Plugin & Theme Licensing in SaaS Projects

When you’re building SaaS projects on WordPress, you’re likely to use commercial plugins with licensing requirements. One of the most annoying things you’ll run into is the complexity of activating those licenses on new sites.

The good news is that, in many instances, plugins do not need to be activated since they’ll work just fine – the license is only required to receive updates. In this case you can use SITE UPDATE PLANS to push updates from your template sites as needed.

But, recently, some very popular plugins with large installed bases have started to turn off their premium features when a license isn’t present. For example, Advanced Custom Fields. We expect this trend to continue since it helps to retain subscribers and boost revenue.

Even before these larger plugins started to impose restrictions, plugins such as Gravity Forms, WPRocket and WPRESET would not fully operate without a license active.

If a plugin requires a license but is not visible to the end user / customer you might still be able to avoid activating it on the new site. For those where you require a license you only have three choices:


Some plugins have a WP-CLI interface that allow for license activation. In this case you can use a SITE PACKAGE to run a post-processing BASH script to invoke WP-CLI.

Unfortunately, plugins with this type of WP-CLI support only comprise a very (very) tiny portion of the universe of plugins. Some that we know of are:

  • Advanced Menu Editor Pro
  • SolidWP Security (not backup)
  • Updraft Plus
  • Gravity Forms

2. Fork The Plugin

For those plugins where you can’t activate the license with WP-CLI and you don’t want to login to each customer / tenant site to manually activate it, you can fork it and strip out the licensing code.

It is a way, though, to get your project working the way you want to without additional manual processes.

And, with the judicious use of GIT, you can quickly merge in updates as they are released.

You can even create your own update mechanism for the forked version using the GIT UPDATER plugin to directly update customer sites. Or use SITE UPDATE PLANS to push out updates every time you have a change.

3. Manual Activation

Of course, this is always an option. Not a good one, but still an option.

If you’re forced to do this I recommend that you contact the developers for your plugins and ask them to add WP-CLI support.

A lot of developers don’t include WP-CLI support in their work because they perceive that there is no demand for it. So, the more they hear from admins like yourself, the more plugins we might be able to use with WP-CLI.

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