GPL vs. BSD vs. MIT License

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Difference between GPL, BSD and MIT

Developers and designers typically have very specific goals with regard to their work, with many opting to release them as open-source projects. Of course licenses are still required for these projects, and GPL, BSD and MIT are ones amongst the most commonly used. This comparison article takes a look at what these licenses have in common and how they differ.


GPL typically refers to the GNU General Public License, which is the most commonly used free software license today. GPL was originally devised by Richard Stallman for the GNU project.

BSD refers to the group of permissive free software licenses. They were originally intended for the Berkeley Software Distribution system, which is quite similar to Unix.

MIT is a free software license that was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is used mostly by the MIT X Consortium.


GPL was the first copyleft license developed for general use, in that only derivative projects can be distributed with the same license. Under the terms of this license, users of a particular program are given the right to the free software definition, and copyleft is used in order to preserve user freedoms even in the event of modifications and/or additions.

BSD allows for the proprietary use of software, and allows the specific software to be used along with proprietary products. Works based on this software may be used with a proprietary license, or it may be licensed as closed source software.

MIT is often referred to as the X11 license, since many versions have been used by MIT in the past. This is also the same license used in the X Window System. Some of the packages that have used this license are Expat, PuTTY, Ruby on Rails, and Lua, among others.


GPL has gone through quite a few different versions, with versions 1, 2 and 3 being the most prominent. The first version was released in January 1989, and it was responsible for preventing the restrictions placed by software distributors on free software.

BSD for its part has been released in two main versions: the New BSD License/Modified BSD License and the Simplified BSD License/FreeBSD License. These have both been verified as free software licenses that are compatible with GPL, a distinction that was made by no less than the Free Software Foundation

As for the MIT license, its main defining characteristic is that it can be modified to suit specific needs. This was exemplified in the acquiescence of the Free Software Foundation to use a modified version of the MIT License for ncurses in 1998, dependent on certain terms of use.

Similarities and Differences


  • Refers to the GNU General Public License
  • Is the most commonly used free software license today


  • A group of permissive free software licenses
  • Originally intended for the Berkeley Software Distribution system


  • Free software license developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Is used mostly by the MIT X Consortium


comments 3 Comments

  • Raman Bhatia . 3+ yrs. ago

In the light of the above, appreciate of you could answer the following:

1) I create product MyApp from an Open source toolkit

2) I give away MyApp for free download and I also have a premium version of MyApp for paid downloads

I have a choice of builing MyApp from either of three Opensource toolkits (a) GPLOpenTools (licenced as GPL) or (b) BSDOpenTools (licensed as BSD) or (c) MITOpenTools (licensed as MIT)

What would the implications be of building MyApp from each of (a), (b), (c) and specifically which of (a), (b) and (c) would be least expensive and restrictive for me to build with?


  • mooman . 3+ yrs. ago

How does description about MIT in the Details section say anything about what it is? Please clarify.

  • martin . 3+ yrs. ago

what an idiotic article. It gives an illusion of giving something useful, but there is no practically concrete comparison between BSD and MIT

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