Is is possible and legal to run RHEL without buying a subscription?

some background

Our organization has installed 3 RHEL boxes on bare-metal machines for a customer, for which there exist subscriptions (so far, this is a pretty sweet deal for Red Hat).

Now there appears to be a need to test some settings that should now be applied directly to the production system, but to one that is virtualized. Given that we want as a test, it is desired that the system will remain as similar to the original as possible, including that it RHEL is run on those machines (I am aware of CentOS, but it is not really clear that there are no differences, and hence using CentOS would introduce a undesired difference...).

Given that we - better said our client - already contributes well to RHEL with three subscriptions for servers, I would like to know if it is technically possible "to cheat", and run VM of RHEL that will not subscripe to RHN but instead to a "local repo"/"in our LAN" that is filled with those packages the original servers loaded from RHN.

Doing a rpm -qa I can query and see all the packages those three servers use from RHN and I am conviced that the rpm files can be copied, and I would assume createrepo to be a tool to setup a rope that I can host on a local httpd in the VM machines network. So I assume that it is technically quite possible, and this question merely desires some confirmation (at best, of course maybe it is not possible, that would also be an outcome of this question)

The second aspect is more of a legal nature. If it was a proprietary only product such as the good software of Microsoft (for sake of an example) I would be aware that I could not do anything if not granded a license. However I would assume that most package (?? all ??) that RH distributes have some sort of healthy GPLv2 infection and hence would allow anybody (that licensed from RHEL) to have the free software rights to relicense.

Is it correct to assume that our client , that subscribed to RHN, provided the GPLv2 nature of most packages, is provided the free software right to the following:

  • demand the source code of (GPLv2) and other free software licensed code they received via RHN
  • be entitled to reuse also the binary packages they required from RHN?

Due to copyright, to use software legally, there must be licenses granted. To the best of my understanding this is done (in the context of linux distros) on the level of packages, since those upstream package projects are the original copyright holder (i.e. its not Red Hat that created bash, but is is many contributers and the GNU project). To find out the licenses I did run this query:

 rpm -qa | while read pkg; do LANG=C yum info "$pkg" ; done | grep -ie '^License' | sort | uniq -c

which yields those licenses:

  1 License     : AFL and GPLv2+
  3 License     : ASL 2.0
  4 License     : Boost and MIT and Python
 25 License     : BSD
  3 License     : BSD and GPLv2+
  2 License     : BSD and LGPLv2 and Sleepycat
  1 License     : BSD with advertising
  1 License     : BSD with advertising and MPLv1.1
  2 License     : CC-BY-SA
  1 License     : commercial
  2 License     : Commercial
  2 License     : Commercial IBM
  1 License     : (FTL or GPLv2+) and BSD and MIT and Public Domain and zlib with
  1 License     : GPL
  5 License     : GPL+
  1 License     : GPL+ and BSD and GPLv2+ and GPLv2 and LGPLv2+
  1 License     : GPL+ and GPLv2 and GPLv2+ and GPLv3+ and LGPLv2+
  1 License     : GPL+ and GPLv2+ and MIT and Redistributable, no modification
  1 License     : GPL+ and LGPLv2+
 27 License     : GPL+ or Artistic
  1 License     : (GPL+ or Artistic) and BSD
  1 License     : (GPL+ or Artistic) and (GPLv2+ or Artistic) and Copyright Only and
 37 License     : GPLv2
 48 License     : GPLv2+
  3 License     : GPLv2+ and BSD
  1 License     : GPLv2+ and GPL+
  1 License     : GPLv2 and GPLv2+ with exceptions and GPLv3+ and Verbatim and
  2 License     : GPLv2+ and GPLv3+
  1 License     : GPLv2 and LGPLv2
  5 License     : GPLv2+ and LGPLv2+
  2 License     : GPLv2+ and LGPLv2+ with exceptions
  1 License     : GPLv2+ and Public Domain
  1 License     : GPLv2+ and Redistributable, no modification permitted
  1 License     : GPLv2+, LGPLv2+, MIT
  2 License     : (GPLv2+ or AFL) and GPLv2+
  1 License     : GPLv2+ or Artistic
  1 License     : GPLv2+ or LGPLv2+ or MPLv1.1
  3 License     : GPLv2+ or LGPLv3+
  1 License     : GPLv2 with exceptions and LGPLv2 and BSD
  1 License     : GPLv3
 22 License     : GPLv3+
  2 License     : (GPLv3+ and ASL 2.0)
  1 License     : GPLv3+ and GFDL
  1 License     : GPLv3+ and GFDL and BSD and MIT
  1 License     : GPLv3+ and GPL and LGPLv3+ and LGPL and BSD
  1 License     : GPLv3+ and (GPLv2+ or LGPLv3+)
  1 License     : GPLv3+ and GPLv3+ with exceptions and GPLv2+ and GPLv2+ with
  4 License     : GPLv3+ and GPLv3+ with exceptions and GPLv2+ with exceptions and
  3 License     : GPLv3+ and LGPLv2+
  1 License     : IBM and GPLv2+
  3 License     : ISC
  1 License     : LGPL-2.0
 12 License     : LGPLv2
 40 License     : LGPLv2+
  1 License     : LGPLv2+ and GPLv2+ and CC-BY-SA
  1 License     : LGPLv2+ and GPLv3+
  1 License     : LGPLv2+ and GPLv3+ and GFDL
  1 License     : LGPLv2+ and GPLv3+ and GPLv2+ and Verbatim and Public Domain
  3 License     : LGPLv2+ and LGPLv2+ with exceptions and GPLv2+
  1 License     : LGPLv2+ and MIT
  1 License     : LGPLv2+ or MIT
  2 License     : LGPLv3+
  1 License     : LGPLv3+ and GFDL
  1 License     : LGPLv3+ and GPLv3+ and GFDL
  1 License     : LGPLv3+ or GPLv2+
  1 License     : Licensed only for approved usage, see COPYING for details.
 22 License     : MIT
  2 License     : MIT and BSD and ISC and GPLv2+
  1 License     : MIT and Public Domain
  1 License     : MIT or LGPLv2+ or BSD
  1 License     : MPLv1.1
  6 License     : MPLv2.0
  1 License     : OpenLDAP
  1 License     : OpenSSL
  1 License     : Proprietary
 11 License     : Public Domain
  5 License     : Python
  1 License     : Python or ZPLv2.0
 15 License     : Redistributable, no modification permitted
  4 License     : Vim
  1 License     : zlib and Boost

