Are WordPress plugins free?

updated on 31 August 2021

WordPress is everywhere when you look at the website market, or want to create your own website. Everybody says that because WordPress is free you can just start and build your own website quickly! There is a lot of truth in this, but there are some points that need to be clarified. WordPress plugins are the most important piece in the WordPress ecosystem. Without the plugins, WordPress wouldn’t be so successful. But are WordPress plugins free? Well let’s try to answer this question, it’s not that hard!

WordPress & its ecosystem

WordPress is a Content Managment System. It is by far the most commonly used and experts claim that it runs 40% to 50% of the internet! Moreover, WordPress is a free and open source tool. This means that anybody can download it, anybody can use it and even make money with it. There are no limits!

Early on, when WordPress started to gain traction, the WordPress team created a marketplace for plugins. Or should I say, The WordPress Plugin Repository.

This repository was and is filled with tons and tons of free plugins. Each serves a specific purpose. They are created by developers who needed these specific features for their projects. Because WordPress wasn’t offering these solutions developers decided to code and share these plugins.

The different types of WordPress plugin

The Plugin Repository offers both professional plugins and others with a more amateur look. This is because some plugins are actually developped by companies, others by expert developers, and others by amateur developers. This is generaly not a sign of quality but it gives some hints of how the plugin might be monetized. All the plugins have been given a rating by website creators who have used these products.

Developers/companies have different objectives when they publish plugins.

While the amateur developer is genuinely sharing a neat plugin because they want to give back to the community. Other professionals and companies on the Plugin Repository do so to make money. But it doesn’t mean that you have to pay to use the professional plugins from the WordPress repository.

We can identify 3 business models for WordPress plugins:

  • The free plugin. It will be free and will stay free forever. No counterparty asked, just pure kindness!
  • The free plugin with donation or fair contribution.
  • The free light plugin. It gives you a taste of what the plugin can do through a limited version with only few functionalities.

WordPress free plugin

A lot of the plugins in the WordPress repository are simply free. Sometimes, the developer wants to give back to the WordPress community as a thank you for all the other awesome tools that WordPress provides. It can also be that developer or a company developed a nice feature for a client or for a project and decide to share freely so that everybody can enjoy it.

Howeever free plugins are rarely updated. Sometimes, the only version is the first one, and in most cases there is no support if you run into a problem.

WordPress free plugin with donation or contribution

This plugin is about the same than the geniunly free plugin described above. Only difference is that you are encouraged by the plugin developer to make a donation or a contribution. You obviously don’t have to do it, but if you find the plugin useful and that it saves your time, it is a really nice gesture to show your support and encourage the developer to maintain, support and update the plugin.

This kind of plugin, if the author is encouraged and have some good feedback from the community, will update and maintain the plugin as best as he can. But no magic trick, you get what you have for what you pay! He will do his best, but if donation are low, do not expect too many updates.

WordPress free light plugin

So what is this Light Plugin? Well, this is a hybrid that has become more common. As the name suggests, it is free, 100% free! But there is a catch. You only have access to a few features. They will remain free, but you’ll find yourself really limited while exploring the plugin. Sometimes, the free light plugin is enough, but in most cases you’ll want more.

These plugins are often developed and backed by a company or by a strong developer. The business approach for them is too gain traction and create demand by showcasing a small part of the paying full plugin. At least it’s a great way for a user to find out if the plugin looks stable, easy to use and up to date. And in the process decide to switch from the Free version to the Full For-Pay version.

This plugin is obviously well maintained, well documented, has good support and will be updated frequently.

The for-pay WordPress plugins

Obviously a lot of WordPress plugins are for pay, and they don’t offer anything free, not even a demo. These plugins are not allowed to be hosted on the official WordPress Plugin Repository. One of the rules in the Open Source community and with WordPress is too only provide free tools, therefore free plugins.

TL;DR Then are WordPress plugins free or not?

The answer is Yes! But, there is a catch.

Not all of the plugins are free. Some of the most powerful plugins are actually for-pay. More and more, WordPress plugins are offering a minimal and light version of their full and for-pay plugins. But still it is better than nothing, but often frustrating. So don’t expect all plugins to be free. Take your time first, to find all the alternatives existing on the WordPress Plugin Repository, because this is where you’ll find the best free plugins, without a doubt.

However if you know that the plugin you need is not free, just look for it on Google and compare all the different prices and licences. These tend to be complex and misleading.