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Is WordPress free? Here's the scoop

 One aspect of WordPress that can confuse people is whether WordPress is free.


The answer can be complicated, which is probably why people are confused. A WordPress site can be free or it can have some cost associated with it (such as WordPress plugins and WordPress themes). But the WordPress software itself - referred to as WordPress core - is free and always will be. And this isn't just about the financial cost of WordPress: it's also free in the sense that you're free to modify, extend, and use it as you wish.


Is WordPress free? Here's the scoop



Is WordPress free? Key points to know:



WordPress is released under the GNU General Public License (or GPL), which means anyone can download, modify, customize, use, and even sell the code as long as they release it under the GPL.


The software itself is free but you may end up paying for:


  • hosting
  • Premium support
  • Plugins/Features Updates
  • Featured Topics
  • Premium plugin




In this post, I will demystify these questions:




  • Is WordPress Really Free?
  • Why is WordPress free?
  • Which aspects of WordPress are not free?




I'll explain the meanings of free that apply, and outline the main situations in which you can get a WordPress site for free, along with the specific aspects of WordPress that you can choose to get for free and those you might pay for.


So let's get started!




Meaning of Free on WordPress




Before we can figure out if WordPress is free, it's helpful to understand what the word means for free.



It is sometimes referred to as "free as in beer" and "free as in speech".


The first meaning most people think of when they ask if WordPress is free is the monetary one: free as in beer. Beer can be financially free, which means it won't cost you a single cent. You will never be free as in speech.


The second meaning of freedom is freedom of expression. In other words, if you have a copy of WordPress, are you free to use it as you wish, without restrictions? The answer to this is definitely "Yes!" As you'll see in a minute.


So let's take a more in-depth look at the ways WordPress is free.



free as to speak



WordPress is free in every sense of the word. You can download a copy of WordPress for free, and once you have it, you can use or modify it as you wish.


The software is published under the GNU General Public License (or GPL), which means that it is free not only to download but to edit, customize, and use. It is a software paradigm known as open source.




The main features of this license can be summarized as follows:




  • You can use WordPress in any way you want without restrictions.
  • You can customize, add or remove anything in WordPress without restrictions.
  • You can repackage, rebrand, sell and distribute WordPress without restrictions except that it is also released under the GPL license.




That third point is important. This means that you can take WordPress, modify it, repackage it, and sell it to other people at a profit, as long as you also apply the GPL license. In other words, your customers can pay for the code but you have to give them access to it so they can modify it themselves.


For people who are used to dealing with software companies that are not open source, this can be amazing, I know. but it's true!


So you can download WordPress and modify the code to make it work differently. In fact, WordPress started out a lot like this, when in 2003 Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little took another open source blogging platform called b2/cafelog and adapted it. What they built became WordPress: At first it became another blogging platform, but over the years it has developed into a content management system used for all types of websites.




Even if you can modify the core WordPress code, it's not a good idea. If you want to customize WordPress, best practices tell you to "pack" your customizations into a new plugin or use one that's already available. This means that when you update your version of WordPress, your customizations are not lost because they are stored in files in your plugin.


As we will see, some plugins are free as beer, others are not: but they are all free as in the words.



Free as in beer



WordPress is free and still free because it is not owned by a company. Instead, it's owned by the nonprofit WordPress, which was created to "ensure free, forever access to the software projects we support." Its mission is to provide a stable database for future generations and educate people about WordPress and related open source software. The WordPress Foundation does not make any profit from developing or distributing WordPress: all of this is voluntary.




WordPress has thousands of plugins, some of which are free and some that you have to pay for, but they are all free as in word. If you download or purchase a plugin, you are free to modify, adapt and sell the code just as with WordPress core as long as you release it under the GPL license. The best way to do this is to write another plugin that extends the original plugin, but there are plenty of examples of people taking a plugin and writing a new plugin that depends on it. Since this is open source software, this is allowed.




So here's the idea: WordPress, plugins and themes are all open source and published under the GPL license. You are free to work with them and adapt them. But when it comes to the financial aspects of your WordPress site, things are a bit more complicated.


