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Open-core model

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GitLab Community Edition

The open-core model is a business model for the monetization of commercially produced open-source software. The open-core model primarily involves offering a "core" or feature-limited version of a software product as free and open-source software, while offering "commercial" versions or add-ons as proprietary software.[1][2] The term was coined by Andrew Lampitt in 2008.[3][4]

The concept of open-core software has proven to be controversial, as many developers do not consider the business model to be true open-source software. Despite this, open-core models are used by many open-source software companies.[5]

Use of contributor license agreements


Some open-core products require their contributors to sign a contributor license agreement, which either dictates that the copyright of all contributions to the product become the property of its owner, or that the product's owner is given an unlimited, non-exclusive license to use the contributions, but the authors retain copyright ownership. In an open-core scenario, these agreements are typically meant to allow the commercial owner of the product (which in some cases, is ultimately the copyright holder to all of its code, regardless of its original author) to simultaneously market versions of the product under open-source and non-free licenses. This is in contrast with more traditional uses of CLAs, which are meant solely to allow the steward of an open-source project to defend and protect the copyrights of its contributors, or to guarantee that the code will only ever be made available under open-source terms (thus protecting it from becoming open core).[6][7][8]


  • Kafka, a data streaming service under the Apache 2.0 license, is the open-source core to the company, Confluent, which issues a Confluent Community License, a source-available license that governs additional features in the Confluent Platform.[9]
  • Cassandra, an open-source database under the Apache 2.0 license, is the core to the company, Datastax, which issues enterprise subscription license for additional management and security features inside DataStax Enterprise.[10]
  • Instructure's Canvas learning management software.[citation needed]
  • Oracle's MySQL database software is dual-licensed under a proprietary license, and the GNU General Public License (GPL); proprietary versions offer additional features and enterprise support plans.[11]
  • Oracle VM VirtualBox is GNU GPL-licensed, but some features, such as encryption and remote display, require Oracle's closed-source Extension Pack.[12]
  • Elastic's core, which includes Elasticsearch, Kibana, Logstash and Beats, was under an Apache 2.0 license, while additional plugins are distributed under Elastic's own proprietary license.[13] In January 2021, Elastic re-licensed its software under the non-free Server Side Public License and Elastic License, which restrict use of the software as part of managed services, and circumvention of software locks on premium features.[14] This means it is no longer open core, but source available-software.
  • Eucalyptus, private cloud software, has a proprietary enterprise edition which provides additional features.[15][16][17]
  • IntelliJ IDEA CE (Community Edition) is licensed under the Apache License, while IDEA Ultimate Edition is trialware.
  • GitLab CE (Community Edition) is under an MIT-style open source license,[18] while GitLab EE (Enterprise Edition) is under a commercial license.[19]
  • Neo4j CE (Community Edition) is licensed under GPL version 3, while Neo4j EE (Enterprise Edition) is under a commercial license, providing additional features including clustering and hot backups.
  • Seldon Core, a machine learning platform under the Apache 2.0 license, is the core to the company Seldon, which provides Seldon Deploy under a commercial license.[20]
  • Redis was under a 3-clause BSD open source license,[21] while Redis Labs offers Redis Modules under a Source-available software license, and Redis Enterprise under a commercial license which provides additional enterprise features such as on-the-fly scaling, replication performance tuning, and clustering support for Redis Modules.[22] In March 2024, Redis Labs re-licensed Redis under 'Redis Source Available License' and Server Side Public License, both of which are non-free.[23]

Restrictions on use in services


A new variation of the practice emerged in 2018 among several open core products intended for server-side use, seeking to control use of the product as part of a service offered to a customer. These practices, in particular, target incorporation of the software into proprietary services by cloud application service providers such as Amazon Web Services, but with what vendors perceive to be inadequate compensation or contributions back to the upstream software in return.[24][25]

MongoDB changed its license from the GNU Affero General Public License (a variation of the GPL which requires that the software's source code be offered to those who use it over a network) to a modified version titled the "Server Side Public License" (SSPL), where the source code of the entire service (including, without limitation, all code needed for another user to run an instance of the service themselves) must be released under the SSPL if it incorporates an SSPL-licensed component (unlike the AGPL, where this provision only applies to the copyrighted work that is licensed under the AGPL).[26] Bruce Perens, co-author of The Open Source Definition, argued that the SSPL violated its requirement for an open source license to not place restrictions on software distributed alongside the licensed software.[24] The Open Source Initiative (OSI) ruled that the SSPL violates the Open Source Definition and is therefore not a free software license, as the provision discriminates against commercial users.[27] Debian, Fedora, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux pulled MongoDB from their distributions after the license change, considering the new license to be in violation of their licensing policies.[26][28]

Redis Labs made its Redis plugins subject to the "Commons Clause", a restriction on sale of the software on top of the existing Apache License terms. After criticism, this was changed in 2019 to the "Redis Source Available License", a non-free license which forbids sale of the software as part of "a database, a caching engine, a stream processing engine, a search engine, an indexing engine or an ML/DL/AI serving engine".[29][25][30] The last versions of the modules licensed solely under the Apache License were forked and are maintained by community members under the GoodFORM project.[24] A similar move was made when HashiCorp switched to the non-free Business Source License (BSL) on its products, including Terraform, which received the Linux Foundation-backed fork OpenTofu.[31]

