Core Is Back!


Today we are happy to reintroduce ExpressionEngine Core, the feature-limited free edition of the most flexible content management platform you’ll ever meet.

tl;dr: Download ExpressionEngine Core now.

What sites qualify to be powered by ExpressionEngine Core? Quoting our updated software license:

Users of the Core License may use the Software only on a website engaging in personal, non-commercial, or non-profit activities.

Additionally, sites powered by the Core edition are required to display a “powered by ExpressionEngine” link or graphic on their publicly accessible site, pointing back here.

So if your site doesn’t need all of ExpressionEngine’s features (see a complete list of the breakdown), is not engaging in direct or indirect commercial activity, and is able to give front-facing credit to the technology behind it, feel free to choose the Core edition.

ExpressionEngine Core is also a fantastic way to evaluate ExpressionEngine for use in your business. You can easily migrate from Core to the full edition at any time, without losing any of the work you’ve done.

And thanks to our recently retooled support system where we support people instead of installations, if you are on a support plan, your Core sites are covered too.


For those who are interested, we’d like to take a moment and share the history of the Core edition, why it was on vacation, and why we’ve brought it back.

Originally we offered 30-day hosted trials for $10 and a 14-day Zend encoded downloadable trial. They were both okay, but had some shortcomings. The hosted trial did not allow file system access, so tinkering with the code or using custom plugins was not an option. The downloadable trial’s use of Zend allowed time-locking but likewise prevented people from tinkering with or examining the code. And it didn’t always work on a customer’s server, depending on the version of Zend Optimizer installed by the host.

Almost exactly seven years ago, we decided to lower the barrier to entry for getting acquainted with our platform and began offering a free feature-limited edition known as Core. It took off and became quite popular, especially among people running personal blogs on WordPress who wanted more flexibility and room to grow. We offered Core for four years, and it powered thousands upon thousands of sites.

However, we did not see what we had hoped, that Core would lead directly to sales of the full version. Fewer than a fraction of a percent of users who signed up and downloaded Core eventually went on to be paying customers. So in late 2009, we ended the free version, and offered a 30-day money back guarantee. It turns out that that too wasn’t ideal in many respects.

One of the learning moments for us was realizing that our measurements for Core’s success were simply flawed. Core had led to many future purchases, we just hadn’t been able to track it correctly. Many people from our community have told us “I wouldn’t be using your software today if it weren’t for Core.” Some of our own employees are counted in that number. For even small agencies, the designer or developer who had the gumption to try us out and then show ExpressionEngine around the office was rarely the user account that the agency would later use to purchase dozens of licenses. Lastly, there’s simply no denying the extended reach that a free version provides.

Simplifying our license types was key to reintroducing Core, otherwise choosing an ExpressionEngine license would be like choosing which version of Windows Vista to buy. Obvious to a few, confusing to most, guaranteed to fill our inbox with daily license questions, and a lot of overhead with each release for no benefit other than making it look like you have more products on the shelf than you really do. Our new store also affords us better analytics to measure the effectiveness of the Core edition.

Thanks to our recent internal changes, we were able to execute this in a remarkably short period of time. Last month at our new site launch we introduced a free 30-day on-request trial to buy us some time and we were hoping to reintroduce Core sometime in early 2013. One month later, we are ahead of schedule and thrilled to reintroduce ExpressionEngine Core to the world.

Comments & Feedback

  1. “...there’s simply no denying the extended reach that a free version provides.” Wonderful news for the platform. Pleased to read the announcement.

    Picture of Adam Khan

    Adam Khan

  2. I’m really happy to see the return of the core version of EE! This is really great news.

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    Sean C. Smith

  3. Great news, especially for new customers!

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    Benjamin V

  4. Best Christmas present so far ! There is a Santee Claus after all grin

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  5. Great news!  I know this will directly correlate to sales for you - we can’t ask our clients to use EE if we dont have a ‘free’ one to prototype their site on..

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  6. This is such great news. I always felt that removing Core was a mistake and it certainly made it harder for me to evangelize EE. And as you said, I would not be using and recommending EE if it had not been for Core letting me get to know and use EE.

    Also, love this: “otherwise choosing an ExpressionEngine license would be like choosing which version of Windows Vista to buy.”


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    TJ Draper

  7. Yup, you did a good one.

    Good on you, Derek, and greetings of the season to all….

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  8. Excellent decision! Also love the re-tool of the site to bring back those longed-for features!

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  9. I might just download Core and add the member module back in to save me the effort of deleting all the crap I don’t need in the first place!

    PS. What does lack of Member module prevent you from doing?

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  10. This is great news. May I enquire as to what exactly the upgrade path is like? Is it a fairly simple “drop in the new system files and run the installer” setup, or is it more involved than that?

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    Christopher Kennedy

  11. A lot of good news and effort. Core is a great starting point for interested devs to start poking and looking at EE. Also for (future) webmasters who need to work with the CP, this is an assuring development. Now, they can already play and check out the CP, a great way to check out EE.

    Also should mention that the avatars and signatures are back in the forums, and the user guide notes are back, and at least there are now some screenshots of the product on the product page. All in all some great steps forward. Now all i can hope for is a jump in the CodeIgniter version that is driving EE (still on 2.0.1) and then the re-re-factor of EE (CP experience and core optimization rounds).

