A Deeper Look into Various Content Management Systems

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The popularity surrounding open source code is not created on accident. Developers who can work together by sharing projects and functionality will create more stable websites over a shorter span of time. You have folks working on different aspects of the site which ultimately produces more bug fixed and cooler fixtures. But there are a mess of choices out there, it can be difficult finding what works the best.

In this article I would like to delve a bit deeper into some popular Content Management Systems. Web projects which gain traction often stick around the longest, and these frameworks can produce loads of new themes and modules. I won’t go too far with details of the inner-workings in each system. But we should concentrate more on the key aspects which make each CMS worthwhile.

Drupal CMS

The open source Drupal project has been around for a long time, and seen plenty of new iterations. I have only worked a brief period in the backend and the development is very clean. I feel that Drupal is good for any generic website, because there are so many possibilities for tweaks.

drupal cms open source project website

Drupal has its own getting started guide for beginners. There is a lot of stuff to understand about the admin panel, and the installation process is not as clean as WordPress. But for these tradeoffs Drupal is a seriously phenomenal CMS. You have the ability to manage users based on roles which also includes custom parameters. Similarly you can do this with your own custom post/page types as well.

There is a large number of themes and modules to download for extended functionality. This may be the case with many other CMS engines, but Drupal has been around for so long. The library is massive and contains a lot of nifty features. You can dig through the modules and themes pages for a better understanding.

But ultimately this is a CMS you should experience for yourself. Thanks to Opensource CMS you could also try a Drupal demo of the frontend or admin panel. Short of installing your own Drupal website on a local server, this live demo would be the quickest option for newcomers to get familiar with Drupal’s core.

Fork CMS

Second to Drupal for general CMS options would be Fork CMS. They are both written on PHP/MySQL and work using a similar compartmentalization of template codes vs page content. Although Fork is newer, the developers have been working really hard to publish new features and handle bug fixes. It is definitely a recommendation if you want to try something new.

Fork hosts a similar getting started guide which may be an interesting read, and even better I found that Fork hosts their own live demos which you can toy around for yourself. The admin panel is much more hidden than other similar CMS’. The options are also a bit more confusing but grow on you with time.

fork cms opensource website project screenshot 2013

Just recently it was announced that Fork will be switching template engines and using PHP Symfony as the main framework. This was a big anticipated change since it was announced, and so any new developers will be getting into a newer updated version of Fork. The changes are noticeable from previous versions and the templating engine is much easier to work with.

Fork offers users the ability to manage all types of posts and pages. Blogs, image galleries, user profiles, anything that you can think may be added into Fork. The modules system provides an effortless expansion of the backend variables and methods. Although it might be easier to hit the knowledge base and search for related questions.

WordPress

We all know and love WordPress so I don’t think there is too much new information that I can present. But I want to share how WordPress has transformed out of a mere blogging platform into the CMS market. The whole project is open source and has been since inception. I think the ability for people to publish their own blogs managed on their own server was revolutionary. It still is a powerful tool.

wordpress open source projects stackexchange overflow questions 2013 homepage

But the thing that makes WordPress even more lucrative is the library of tutorials, videos, blog posts, StackOverflow questions, and WP resources to be found all over the Internet. People who use WordPress are some of the most friendly supporters about sharing what they know. You can start out with zero knowledge of WordPress and pick up a lot of ideas with just a few days of practice & research.

Looking at newer websites I find that WordPress can be more than useful as an online magazine CMS. Publishers who are not interested in using physical printing would rather post their news online. It seems like WordPress is the best option for this type of website launch.

Aardvark Topsites

Probably a much lesser-known project which is admittedly very small, but can be helpful in tight niche communities. Aardvark Topsites is a free open source PHP script for ranking websites in a single gallery. You have the option of making different categories where users may signup, and the category lists will include all the top websites pulling in the most traffic.

aardvark topsites php script open source library

It is definitely not something for everybody and Aardvark does serve a very specific purpose. But there are not very many other scripts out there which have such an in-depth solution. Users are supposed to include a badge on their page which automatically updates their ranking number via PHP. Aardvark will log how many pageviews are displayed to each button and catalog the data every day, building up a ranking system for each website.

