I would like to acheive the following with AGPL and wondered if it is possible:

  • release an open source software product where everyone can share and contribute
  • free for non-profit
  • charge "commercial/for profit" customers for using the product in their staging and production environment only while all other environments are free

Do I need a second commercial license; a dual license?

  • Do you want to allow your commercial/for-profit people to keep their source code closed? Jul 11, 2016 at 21:31
  • @RobertHarvey If they want to.
    – temp88786
    Jul 11, 2016 at 21:34
  • 1
    Then yes, you need a second license. The AGPL requires its licensees to share their source. Jul 11, 2016 at 21:36
  • @RobertHarvey Do I still need a second license if the customer does not change the source code of my product but only uses it. Take for example a database server as MongoDB, the customer may not change the MongoDB source code but only use it.
    – temp88786
    Jul 13, 2016 at 0:45
  • That sounds like the commercial license. Under the AGPL, you can't impose such a restriction. Jul 13, 2016 at 1:39

1 Answer 1


It's possible with dual licensing. RavenDB (and others) have a similar model where their main OSS project is AGPL, but dev does not require a license, and commercial customers pay for a commercial license. Also, OSS projects can get an exception to allow their OSS license to not be potentially swallowed up by the AGPL. MongoDB instead publishes client libraries as Apache-licensed in order to provide built-in mitigation of the AGPL licensing on its core.

This answer explains pretty well I think. Also do read the comments where someone points out that using it with other licenses is murky water. I had the experience working in a large company that I was blocked from using software on the advice of lawyers because it was GPL.

Personally, I think anyone that decides to release software under AGPL should be slapped with a large trout. It is the most commercially abused license I have seen. AGPL by itself is all but unusable (even for OSS) for the downstream restrictions and legal uncertainties. The software I have run across with AGPL only uses the license to force commercial users to buy a commercial license. This has the potential to setup a situation where the controlling entity uses the OSS community for free labor with one hand while grabbing the financial rewards of the work with the other. The AGPL also effectively prevents forking because only the author can decide to release it under a different (usable) license. It's funny because I believe Affero made the license as a weapon to enforce free software staying free, but the thing about a weapon is, it can be used on anyone.

Before the AGPL the classic way to do what I described above is just to release under an actually-free license to drive contributions and popularity. Once it gets popular, change to commercial at some version. The backlash from this is probably why AGPL method has become more popular, because the one-sided-ness of the arrangement exists from the start but in a more subtle form.

  • Not for nothing, but don't software developers and consumers vote with their time and wallets? Nothing forces anyone to contribute to an AGPL project, nor is a consumer forced to shell out any money for a commercial license for said project. Jul 14, 2016 at 17:17
  • I agree with you, therefore I don't understand your comment. I have trialed AGPL dual-licensed products for potential commercial use for my employer, with the intent to pay license fees if it worked out. But I don't for one moment consider them "community" projects. Jul 14, 2016 at 18:23
  • Organizations would no longer release AGPL for the purposes you stated if software developers stopped contributing to them. Jul 14, 2016 at 18:26
  • That depends on the contributors being aware. Even if they stopped contributing, it may not matter if the commercial side brings in enough revenue to continue dev internally. I think OSS exceptions to AGPL go a long way to foster continued contribution, because that alleviates some of the heaviest restrictions and future worries. Jul 14, 2016 at 18:46

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