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marcorobiati edited this page Sep 23, 2022 · 6 revisions

License3j Free License management for Java

License3j is a free and open source Java library to manage license files in Java programs that need technical license management enforcement support. A license file is a special configuration file, which is electronically signed. The library can create, sign such license files and can also check the signature and parameters of the license file when embedded into the licensed application.

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License3j is a Java library that can be used to create and assert license files. This way Java programs can enforce the users to compensate their use of the software in the form of payment. This is the usual way when closed source programs are distributed.

License management alone does not guarantee that the program will not be stolen, pirated or used in any illegal way. However, license management may increase the difficulty to use the program illegal and therefore may drive users to become customers. There is another effect of license management which is legal. If there is sufficient license management illegal users have less probability to successfully claim their use was based on the lack of or false knowledge of license conditions.

License3j is an open source license manager that you can use free of charge for non-profit purposes.

what is the use of a license manager for nonprofit purposes? Nothing. And we did not want to make a software that is of no use. Therefore this license manager is free to use for profit purposes as well under the license terms covered by Apache 2.0 license as defined on the web page

What is a license License3j handles

A license for License3j is a collection of features. Each feature has a name, a type, and a value. The name can be any string you like, but there are some predefined names that have special meaning for the license management library. The type of a feature can be

  • BINARY can contain an arbitrary binary value that is retrieved by the Java code as a byte[] array
  • STRING can contain any string, will be retrieved as java.lang.String
  • BYTE contains a single byte value.
  • SHORT contains a single short value
  • INT contains an integer (int) value
  • LONG contains a long value
  • FLOAT contains a float value
  • DOUBLE contains a double value
  • BIGINTEGER contains a big integer value
  • BIGDECIMAL contains a big decimal value
  • DATE contains a date value
  • UUID contains a UUID value

The value of the different features can be retrieved as the corresponding Java object or a primitive value. There is no automatic conversion between the different types of the features.

When the license is saved to a file it can be saved binary, base64 or text.

  • BINARY format is suitable to store in a file. This is also the shortest, most compact format of the license. It may not be suitable to be sent over the internet inside and eMail and is not directly editable.
  • BASE64 format is the same as the binary format but it is encoded using the base64 encoding
  • TEXT format is a human readable format, suitable for editing in a text editor, looking at the actual content of the license without any special tool. The text format is always encoded UTF-8 character set.

All three formats are suitable to store the license information and when a program is protected using License3j it can be programmed to read only one, two and all three formats. The license object created in the JVM memory as a result of reading the license file is the same independent of the source format.

When a program is protected using License3j the application has a small code fragment that checks the existence of a license file, the validity of the license and it can also use the parameters encoded in the license as license features.

Load a license from a file

To read a license from a file you need a object

try (var reader = new LicenseReader('license.bin')) {
    License license =;
} catch (IOException e) {
    error("Error reading license file " + e);

This will read the license from the file license.bin assuming that the license is there in binary format. In case the license file is not readable or has different format either IOException or IllegalArgumentException will be thrown. If the license is not binary then the code should use the read method with the format argument either or

Check signature on the license

The license is read from the file even if it is not signed. A license can be signed, unsigned or it may have a compromised signature. Reading the license does not check either the existence of the signature nor the validity of that. To check the existence and the validity of the signature the application needs the public key. Licenses are signed using public key cryptography, where a private key is used to sign the license and the corresponding public key is used to check the authenticity of the signature. The public key can be read from a file, or it can be hard-coded in the application. The latter is recommended.

To embed the public key into the application you have to have a public key at the first place. To create a key pair you should start the interactive application built into the License3j library.

$ java -cp license3j-3.0.0.jar javax0.license3j.Repl

This will start with an interactive prompt where you can enter commands. The prompt you will see is L3j> $ .

To generate a key pair you have to enter the command:

generateKeys algorithm=RSA size=1024 format=BINARY public=public.key private=private.key

This will generate the public and the private keys and save them into the files public.key and private.key. Also the keys remain loaded into the REPL application. To embed this key into the application you can execute the command digestPublicKey that will dump the Java code to the screen, something like:

byte [] digest = new byte[] {
(byte)0x04, (byte)0x1D, (byte)0x2C, (byte)0xF1, (byte)0x56, (byte)0xFB, (byte)0x06, (byte)0x43, 

... some lines are deleted as actual values are irrelevant ...