For topics with a more refined audience, building a topsite listing is an easy service to a select few people. The Topsites CMS is not difficult to manage, templates are a breeze, and the official Aardvark site has an online manual for answering the most common questions. The CMS is great for networking among similar websites and helping to drive traffic from Google searches.

phpBB

To wrap up the whole article I thought it would be nice to switch focus onto bulletin board forums. Namely one of the most popular open source projects phpBB. The website has been online for years and their community has only gotten larger. It obviously runs on PHP/MySQL which is most commonly supported on all webhosts.

demo testing phpbb forums script

The team has setup a live demo where you can login as the administrator to see how the backend works. Also you can see how templates are setup on various page types, such as forum listings or threaded posts. They have also put together a dynamic styles demo where you can switch between different themes in the forum skin. This is a nice method to get a feeling of how phpBB themes are often structured.

I think anybody interested in using a forum product should consider phpBB. The WordPress forums are simply plugins, and this goes the same with Drupal and all the other CMS’ which are not originally forum projects. You can find a list of features on the phpBB website and you may be surprised at how much is offered in an open source bulletin board system.

Final Thoughts

I should express this is not an exhaustive list of all your choices for open source – far from it! There are so many similar projects available online, and developers are publishing new ideas every month, but this list defines a series of brands I have noticed for a few years now. Spend a bit of time researching on your own and you may be surprised at the barriers you can surmount by starting with open source codes. Additionally, you may share your ideas or questions with us in the post discussion area.

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Jake Rocheleau

Jake is a writer and user experience designer on the web. He currently publishes development tutorials and articles related to startups and user interface design. Find out more on his website or you can follow his updates on Twitter @jakerocheleau

Comments

30 comments on “A Deeper Look into Various Content Management Systems

  1. Hi Jake. Obviously you couldn’t feature all the opensource cms’s, but have a look a ProcessWire. I’m confident you will be surprised and will include it on your next list ;)

  2. I’ve also used WordPress for all my recent sites and it has worked very nicely for my customer needs. It is very nice that they can learn to do upkeep on their site after I am done building it.

    • Hi Gonçalo. You are right about it being simple and extensible. It’s also scalable and very easy to develop with. Jump in the forum if you have any doubts, the community is always ready to help the newcomers :)

  3. I am new to the whole web design thing. So how does a CMS work? Do you design a normal website and then add on the CMS to it, or do you have to build CMS specific templates or what exactly?

    • Hey Justin,

      Each CMS will have a different templating engine. It is usually easier to code your basic layout first using HTML/CSS and then move that over into the backend. Themes/Templates usually have mixed codes for dynamic content, for example WordPress uses PHP functions within the HTML templates.

      They require a bit if study to understand but it is 100x easier managing dynamic websites rather than static pages. As many have said WordPress is usually the easiest entry-level choice because of all the resources online. But every CMS will offer some type of theme feature which gives you control over the markup. Hope this helps!

    • I’ve found that people new to CMS’s tend to find Drupal very hard when working into your pre written HTML/CSS, WordPress however is extremely easy.

    • It depends on the CMS. With MODX you can code straight up HTML and CSS to use as your site templates (themes) then drop tags into your HTML to make your content more Dynamic. Check out the free MODX lab accounts if you want to have a go. Documentation is not too bad and community support is great. Cheers. Tom.

  4. I understand that you can’t put every single Content Management System here… But one you MUST check out is MODx. Specifically MODx Revolution, you will only be pleased.

    • Yes! Definitely. I use MODX and MODX Cloud. Awesome CMS and can be heavily customised to your requirements. Aaron, wouldn’t mine hooking up with you to share ideas and best practice. Cheers. Tom

  5. I usually stick with WordPress unless I’m building an app like teamtreehouse.com, clients love it, it’s easy and fast to develop themes, easy to teach to juniors and has a very active community.

  6. Thanks for the article Jake! I’ve been using WordPress for all my client websites for the last several years. It works pretty well, but the editing experience is a little confusing for clients with more advanced layouts.

    One new and upcoming CMS is Barley CMS. If you google that you can see how it doesn’t have an admin panel and relies exclusively on inline-editing – definitely an interesting idea!

  7. I either use WordPress or ExpressionEngine (built on CodeIgniter). I worked with Drupal, but definitely prefer EE.

  8. I use Refinery is a simple, easy to use, well presented content manager for small businesses

  9. Nice article, I am working on Joomla for many years for all my customers websites, Joomla is flexible and one of the powerful CMS.

  10. Do you PODS Framework? it is a fantastic WP Plugin that brings a lot of functionalities to make your WordPress in a complete CMS … podsframework.org