See also



  1. ^ Riehle, Dirk (2009). "The Commercial Open Source Business Model". Value Creation in e-Business Management. Springer Verlag. pp. 18–30.
  2. ^ Wasserman, Anthony I. (2011). "How the Internet transformed the software industry". Journal of Internet Services and Applications. 2 (1): 11–22. doi:10.1007/s13174-011-0019-x. ISSN 1867-4828. Some companies have only a single version of their software, while others follow an "open core" model, providing a community release of the core version, and offering proprietary premium features using a commercial license.
  3. ^ Lampitt, Andrew (29 August 2008). "Open-Core Licensing (OCL): Is this Version of the Dual License Open Source Business Model the New Standard?". Retrieved 21 January 2024.
  4. ^ Phipps, Simon (July 2012). Open Source Strategies for the Enterprise. O'Reilly Media. ISBN 978-1-4493-4117-6.
  5. ^ Germain, Jack M. (15 April 2009). "Open Core Debate: The Battle for a Business Model". Linux Insider. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
  6. ^ Phipps, Simon (21 June 2013). "MySQL mistake is a wake-up call on open source ownership". InfoWorld. Retrieved 11 September 2015.
  7. ^ "FSFE welcomes KDE's adoption of the Fiduciary Licence Agreement (FLA)". KDE. 22 August 2008.
  8. ^ "6.1 Copyright Papers". gnu.org. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
  9. ^ "Confluent Community License FAQ". Confluent. Retrieved 9 September 2019.
  10. ^ "Product Specific License Terms | DataStax". DataStax: Active Everywhere, Every Cloud | Hybrid Cloud | Apache Cassandra | NoSQL. 21 February 2018. Retrieved 9 September 2019.
  11. ^ Hillesley, Richard. "Open core or dual licensing? The example of MySQL". The H. Retrieved 11 September 2015.
  12. ^ "Licensing: Frequently Asked Questions". Oracle Corporation. Retrieved 21 July 2024.
  13. ^ Woodie, Alex (12 March 2019). "War Unfolding for Control of Elasticsearch". Datanami. Retrieved 9 September 2019.
  14. ^ "FAQ on 2021 License Change | Elastic". www.elastic.co. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  15. ^ Bort, Julie (18 April 2012). "This Startup That Angered A Lot Of Open Source Fans Just Got $30 Million In Funding". Business Insider. Retrieved 19 February 2016. It was one of the first commercial companies to champion a concept called "open core."
  16. ^ Bort, Julie (22 June 2010). "Marten Mickos says open source doesn't have to be fully open". Network World. Retrieved 19 February 2016. "We deliver a fully functional cloud with Eucalyptus software. You can download it on a GPL v3 license. But, additionally, we provide enterprise features only if you pay for them ... it's open core," he says.
  17. ^ Jackson, Jacob (25 August 2010). "Eucalyptus Strengthens Its Back End". PCWorld. Retrieved 19 February 2016. To make money, Eucalyptus Systems uses an open-core business model, offering one version of the software free through an open-source license and selling a commercial version with support and additional features ...
  18. ^ "CONTRIBUTING.md · master · GitLab.org / GitLab Community Edition". GitLab. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  19. ^ "GitLab Enterprise Edition license change". GitLab. 11 February 2014. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  20. ^ Seldon Core: Blazing Fast, Industry-Ready ML, Seldon, 13 June 2022, retrieved 13 June 2022
  21. ^ "Redis license and trademark information". redis.io. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  22. ^ "Licenses". redislabs.com. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  23. ^ Lardinois, Frederic (21 March 2024). "Redis switches licenses, acquires Speedb to go beyond its core in-memory database". TechCrunch. Retrieved 7 April 2024.
  24. ^ a b c Gilbertson, Scott (16 October 2019). "In 2019, multiple open source companies changed course—is it the right move?". Ars Technica. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  25. ^ a b Finley, Klint (31 July 2019). "When Open Source Software Comes With a Few Catches". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  26. ^ a b Vaughan-Nichols, Steven J. (16 January 2019). "MongoDB "open-source" Server Side Public License rejected". ZDNet. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  27. ^ OSI Board of Directors (19 January 2021). "The SSPL is Not an Open Source License". Open Source Initiative. Retrieved 23 January 2021.
  28. ^ "MongoDB's licensing changes led Red Hat to drop the database from the latest version of its server OS". GeekWire. 16 January 2019. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  29. ^ Vaughan-Nichols, Steven J. "Redis Labs drops Commons Clause for a new license". ZDNet. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  30. ^ Baer, Tony (16 October 2018). "It's MongoDB's turn to change its open source license". ZDNet. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  31. ^ Miller, Ron (20 September 2023). "Terraform fork gets renamed OpenTofu, and joins Linux Foundation". TechCrunch. Retrieved 15 October 2023.