Running Red Hat Enterprise Linux without a subscription

This content is 17 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I’ve written previously about why open source software is not really free (as in monetary value), just free (as in freedom). Companies such as Red Hat and Novell (SUSE) make their money from support and during Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) setup, it is “strongly recommended” that the system is set up for software updates via Red Hat Network (RHN), citing the benefits of an RHEL subscription as:

  • “Security and updates: receive the latest software updates, including security updates, keeping [a] Red Hat Enterprise Linux system updated and secure.
  • Downloads and upgrades: download installation images for Red Hat Enterprise Linux releases, including new releases.
  • Support: Access to the technical support experts at Red Hat or Red Hat’s partners for help with any issues you might encounter with [a] system.
  • Compliance: Stay in compliance with your subscription agreement and manage subscriptions for systems connected to [an] account at

You will not be able to take advantage of these subscriptions privileges without connecting [a] system to Red Hat Network.”

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 installer

Take a look at Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and you’ll see that it’s actually quite expensive – a standard subscription for a machine with up to 2 processor sockets including 1 year’s 12×5 telephone support, 1 year of web access and unlimited incidents is €773.19 [source: Red Hat Online Shop, Europe]. That is not something that I can afford and even though Red Hat gave me a copy of RHEL 5 as part of my recent training, it only includes a 30-day subscription. Now they have launched Red Hat Exchange – a new service whereby third party open source software solutions are purchased, delivered and supported via a single, standardized Red Hat subscription agreement with consolidated billing covering the complete application stack. It’s a great idea, but the pricing for some of the packages makes using proprietary alternatives seem quite competitive.

In fairness to Red Hat, they sponsor the Fedora Project for users like me, who could probably make do with a community-supported release (Fedora is free for anyone to use modify and distribute) but there is another option – CentOS (the community enterprise operating system), which claims to be:

“An Enterprise-class Linux Distribution derived from sources freely provided to the public by a prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor. CentOS conforms fully with the upstream vendor[‘]s redistribution policy and aims to be 100% binary compatible. (CentOS mainly changes packages to remove upstream vendor branding and artwork.) CentOS is free.”

Hmm… so which North American Enterprise Linux vendor might that be then ;-)

So what about RHEL systems for which the subscription has expired? I’m not sure what the legal standpoint is but there is a way to receive updated software using an unregistered copy of RHEL. Firstly, configuring additional repositories like Dag Wieer’s RPMForgethere are even RPMs available to set up the correct repository! Then, there are the various RPM search sites on the ‘net, including:

I’ve found that using these, even if there is not an appropriate RHEL or generic RPM available, there is often a CentOS RPM (which often still carries the el5 identifier in the filename). These should be safe to install on an RHEL system and in those rare cases when a bleeding edge package is required, there may well be a Fedora version that can be used. So it seems that I can continue to run a Linux distribution that is recognised by most software vendors, even when my RHN subscription expires.

5 thoughts on “Running Red Hat Enterprise Linux without a subscription

  1. Hey Mark —

    I’m writing up a series on Linux support and this story you’ve told above was a great example of what I’m looking for. More specifically, what are the challenges or weaknesses that might exist in your current support structure? What are the strengths? When you deal with a Linux vendor or an open source company, is the support the same as if you were dealing with IBM or another proprietary company? Why or why not? How do you feel about this? Are you willing to make a sacrifice or two on support if the price is right? Could you name the criteria you use or you think other IT managers should use when evaluating support programs?

    From the sounds of things, you might be able to address some of those with your experiences with RH, RHN, and CentOS.

    For some reference, there’s one article already done, and it was on CentOS: CentOS lures Red Hatters with software upgrades Seems like you may be having similar questions and concerns.


  2. Hi Jack,
    Thanks for your comments – I’m glad you found this interesting. I should probably point out that shortly after I wrote this post, I took on a new role within my company’s Microsoft Practice which means that my professional life doesn’t cross too many Linux vendors (although I did listen to a webcast about the Microsoft-Novell relationship a few days back). In fact, my RHEL5 installation has already raised a few eyebrows in the office and I’ll need to rebuild my laptop to run something more politically correct over the next few days!

    To pick up your question on support, whilst the story may be different for SMEs, I’m not sure that many corporates will forego the support when moving to Linux – that’s what the likes of Red Hat and Novell have built their business model on. That contrasts starkly with It departments running mostly on Windows, where I know of many organisations that only purchase ad-hoc support incidents as required, rather than taking out annual support contracts. I guess this has a lot to do with the relative scarcity (and associated cost) of good Linux tech skills whereas us Microsofties are two-a-penny and the all-pervasive nature of Windows means that a) organisations can muddle through and b) someone – possibly me – has already blogged something about whatever the issue is on the Internet.


  3. I would like to know, is it compulsory to renew RHEL Standard/Premuim / Virtual Datacenter Support & Subscription even if we want to use those product after subscription end date without any support requirement from Redhat from compliance point ?

  4. and also is there any restriction of the usage in the production environment after subscription end date?

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