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    GDmac - expocom

  12. Best Christmas present ever! I can now start teaching it to my undergraduates again. Great news guys - very good choice indeed!

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  13. As someone who has been teaching students the basics of ExpressionEngine for two years now, this is invaluable. Great move! Thank you!

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  14. Great choice Ellis, didn’t really effect me, but did think it was a daft way to go smile

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  15. Congratulations. I think this is a great move by you guys. It will be really interesting to see how this translate into sales. I’m personally always on the train of thought that giving fantastic free content / software away then having a premium product is the best business model. Sure 99% of users / customers will not buy. But that 1% can correlate to a lot sales and many lifelong customers. Giving this feature rich install away will get a lot of these “Oh i’m not paying for software when WP is free” over. Once they try EE a lot will see that it blows away the blogging engine.

    A great end to 2012 and 2013 is going to be fantastic year for EE / EL.

    Congrats again.

    Picture of John Macpherson

    John Macpherson

  16. WHAT?!? YIPPEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I dared not hope that this would actually happen, but needless to say I’m overjoyed that it has - and primarily for YOU, EllisLab, not for me. smile I know this will help increase EE’s popularity around the world, and that’s only a good thing. And yes, count me in among one of those who got into EE because of EE Core, which led to me using it for literally every project I’ve taken on in the past 5 years (if EE’s simply not the right tool, I send the interested party elsewhere).

    EllisLab, thank you.

    Picture of Michael C. (ProImage)

    Michael C. (ProImage)

  17. This is excellent news, it now makes building EE sites for non-profits that bit more affordable again. Thank you Ellislab!

    Picture of Rob (bluedreamer)

    Rob (bluedreamer)

  18. Thank you! I had been dying to try to learn this and now I can. I wasn’t willing to pay $299 to “try” this software. I always build a sandbox for my clients to experiment with so they can be sure before they buy. I cringe when a potential client is telling me how much they hate their current system. It usually means their developer did not insist they use the system before buying and agree it was a good tool for their knowledge level or workflow.

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  19. Fantastic!

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    Hop Studios

  20. Colour me happee

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  21. luv you….........excellent news for everyone…. and always stick with ExpressionEngine ® ™ ....

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  22. better grab it before you guys change your minds again.

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  23. Wait, the free core version available isn’t the CI version? ok, nevermind then.

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  24. @SneakyDave…. i don’t think so, because this time there have better business plan to reach their customers and make new customers quickly (think their management team changed.. everyday i check ellislab news….he… he), core back mean… “Try before buy”.. i think they did not mean that this version only limit features not 15 or 30 days trial period…so you can create personal, non-commercial project on the fly…thank you once again ellislab™ ...

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  25. Well, it seems a little condescending to say that you gave away a free trial, and it didn’t equate to sales because the company wasn’t tracking it correctly. Maybe it just wasn’t as good as the competition, maybe it wasn’t a good price point, and those potential customers said “meh”.

    I just tried the trial version again after a long absence, and if I have to put up with 58 database queries for every page load, on software that doesn’t have many modules enabled, then the latest product probably isn’t for me.

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  26. we all already know, we can create mind blowing, informative, client focus, easy to use, and easy to implement website with expression engine, personally i work with 12 different Popular CMS platforms, but finally i thought i stick to expression engine because, i know i can do what i imagine to do, and there is no limitation we can create small business app or may be thousand of user interact useful app, and best part is we can manage our website with out getting any stress. for that $299 price point i think it’s worth it.

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  27. I think this was an awesome decision. Now new developers to EE can get their hands dirty with the software to see if they like it (and they will!) and the community will grow much faster.

    Brilliant move Ellislab!

    Picture of Todd D.

    Todd D.

  28. Bought a full license a week ago for a non-profit!!!
    Bit miffed about that.

    When I came back to the site recently and saw you’d dropped support (reduced rate which was OK) for Freelancers and Non-Profits - all my old links to support threads had been ditched, support was a paid deal - it did feel like the company had made a huge mistake.
    Your product is only as good as the community that uses it - it looked like you completely ditched the community.
    Glad to see a change of heart before it was too late.

    Good to see Core back again - that’s where I started and I’ve bought a few licenses since then.

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  29. PS. What does lack of Member module prevent you from doing?

    Building membership based sites, no front end member CP, registrations, etc.

    This is great news. May I enquire as to what exactly the upgrade path is like? Is it a fairly simple “drop in the new system files and run the installer” setup, or is it more involved than that?

    If you’re already on the latest version, it’s much easier, just replace the files. Upgrading from Core to Standard Edition

    Picture of Derek Jones

    Derek Jones

  30. Your choice to re-introduce “Core” has restored my faith in EllisLab. I would even be happier if you brought back the paid “Non-Commercial” license as I would be right there to purchase a few more licenses.

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  31. I’m an EE evangelist in my tech community, and trying to convince developers and designers to spend $300 to try out something they don’t know anything about and do it in 30 days is a tough sell—even for a good seller like me. Bringing back Core is a super-smart move. Thank you!

    As someone who’s purchased many, many licenses over the past seven years on behalf of my clients, the Non-Profit license has been pretty popular.  One suggestion might be to offer the Member Module as a paid add-on to Core. For non-profits or small clients it would make EE more affordable, and you wouldn’t have to futz around with offering multiple licenses. Even if the Member Module was $100, I could sell it!

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  32. <3

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    Tobias Wolf

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