While developing a commercial WordPress plugin one element you’ll probably want to add is automatic updates for your customers. They’re used to it from free plugins in the WordPress.org repository, so why not make it an easy transition for them with your premium plugin.
Why software license keys?
To verify each install of your plugin is valid, you’ll need to generate a unique license key for each purchase. Each customer then gets the same seamless one-click updates as you release them. No re-downloading, FTP uploads, or any of that nonsense.
A unique license key can also serve as a check when the customer creates (or you create) an account in your support system. You can take it further and log the sites the plugin and license key are being used on to make sure you’re only supporting the number of sites it’s intended for.
It’s not a requirement to provide a license key or automatic updates for a premium WordPress plugin, but it sure makes support and maintenance easier.
Options for the auto-updater only
Developing your own auto-updater and license key system was the most popular way up until there was a few more options in 2012. Quite possibly still the most popular.
If you’ve already established a purchase and delivery system for your plugin, and you don’t mind adding a license key generator yourself, here are a few sources to get the auto-updater working.
A Guide to the WordPress HTTP API: Automatic Plugin Updates by Abid Omar – This is a pretty extensive WP Tuts tutorial complete with screenshots and source files.
Plugins for the complete package: Purchase, delivery, license key and auto-updater
Since I was in the market for a complete premium plugin package (digital delivery plus a license key and auto-update system), I turned towards the e-commerce plugins that provided all of this along with good documentation and support.
At this time, I only know of two.
This is what I went with when I launched Pinterest “Pin It” Button Pro in the fall of 2012. I was fortunate in my timing in that EDD + SL was out there to use even though it was fairly new. There were a few technical issues along the way, but the products have matured a ton since release and I get fantastic support from Pippin and crew. There is extensive documentation and code snippets on how to integrate with your commercial plugin.
If EDD + SL didn’t work out for me I would’ve tried out WC + Software. I love the themes and plugins over at WooThemes and you can’t deny the widespread usage of WooCommerce in the WordPress e-commerce space (digital goods or not). I’d love to hear if any plugin shops out there are using this setup and how they like it. They have documentation for the add-on and I know their support is great.
Hosted complete package solutions
Updated October 2017
Using a hosted solution to help you issue software licenses for your premium WordPress plugins, as well as handle automatic updates for your users, can save quite a bit of time. Managing and controlling all of your users’ licenses from a dashboard can make life so much easier and convenient.
One service built specifically for WordPress plugin and themes is Freemius, which is pretty easy to integrate into your plugin. It lets your free users upgrade their license directly from within their WordPress admin dashboards. You can still sell licenses from any website like you normally would with premium plugins, but all using the same WordPress software licensing service. What’s nice is that their premium plugins update mechanism is that it mimics the official WordPress plugins update technology, enabling a super smooth updating process for your customers.
The below solution is currently on hold indefinitely.
SellWP is the “easiest way to start selling your WordPress themes and plugins.” It’s a brand new hosted solution right around the corner and comes from John Turner, the developer behind the Coming Soon Pro plugin.
You’ll still set up your marketing website as you normally would, but this solution provides the rest for you (yes the purchase, delivery, license key and auto-updater).
If you’re interested go check out the new video and sign up on the launch list over at SellWP.