinkDB, OpenERP, SugarCRM as well as WURFL all now utilize the AGPLv3 as a vehicle for dual commercial licensing. The AGPLv3 makes that generally easy to accomplish as the original copyright author has the rights to make a commercial license possible but nobody who receives the sourcecode itself through the APLv3 inherits that right. I am not sure if that was the intended use of the license, but that's at least what it's definitely being used for now. 

External links[edit]