The software itself is free but if you want to run a website, you will need server space to host it. Unless you have your own servers (and the skills to use them to host a website), that means paying for hosting. A hosting provider like Kinsta will rent you space on their servers that you use to host your WordPress site. They do not own your site: it is still yours and you can modify, customize or transfer it at any time.




Server administration and hosting costs: There is a physical infrastructure and support requirements. It won't cost you much, though, certainly not when compared to website builders that offer much less flexibility.




So how is WordPress funded?


Is WordPress free? Here's the scoop



Having learned that WordPress is run by a non-profit organization and that hundreds of developers contribute to its code base for free, you might be wondering how this happened.


After all, hosting the WordPress.org site itself costs money. Running the infrastructure that enables large teams to collaborate in WordPress costs money. And people take time to participate.


The truth is that thousands, if not millions of businesses, developers, and enthusiasts are taking advantage of WordPress. They realize that without the support of people like them, WordPress wouldn't exist and they wouldn't have this great software to make their living with. That's why they choose to give something back to the WordPress community: by contributing to the code base, providing support via WordPress support forums, or running events like WordCamps and local WordPress meetings.




How to get a free WordPress website




There is only one way to get WordPress for free, and that is if you sign up for a free WordPress.com plan. WordPress.com is owned by a private company, Automattic: they host millions of websites on their own servers, and if you sign up for a free plan, you can get one for free.




However, there are limitations. Your free WordPress.com website is free as in beer, but not free as in beer. You don't have access to the code, you're limited to the themes you can use and you don't have access to plugins. You won't be able to use your own domain name and there will be ads on your site that you don't control (which is one way to fund it).


For some users, this is not an issue, and they are happy to use WordPress.com to support their blogging hobby or even a portfolio site. But if you want a professional website, you will need something else.




Suggested reading: 12 Best WordPress Portfolio Plugin Options to Showcase Your Business.


Alternatively, you can sign up for a premium WordPress.com plan: this gives you the ability to use your own domain name and additional features. However, you can still access the code. If you sign up for the WordPress.com plan, you get a free site from either side. You pay for it and you don't have much freedom to modify it. You may find that the monthly fee exceeds what you pay for hosting a self-hosted site.




That's why I often recommend getting a self-hosted WordPress site and paying for the hosting separately.




Why is it worth paying for WordPress hosting



If you decide to get a self-hosted WordPress site, or move from your free WordPress.com plan to it, there is one major difference.


Instead of hosting the site on WordPress.com, you install WordPress on server space that you rent from a WordPress hosting company. The main difference here is that the site belongs to you (or one of your clients). You decide what themes and plugins you want to run, you own the site and the content, and you can move or change it whenever you want. You are free to choose how your site will operate, what you will add to it, and how it will work (within the law).




This gives you freedom in the sense of "freedom of expression".


There is a financial cost to self-hosted WordPress sites but for anyone who wants a high-quality website, the benefits will easily outweigh any financial outlay. Hosting is not very expensive when you consider the potential business benefits of a professional website. A free WordPress.com website will not reflect well on your brand and will not allow you to add the features you need to run a professional website. It won't give you the control you need.




You think a free WordPress.com site will be enough for you now. But as your site grows and evolves over time, it likely won't meet your needs in the long run. The good news is that migrating from a WordPress.com site to a self-hosted site is not difficult.





What are the free aspects of WordPress?


Is WordPress free? Here's the scoop



Even if you don't have a free WordPress site, there are other aspects of installing WordPress that can be free. Some are always free, while with others like plugins or themes, you can choose between free and premium options.


Getting something for free might sound too good to be true. And sometimes it can be. But people who develop free WordPress themes and plugins do so for good reasons: they either want to give something back to the community or they have a free version of the plugin that you can upgrade with a premium option. In this case, the free version acts as a precursor to the paid version.


This does not mean that there are no legitimate sources of free WordPress code. Here I'm going to take a look at the different aspects of WordPress that you might be able to get for free and help you do that without compromising the security or quality of your site.


