We are developing an iOS app in which all of the front-end is based on MIT/Apache/BSD components, while server part is fully on GPL v3.

All these licenses are compatible, so there is no problem with this. The main concern is, can we not open our front-end code and avoid applying GPL terms for the whole app?

Our idea for avoiding opening is that we distribute only the iOS part to the final customer. The back-end isn't distributed, it only works on servers not on iphones/ipads, so we consider this part as for our own use ;)

Pls let us know your ideas whether our understanding is correct or not, taking into consideration the fact that back-end is firmly specialized and correctly works only with the given front-end (so from this point of view it becomes integral part of the app, so whole app is to be licensed under GPL which isn't ok for us).

1 Answer 1


What you're trying to do should be possible. If the back-end application and the front-end app have the character of two separate programs that communicate with each other, then they are clearly separate works and the GPL only applies to your back-end. On the other hand, if your setup is better characterized as a single distributed application where parts run on end-user devices and parts on one of your servers, that's more of a grey area.

In the end, what matters is the copyright law in your jurisdiction: would these laws recognize the apps that you distribute as a derived work of the GPL libraries, or not? But no clear guidance exists. The FSF (the authors of the GPL) use the concept of “communications at arms length” to describe whether two programs are truly separate.

  • Thanks for detailed comment, in fact the problem that front-end and back-end is distributed as a whole app, so it's really difficult to divide it and we would prefer to avoid grey area.
    – dim
    Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 15:18
  • By the way we failed find clear GPL comments concerning updates, i mean can we license whole app under GPL, provide all codes on GitHub, BUT not provides any updates of the app?
    – dim
    Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 15:20
  • 2
    @dim There's a huge legal difference between two separate programs that are distributed together, or a single program. In the GPL FAQ this is called Mere Aggregation. You didn't see any mentions of updates because updates are not special from a copyright perspective. You're not required to provide updates for GPL software, but if you provide updates those updates are modified versions of GPL software and must be available under the terms of the GPL (incl. source code).
    – amon
    Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 15:55
  • Amon, thx, now everything seems clear for us. Your help is highly appreciated!
    – dim
    Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 17:57

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