Did you know there is more than one type of ArchiCAD license? For whatever personal reasons this is on my mind recently. So let’s talk about license and key types. And yes I admit this is more nerdy than day-to-day helpful. Nevertheless, I think you’ll enjoy the post and learn a thing or two.

First the Form

21 pin keyThere’s the classic 21-pin key. Did you know that? They are rare these days. I know a firm in Minneapolis that was still using their 21-pin keys up until early 2012. Before they upgraded from ArchiCAD 7 to ArchiCAD 15, they called me because their computers no longer had 21-pin connections. So they had to buy special 21-pin to USB adapters. How archaic! Which the upgrade they had to trade in their collector’s items.

After the 21-pin key came the second evolution of the WIBU key: the traditional turquoise WIBU key that looks like a regular USB thumb drive. These keys still work, but you can no longer get new ones. They lack some of the functionality of their replacements. From the ArchiCADwiki:

wibukeyThe internal memory of a WibuKey does not allow supporting more than 3 products. Therefore it can not hold all the key-protected Graphisoft products (ArchiCAD, EcoDesigner, BIMx and MEP Modeler ) at the same time. This is why CodeMeter, as a newer option was introduced with ArchiCAD 13. WibuKey also does not support license borrowing. Running different versions of ArchiCAD parallel on a computer may result more than one used license on the Wibu Server. For details see: ProtectionKey#WibuKey_compatibility

The latest (and current) iteration of the ArchiCAD key is the CodeMeter key. This is the fancy, shiny silver key. As mentioned above it was introduced with ArchiCAD 13. If you have a CodeMeter key and want to use ArchiCAD 10-12, you need to download the CodeMeter Enabler. If you have a codemeterCodeMeter key and need to run ArchiCAD 9 or earlier… wait, why would you possibly need to run ArchiCAD 9 or earlier? Instead use the ArchiCAD 10 file converter to open files as far back as ArchiCAD 6.5. If you really need to open files that are even older, I bet they are on floppy disks or Jaz Drives. Best to just find the printed documents and build from scratch what you need in the latest version of ArchiCAD.

Back on track now… the CodeMeter key is very flexible. It can have lots of licenses on it (ArchiCAD plus all the add-ons… and then some). Much of what follows applies to the CodeMeter key.

Followed by the Function

Not for Resale Key (NFR key) — This is the license your reseller or friendly Graphisoft Employee has access to. Simply put, it’s a key for official business, not doing design work. We’ll gloss over this one. It’s just interesting to know it exists.

Educational License — This license is renewable yearly while you’re a student (www.myarchicad.com) and is keyless. All you need is an activation code, which you can get via myarchicad.com. For a real nice FAQ on using your Education Version of ArchiCAD, Graphisoft Australia has an old but still good list.

Full License — (Commercial License) What you’re most familiar with. Someone bought a seat of ArchiCAD and that license sits on a key. FOREVER. If you have a 21-pin key from ArchiCAD 5.0 and you never upgraded, you still own and can use ArchiCAD 5.0 with that key. FOREVER. Well that’s not true. Because I bet you there isn’t a computer used professionally in an architecture firm in the USA that’s old enough to still run ArchiCAD 5.0. I know no Mac produced in the last few years could possibly run that version of ArchiCAD (or any ArchiCAD older than 10). Similarly I wouldn’t be surprised if a Windows 8 machine couldn’t run a version that old. Anyways, if you have that key, it’s yours. And you could still upgrade it to ArchiCAD 16 or whatever the current version is. Though you’d have to trade in your key because it’s too old. But still it’s yours. Anyways, this is the key you’re probably most familiar with.

Rental License — (Commercial License) Did you know you can rent ArchiCAD by the month? Yup. In intervals of 1 month, 3 month, 6 month, and 12 months. Until recently you could also rent ArchiCAD by the hour in the USA. I loved the hourly keys, but alas they are gone. I really like the rental licenses because if your workload isn’t permanently going up, or you’re not sure yet, you can plug the gap by renting the extra capacity you need. Or if you’re doing some short-term moonlighting…

Network Key — Does your firm have a lot of keys? Are you always concerned about someone losing one? Or spilling Dr Pepper on one? Crushing one under their chair? Or jamming one into a pear (yes I’ve had a coworker accidentally do that when both his key and a pear were in the same bag… don’t ask)? Well instead of having 10 licenses on 10 keys, you can have 10 licenses on 1 CodeMeter key. And then all the machines with ArchiCAD on them just need to connect to the server that has the key. A much cleaner and nicer solution than worrying about lost, stolen, or broken keys. Though as an aside if you have your keys on an ArchiPLUS subscription you don’t need to worry as much about broken keys, or stolen ones.