Aspects of free (or can be) free self-hosted WordPress are:


  • Basic software
  • the support
  • themes
  • Add-ons
  • Updates



Let's take a look at each of these in turn.




free software



WordPress itself is free. If you are downloading WordPress, always do so from the official WordPress download page.


At Kinsta, we offer a tool that you can use to install WordPress without having to download code. An automatic installer like this is safe, reliable and will save you time and effort.




Free support




A quality hosting provider will give you support as part of their hosting plan to help you with your hosting, domain management, and WordPress installation.


If you need help with other aspects of WordPress, like learning how to manage your site, writing your own plugins, and fixing problems with themes or plugins, you'll need to find other WordPress support resources.




Something worth repeating: Free support is provided by volunteers, WordPress experts who give something to the community or people employers give time to work on the support forums. Since you are not paying for this support, you should lower your expectations accordingly and not expect an immediate answer.




Free Themes




There are thousands of free themes available via a managed WordPress theme.



Created by a variety of developers, including theme developers, volunteers, and the WordPress.com team. They all go through rigorous testing before making them available so you can be confident that they're well coded, reliable, and secure.


The WordPress theme directory is the only place where you can safely download free themes. You can either download it directly from there or install it via the themes page in your site admin.




Do not download free themes from other sources! If the theme is robust and secure, the developer should distribute it via the official guide. If not, you may be at risk of installing a theme on your site that includes unwanted or even malicious code.




Free Plugins



As with themes, there are thousands of free WordPress plugins available via the plugin directory. These components range from small plugins that add a couple of lines of code to your site or dashboard, to huge and complex plugins like WooCommerce that add a full-featured store to your site.


You might be wondering why people would spend time developing a plugin and then make it available for free. This is a good question. Free plug-in developers usually fall under one of three headings:




  • They are WordPress fans and like to share their code and give something to the community.
  • They are agencies that have created a plugin for use with their clients and they want other people to benefit from the code (and maybe also get a little publicity).
  • They are professional plug-in suppliers who have built a free version of the plugin in the hope that a percentage of people who use it will upgrade to the premium version or purchase the plugins.




This means that people create free plugins because it can be profitable or it can be done for more altruistic reasons. But as with themes, if a plugin is provided for free, listing it in the WordPress plugins directory will mean that it has been tested and will most likely be safe and reliable. You can't guarantee this for all plugins all the time as they may be affected by updates, but a good plugin developer will update their plugin to ensure it is compatible with the latest version of WordPress. When you install a plugin, you are told when it was last updated and whether it is compatible with your version of WordPress.




Free updates




Free WordPress kernel update. Your admin screens include an update screen that you can use to update the software whenever a new version appears.


It's a good idea to run updates on a staging copy of your site first. Kinsta hosting plans include a staging version of your site that is not visible to the outside world. If an update should cause a problem (perhaps through incompatibility with one of your plugins), you can choose not to update your live site until the plugin is updated or that plugin is deactivated.




Free updates will be applied to the WordPress core and to free themes and plugins. Whether you can update a premium theme or a plugin for free depends on the shipping model. 



Some themes/plugins require you to pay an annual subscription and you can only update if it is up to date. Others charge you once for lifetime access so you can update the theme/plugin forever without paying any more.





Non-Free Aspects of WordPress


Is WordPress free? Here's the scoop



There are a lot of free WordPress aspects, and it's one of the great things about the platform. Newcomers to WordPress are often puzzled by the fact that such useful and high-quality software can be free. And if you're used to buying software from companies like Microsoft or Adobe, which can charge you a lot for updates or subscriptions, it might seem weird. But as an open source software, the WordPress kernel will always be free.


However, this does not mean that running a professional WordPress site is free. The cost will depend on your site's needs and whether you're happy to pay for the convenience of a premium plugin, for example, when a free plugin does the same or a similar job with a little bit of work.




Aspects of WordPress that you may need to spend money on are:


  • hosting
  • Premium support
  • Plugins/Features Updates
  • Featured Topics
  • Premium Add-ons



Once again, let's take a look at each of them separately.




Pay for support



Your hosting provider should offer support to help you with aspects of your site related to hosting.