(byte)0x98, (byte)0xB6, (byte)0xD9, (byte)0x60, (byte)0x51, (byte)0x9E, (byte)0xA2, 
byte [] key = new byte[] {
(byte)0x81, (byte)0x9F, (byte)0x30, (byte)0x0D, (byte)0x06, (byte)0x09, (byte)0x2A, (byte)0x86, 
(byte)0x48, (byte)0x86, (byte)0xF7, (byte)0x0D, (byte)0x01, (byte)0x01, (byte)0x01, (byte)0x05, 
(byte)0x00, (byte)0x03, (byte)0x81, (byte)0x8D, (byte)0x00, (byte)0x30, (byte)0x81, (byte)0x89, 

... some lines are deleted as actual values are irrelevant ...

(byte)0xE3, (byte)0xBB, (byte)0xE3, (byte)0xB1, (byte)0x67, (byte)0xAC, (byte)0x2A, (byte)0x9D, 
(byte)0x9D, (byte)0x67, (byte)0xB0, (byte)0x9D, (byte)0x3A, (byte)0xDE, (byte)0x48, (byte)0xA5, 
(byte)0x2A, (byte)0xE8, (byte)0xBB, (byte)0xC6, (byte)0xE2, (byte)0x39, (byte)0x0D, (byte)0x41, 
(byte)0xDF, (byte)0x76, (byte)0xD0, (byte)0xA7, (byte)0x02, (byte)0x03, (byte)0x01, (byte)0x00, 

The digest is the SHA-512 digest of the public key. If you want to arrange your code so that it loads the public key from a file or from some external resource you can check the key against the stored digest to ensure that the key is really the one to use to check the signature. The recommended way, however, is to copy and paste into your application the second array that is the actual public key.

Having a loaded license and the public key it is fairly straightforward to check the validity of the license. All you have to invoke is


This call will return true if the license is signed and the license signature can be verified using the key argument. If this call returns false, the license should not be used as a reliable source for rights configuration.

When the license is verified the features can be retrieved using the names of the features. The call to license.get(name) will return the feature of the name name. To get the actual value of the feature you can call feature.getXxx() where Xxx is the feature type. You can also check the type of a feature calling one of the feature.isXxx() but, honestly, your code has to know it. You create the license, and you check that the license is intact using digital signature before calling any of the getXxx() methods, thus it is not likely that you try to fetch the wrong type unless you have a bug in your code.

License formats

License Binary and Base64

Binary and base64 formats are essentially the same. The Base64 format is the same as the binary, only it is encoded using the base64 encoding to ensure that only printable characters are in the license. Neither of the forms is directly readable by a human using a simple text editor. You can however, read and convert any of the formats using the REPL application included in the library.

The binary representation of the license starts with the bytes 0xCE, 0x21, 0x5E, 0x4E. This is followed by the features in binary format, each feature preceded with the length of the feature 4bytes. The feature starts with the type of the feature in four bytes. Since there are a limited amount of types there is plenty of room for introducing new types. This is followed by the length of the name also in four bytes. Some of the types have fixed length. If the type is a fixed length then the value follows. If the value for the given type can be variable length then the length of the value is followed on four bytes. This is followed by the actual bytes that encode the value of the feature.

License Text

The textual format of the license is text, obviously, encoded using the UTF-8 character set. Each line in the file is a feature or a feature continuation line in case the feature value is represented on multiple lines.

A line describing a feature starts with the name of the feature. This is followed by the type of the feature separated by a : from the name. The type is written in all capital letters as listed above BINARY, STRING, BYTE etc. The type is followed by a = and then comes the value of the feature. The type along with the separating : can be missing in case it is STRING.

The values are encoded as text in a human-readable and editable way. When a value cannot fit on a single line, for example, a multi-line string then the feature value starts with the characters << and it is followed by a string till the end of the line which does not appear in the value. The following lines contain the value of the feature until a line contains the string, which was after the << characters on the start line. This is similar to the "here string" syntax of UNIX shell.

License3j REPL application

Download and Installation

The License3j module can be downloaded from the Sonatype central repository. To search the central repo follow the URL

If you use maven you can insert the lines


in to your pom.xml file.

Note on release history

License3j versions 1.x.x and 2.0.0 were released for Java 1.5 ... 1.8. The release 3.0.0 is a total rewrite of the library. Neither the API not the binary formats are compatible with previous versions. It is also released only for Java 11 and later and there is no planned backport release for Java 8 or earlier.

License3j prior to version 3.0.0 has a dependency to Bouncy Castle encryption library. The version 3.0.0 and later breaks this dependency and this version is standalone. Also, this version can be used to generate the keys, sign licenses and does not need the external gpg tool.

Name of the game

There are many names that contain '2'. In these cases '2' stands for 'to' instead of 'two'. There are names containing '4' that stands for 'for'. For example license4j.

'3' in license3j stands for 'free' instead of 'three'. Because this is a free program.