GitLab Isn’t Really Open-Source

Microsoft recently announced its acquisition of GitHub which has led to a spike in the number of repositories imported to GitLab. One reason for the spike is that GitLab often touts itself as open-source, but that is only partially true.

GitLab has two versions of its software - GitLab Community Edition, the open-source version, and GitLab Enterprise Edition, the proprietary version. Both versions have their sources published on GitLab with the former having an MIT license and the latter a proprietary one which requires a paid subscription with GitLab.

Originally, both versions had an MIT license, but this changed in 2014 because GitLab found that “the open source license of EE is confusing” to potential subscribers.

You can see the differences between these two versions on their site. A lot of them are focused on enterprise features such as LDAP and Kerberos authentication, but many aren’t:

  • Host static pages (with TLS & CNAME support) from GitLab using GitLab Pages
  • Contribution Analytics, see detailed statistics of contributors
  • Rebase merge requests before merge
  • Use fast-forward merges when possible
  • Git hooks (commit message must mention an issue, no tag deletion, etc.)
  • Approve Merge Requests
  • Project importing from to your private GitLab instance
  • Super-powered search using Elasticsearch

Furthermore, the free version running on is the Enterprise Edition. This means that if you wish to move from their hosted service to your own one, you would be losing several features and would even have to pay to import your projects based on the above list.

It is therefore unsurprising that GitLab started referring to itself as “open core” in 2016. The question then is - what chunk of GitLab will be considered “core” in the future?

Perhaps GitLab would be better off providing its entire product under a more restrictive/free license such as GPL the way companies like Red Hat operate - they’ve certainly proven that it can work.