Now nonwithstanding the trouble to be aware of all the particularities, I assume those licenses that are "free software licenses" (i.e. GPLv2+) should entitle the person that acquired a license to the right to simply generated as many copies of a such a rpm as they please?

I am less certain about software that is MIT or BSD, where I think Red Hat was able to require a software license for the usage of a package?

  • GPL doesn't place any restrictions on use - you don't even have to accept the GPL terms to actually use the software. It's the distribution and modification that GPL affects.
    – muru
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 11:09

2 Answers 2


For test purposes, you should be covered by a no-cost developer subscription, which you can get on the Red Hat Developer site.

Otherwise, you will have to carefully review your customer’s contract with Red Hat; it covers exactly what you can and can’t do.

  • You suggest that the legal aspect should be impacted by the customer's contract. I guess you are right for those parts of the distro not being GPL licensed, but correct me if I state incorrectly, there should not be any way that RH could force a license take to buy anything more than just a single copy of a rpm with GPL software, given RH has no license there to limit users freedom to simply copy the rpm, is it not?
    – fraleone
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 14:02
  • IANAL, and I’m not speaking for Red Hat; but the customer entered into a contract, which has clauses completely separate from the licenses of the individual pieces of software included in RHEL. In particular, see section 3.2 of the agreement applicable to your country. You’re right that Red Hat can’t add license conditions to GPL-licensed programs (or many other licenses); but the customer didn’t buy a copy of an RPM. Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 14:22
  • Put another way, the question to ask isn’t only “Can you use RHEL without a subscription?”, but “Can you continue using a RHEL subscription under these circumstances?” The contract covers the subscription, which is more than the software included in the subscription. Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 14:30
  • thank you :). Me IANAL, I had consulted the linked page and the agreement already, but I will recheck it, thanks. Regarding the "but the customer didn't but a copy fo the RPM", I am confused, the RPM seems to be a derived work and something that falls under copyright, to use it the customer, must have received a license in any form, or it would have never be ok to use it to start with. If that was the case GPL - in my interpretation of what is free software IANAL - should make the RPM legal to be copied. Even if the license was "gift" and not "purchase".
    – fraleone
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 14:31
  • The GPL explicitly says that you don’t need to accept any it to be allowed to use the software, so your customer doesn’t even need to accept the GPL to use GPLed software. Likewise, accepting the GPL is sufficient to allow redistribution of GPLed software. But again, the important aspect here isn’t the use or redistribution of individual pieces of software, but the use of your customer’s subscription. Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 14:56

NB! This is not a legal advice

Yes, you can install and run RHEL because the OS by itself is free. What you pay for is subscription.

About reuse of packages - this is very specific case and probably you do not have right to use them as they are from particular subscription and for particular machine. But probably layer can answer better to this point.

You can create local repo (legal one) but only with the packages (and precise versions) from the media you download from RHEL.

  • Is there not a new limitation from redhat on the number on authorized VM with no subscription?
    – Slim Aloui
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 9:42
  • 1
    @SlimAloui, there is new limit, 240 machines. But you should create (free) development subscription. Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 11:09
  • thank you @romeo-ninov. From this link, it's saying : "The Red Hat Developer Subscription for Individuals is a single subscription, which allows the user to install Red Hat Enterprise Linux on a maximum of 16 systems, physical or virtual, regardless of system facts and size." developers.redhat.com/articles/… What did I get wrong ?
    – Slim Aloui
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 11:16
  • 1
    @SlimAloui, currently the limit is 240. And it is (AFAIK) also applicable to small companies too. Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 11:43

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