"Ich habe dich lieb" versus "Ich liebe dich" - Germany

Difference between these two expressions of love

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My German boyfriend has started to say ich hab dich lieb. I just wanted to know if this the same as ich liebe dich ie: I love you or is there a different interpretation? A German friend of mine said ich hab dich lieb is different from romantic/ verliebt love, but more of a deep caring love. Your thoughts would be appreciated!
Is this a female asking?

Then I cant answer cause that would break the "male code of conduct(mcoc)".

Its not ask good as u think
'Ich hab dich lieb' is more of what a parent would say to a child, or something said between platonic friends. It is not a romantic expression of love, like 'Ich liebe dich'. I have no idea why your boyfriend is doing it, but if mine did I'd definitely be a little unsettled.

One thing to clarify: has your boyfriend said 'Ich liebe dich' in the past and is now changing to 'Ich hab dich lieb', or is this the first time he's ever said anything of the sort?
I am absolutely no expert at German but it looks to me like it means 'I have love for you'. From experience, when a bloke says this its completely different from I love you. Can't put my finger on it but like your friend said - its more like a caring love. Blokes normally say this when they want to break up with you (assuming that before they used to say I love you)! If they say it before they start saying 'I love you' then its quite sweet. More llike a toe in the water before taking the plunge and saying those 3 little words which are so scary for blokes!

But like I said, my German is rubbish so don't listen to me - its just how I would interperet it.
I would understand it as a pre-"I love you". It means he cares a lot about you but doesn't yet want to take the step of saying he loves you.
"I'm fond of you" or similar
I agree with Ruthie: definitely pre-love. Ich habe dich lieb for me means "You are dear to me" or "I'm very fond of you" or "I like you an awful lot", but not "I love you."
I would understand it as a pre-"I love you". It means he cares a lot about you but doesn't yet want to take the step of saying he loves you.
This is richtig! 'Hab dich lieb' is a milder expression when compared to 'Ich Liebe Dich'. Sometimes (depends on the context), it might mean that someone doesnt really love you, but cares about you. Depending on your position, feelings and how long you both have been together, you can figure out what that means. Einfach!
Based on my experiences with my now German wife, she began with "Ich habe dich lieb" before moving on to "Ich liebe dich". She also confirmed that the former has less intensity/depth than the latter, for her anyway.

Has your boyfriend previously said he loves you and has changed to "Ich habe dich lieb" (worry!) or has he begun expressing his feelings with "Ich habe dich lieb"? (Wait for the bended knee)
Thanx so much everyone, yes it started off as him saying 'ich hab dich gern' & now I see the progression!
Even if he said "Ich liebe Dich" before it's quite normal to say "Hab Dich lieb" every now and then.
You don't say "Ich liebe Dich" all the time or it would lose its meaning. "Hab Dich lieb." is a casual form that you say instead of goodbye for example.

How do i know? I'm a German male and i had foreign language girlfriends ;-) Americans saying "I love you" to everybody all the time are just as confusing. You do not seem to 'switch' between platonic, maternal or romantic love and just use the same expression for everything. It's probably not American per say, but based on the english language. I had scandinavian girlfriends and using english as a romantic language can be confusing, especially if neither side is native. Of course that goes for German vice versa.
To put a fine point on it, watch Fassbinder's Die Ehe der Maria Braun -- the difference is essential when the American occupying forces after WWII are trying a German woman for killing an American soldier, and the judge is mystified by her not-easily-translated differentiation between how she loved the soldier and how she loved her husband. The Wikipedia article contains spoilers btw.
Ich liebe dich -> Ich habe dich lieb -> Ich mag dich sehr -> Ich mag dich -> Ich mag dich dich ja noch -> Also irgendwie mag ich dich schon noch...

Be careful!
Americans saying "I love you" to everybody all the time are just as confusing.
But we also have different degrees. "I love you," "I really like you," " I like you," and we may say other things like "you're wonderful" or "I feel great when I'm with you" or other non-I-love-you phrases. I recall telling my husband just a few months after we'd met "I could see myself loving you."
So what is the normal progression here? Is it?
Ich treffen dich
Ich mag dich
Ich gern dich
Ich habe dich liebe
Ich liebe dich
Ich hasse dich
Ich dump dich
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