And if you need additional support and free channels are not enough for you, you can buy premium support. There is a range of service providers who will offer you support in exchange for a subscription.




Pay for themes




If you can't find a free theme that meets your needs or if you want one with a drag-and-drop interface (often referred to as a page builder), you can buy a premium WordPress theme.


There are three main types of distinguishing features:


  • Themes designed for ease of use, such as the Astra theme.
  • Themes designed for scalability, such as the Divi page builder theme.
  • Standalone themes are sold across marketplaces such as ThemeForest.




Before you pay for a theme, be sure to check that it meets your needs and is safe to install on your site. especially:




  • Check its license: Is it distributed under the GPL?
  • Ask other WordPress users and developers.
  • Read reviews and articles you mention/review
  • Get personalized recommendations.
  • Check if there is a free trial, money back guarantee, or any cool down period.






If the look doesn't meet your needs, you don't want to waste your money.


For more information on finding high-quality premium themes, check out our guide to free vs premium WordPress themes.





Pay for extras



In addition to the free plugins that you can install from the plugin repository, you may find yourself needing to purchase premium plugins.


This is very common: there are a few things that premium plugins do better than their free counterparts.




Situations where you might need to pay for a premium plugin include:


  • When you are using the free version of the plugin and realize that you need the additional features that the premium version provides.
  • When free plugins don't give you the functionality or ease of use you need.
  • When you need to install a number of plugins designed by the same developer which provides a subscription option for full access..
  • When you want to add additional features to a free plugin by purchasing premium add-ons, such as add-ons that you can buy for WooCommerce.




If you invest in the right premium plugins, they can save a lot of time and give your site a huge boost. When you decide to install a premium plugin, you must be careful as if you are using a premium theme. So you should check:




  • Whether the provider also has plugins in the plug-ins directory (notorious companies won't stay there for long).
  • Reviews of the provider and plugin.
  • The plug-in is distributed under the GNU General Public License.
  • What kind of support will be provided to help you use the plugin and solve any problems.
  • If there is a money back guarantee. It's very frustrating to install a plugin, and realize that it doesn't do what you need and you just wasted your money.




The best source of information about premium plugins is always personal recommendations. Talk to other WordPress users and developers, search WordPress forums or Facebook groups, and check that other people are happy with the plugin before purchasing.




Paying for Updates



If you've installed a premium theme or plugin, you'll usually get at least a year of free updates and support. Since most plugins and premium themes work under a subscription model, you will probably have to pay again to get the updated version of the software and still receive active support.


There are exceptions to this, though: some plug-in providers require you to pay once for lifetime access.


I know it's tempting not to renew your subscription: after all, the plugin or theme works and you won't lose the code if you don't buy the latest version. But what if a plugin or theme developed a security issue and a new update was released to fix that? What if a new version of WordPress is released and your theme or plugin no longer works? Your site - or some of its functionality - will crash. This is something you do not want to happen. Ever!




Push for development



If you can't find any of the free or premium themes/plugins capable of meeting your needs, and you don't have the time or skills to write your own code, an option is to hire a developer.


This can range from anything to designing and creating your site, to writing a plugin, to customizing your WordPress theme. It all depends on your own needs, time and budget.




WordPress is designed so that you don't need to hire an expert and pay extra to have a great website for yourself. But if you're building a highly customized website or running a business and don't have the time or skills to do it internally, it could be a good investment.


Again, this is optional. But for some WordPress users, it's something they choose to pay for.





Is WordPress 100% Free? What does it mean that it is open source software? We've done our homework—and put together all the answers to these questions (and more). Check them out!




Summary



The core WordPress software will always be free: free as in speech and free as in beer.


The software is free to download and free to use in any way you want. You can customize, expand, redistribute, and even sell it as long as you use the GPL license.


But if you want a kickass website, there are things that you will need to pay for.


A self-hosted site means that you have to pay for hosting (note: we offer free migrations if you want to change your hosting provider), at least some plugins and/or premiums, and support.


It's up to you how much you get for free and how much you'll pay in the end. But given that the software itself is free, the WordPress site still represents extraordinary value for money. And it's worth paying a little extra for a high-performance professional website.

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