License Borrowing — This is a great feature that works in conjunction with Network Keys. More and more of us use laptops instead of desktops. And we work all over the place. At the office, at home, on the road, on site, in coffee shops, you name it. Furthermore having to worry about the WIBU or CodeMeter key sticking out of your machine is always annoying. As is remembering to bring the key with you and making sure not to store it with your fruit or drinks. License Borrowing allows you to virtually borrow a license or temporarily put it on an empty CodeMeter key. Going virtual means the physical CodeMeter key is safely at the office in the server room, while the license is where ever you are. The licenses can be Charlie wearing his regular glassesborrowed for up to a month. Whether you have 1 key or 100 keys you can set up license borrowing so that your USB key doesn’t get carted around (though I know there’s a max number of licenses that can be put on a single Network Key). And since you can borrow remotely AND recall remotely (I think), as long as you can access the server with the key on it, you don’t have to worry about forgetting the key. The other great function of License Borrowing is they are perfect for freelancers and engineers. Are you working on a huge project and need some help? Or want the structural engineer or contractor to have access to the model? Well if you have license borrowing, they can (with your permission) access one of your keys remotely to do their work. And you don’t have to worry about them losing, keeping, or breaking the key. Now that’s all a bit big picture. For more details and answers, you can read the wiki article on License Borrowing or talk to your local reseller. I know I glossed over a few things.

Add-on Licenses — Licenses for add-ons like MEP, EcoDesigner STAR, & BIMx can also be part of Network Keys (in addition to living on a regular CodeMeter key). Which means they can be borrowed on a first come, first served basis, or taken for remote use.

What else am I forgetting?

I know I’m missing a few things. I didn’t talk about 30-Day Trial Licenses or STAR(T) Edition Licenses, but this post is already long enough. Read more about those and all the other license types here. In addition, that link has a good chart of file compatibility between license types. I should mention that all this information is what I’ve gleaned, read, and researched over the years. Anyone with more official knowledge or authority want to add some corrections or clarifications in the comments? I saw a mention of some ancient pre-WIBU keys: Rainbow Sentinel and Microguard. Anyone old school enough to know what those are? Other than maybe robots from some cool 80s anime I wish I watched as a child…

So who else has questions about keys and licenses?

For all the latest drivers for WIBU and Codemeter keys, click here.


  1. Ryan Lillion

    This is a great summary! From what I’ve observed, most people aren’t aware of all the key options available from Graphisoft (particularly network keys) or the benefits of each. I started at the firm I’m at in late 2000, and almost all the users were on the 21-pin. It wasn’t easy back then to convince them to spend on upgrading to USB, and now I’m trying to convince them of the value of network keys. I’ll probably use this article to communicate to the partners of my firm where the money is going and why. This comment will be included in the presentation 🙂

  2. Martin

    Please replace these kinds of hardware dongles with networked activated licenses Like Autodesk products, artlantis etc.

    I have a small office and a home office too. And I always haft to take my key with me all the time and be affraid not to loose this key (which I have done once). So I would be soooo happy if you you change this way to license.

  3. Jared Banks

    Martin, the concept and functionality of the network keys and license borrowing is exactly what you’re looking for. It works wonderfully for large firms, but it’d work great for a sole proprietor as well. I’d recommend talking more with your local reseller about how it’d best work in your situation.

  4. Jakub Adamek

    Hi Jared, my mom is still using ArchiCAD 6.5 and she has no reason to upgrade. The LPT key is quite a problem. Do you by any chance remember more about the LPT to USB converter that can be used? Thanks a lot.

    • Jared Banks

      ArchiCAD 6.5 is 15 years old, but the 21 pin key is probably the bigger issue. That technology was superseded by USB is 1996 (18+ years ago). Doing some research many manufacturers have even discontinued making adapter cables between the two technologies. And current operating systems (most or all) aren’t designed to recognize the data coming through without additional software.

      There might be some herculean effort doable to get the key to work, but I recommend looking at upgrading. Using 6.5 means she can’t use any modern computers and is wasting so much time doing things in an archaic fashion. If she doesn’t use ArchiCAD for professional work, I recommend looking into getting an EDU license. If it is for professional work, the cost of upgrading from 6.5 to 18 is the same as going from 15 to 18. So it’s a pretty incredible deal. And the amount of time she’ll save just doing what she does in 6.5 with the tools of 18 will pay for itself insanely fast.

  5. Moit Maru

    I have lost my CodeMeter key (Silver Dongle) before I have even registered the product, I am paying yearly subscription, do I have to pay for it to be replaced?

    • Jared Banks

      Please contact your local reseller. They will be able to help you out.

  6. Cody Fox

    Not a fan of hardware dingle at all.

  7. jeff gard

    question on upgrade to archicad 20 from 10
    the memory stick that came with my new license states will replace the # from my wibukey. Does that mean my old license will no longer work. I am afraid my 10 year old mac might not work with the new key or some other issue could freeze me out of my archive files. Will my old wibu work to access old archives document.

    • Jared Banks

      Jeff, I’d recommend reaching out to tech support. This post talks a bit about the situation you’re in as well, but in general…

      1) A codemeter key (silver key) will run ARCHICAD 10 and newer.
      2) ARCHICAD 20 can open ARCHICAD 8.1 or newer files.
      3) ARCHICAD 10 can open ARCHICAD 6.5 or newer.

      So…as long as your files are 8.1 or newer you’ve got nothing to worry about regarding older files.

      The bigger concern I have is that you’re using a 10 year old mac. I can’t imagine that computer being able to run ARCHICAD 20——from either a hardware or OS perspective.


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