Does the GPL of Imixs-Workflow Affect my own Application?

Once again I was asked if the GPL of Imixs-Workflow does affect the development of a proprietary application which is distributed under a non-gpl licence? The answer splits into two different aspects:

Running a Separate Process

Since the Imixs-Workflow engine runs as a separate process which is called from a closed-source program, the FSF presents the legal opinion that the proprietary application would probably be a separate work. And this is the typical usage of the Imixs-Workflow engine. This is also valid if you develop a library or a plugin linking to the Imixs-Workflow engine used from a non-free program. The copyleft of the GPL library causes your plugin or library to be covered by the GPL, but not the main application, which is probably a separate work. As long as the workflow engine runs as a separate process there is no violation of the GPL in your main application.

Distributing Software

The second part of the answer is about the question of distributing software. In these days we all mostly develop software running on servers in the internet or the ‘cloud’. In this case it does not matter if your server uses a GPL library or software like MySQL or Imixs-Workflow. As long as you did not distribute the source code of your software you are not affected by the GPL or violating it. You are totally free to use GPL software.


Does the GPL of Imixs-Workflow affect your application development? The answer is “no” for the cases discussed above. Feel free to use free software, but avoid to prevent others from using free software.

Why is Imixs Workflow distributed under GPL?

Since the early beginning of the Imixs Workflow project all results are subject to the general public license (GPL). This license grants the broadest freedoms for users. There are many software systems available with this license. The most popular is the operating system Linux or the database server MySQL. So we are all using this kind of software license. Remember, you can not go into the Internet without the help of Linux.

But when you take a closer look on the smaller parts of software systems – the frameworks – a lot of these frameworks are subject to a lesser general public license like the LGPL, the Apache or Eclipse license. The argument of the software vendors behind those software license is to encourage widespread usage and adoption. But this means also to enable adopters to restrict the usage of there software build on thus a framework. This all is common practice and I think there is no need to discuss the pros and cons. So why is Imixs Workflow distributed under GPL?

The idea behind the Imixs Workflow project is to provide organizations, companies and users with a flexible software solution, to manage their business processes. Business processes are subject to constant change. And a workflow management system must provide the opportunity to follow this change. Therefore, we think that the user of Imixs Workflow must be able to adapt their software solution to meet their own needs.
From this point of view there no reason to restrict the usage of the software in any way. And as the objective group of Imixs Workflow is the final user rather than the software developer we believe that the GPL is a better solution to achieve this goal.
We do not want to discourage ISVs to use the Imixs Workflow for there own software project. Every person including software developers are free to use the Imixs Workflow for there own project. But remember that it is your commitment to pass that freedom also to other users.


As we were often ask about the licensing of of the Imixs Open Source Workflow which is subject to the General Public License (GPL). I want to give you today a short idea how your own individual Software project is affected form this license when you are using the Imixs Workflow components.

Assuming that you plan to develop an individual software system using the Imixs Workflow System you have to take care about the subject of GPL. But since your software project is no workflow management system or a pure workflow engine, like the Imixs Workflow itself, there is no reason to worry about the GPL. You are free to use the Imixs Workflow components implementing any kind of business process application.
In contrast if you enhance or modify components of the Imixs Workflow Implementation or you implement a derived unit you are constrained to leave this code also under GPL.
Our goal is to avoid that someone restrict the purpose of the Imixs Workflow Software. Everyone is free to use the Imixs Workflow as free software in the manner of the Free Software Foundain (

So we appreciate everybody who plan to use the Imixs Workflow in an individual Software Project. You be bound to inform your users and customer that Imixs Workflow is fee software under GPL. This means that he will receive also the source code (of the Imixs Workflow) or can get it if he want it. He can change the software or use pieces of it in new free programs.
If you enhance the Imixs Workflow you are bound to leave this code again under GPL and share your experience with the community.

So we did not restrict you in your freedom to develop software and business applications using the Imixs Workflow. We also did not restrict your freedom to distribute your software or charge for service if you wish.
Free Software is about to exchange experience and knowledge, not to restrict other people in there freedom to use it.