So What Exactly IS a CMS?

May 4, 2015 by Patrick Harris, originally for Six Degrees

In the Web world, CMS is a three-letter abbreviation seen often. It stands for content management system. A CMS is a Web application designed to manage a website from creation to updating and beyond. It takes much of the technical work upon itself to make building and managing a website more accessible to the nontechnical user.

A CMS is composed of two parts. It is composed of the editing component, which is called the content management application (CMA), and the publishing tool, which is called the content delivery application (CDA).

There are several Web-based content management systems available, but a few consume the vast majority of CMS-based websites. Below are the “Big Three”:
• WordPress
• Joomla
• Drupal

WordPress is the most widely used CMS by a long shot. It began as a platform for blogging and is still used as such by many. That being said, it has grown to facilitate websites of all types. According to a survey conducted in January 2015, WordPress accounts for 23.8 percent of websites on the Internet. The WordPress CMS is a favorite over Joomla and Drupal by designers for its ease of use and design customization capabilities through the CSS and PHP languages and its wide selection of off-the-shelf plug-ins. WordPress uses “themes,” which are bundles containing back-end files to determine the appearance of a site to the user. There are many free themes available as well as customizable commercial themes for purchase.

Joomla has many customization capabilities and boasts a large developer community. It is open-source, which means the community is able to constantly develop and improve it. However, its selection of add-ons is much smaller than that of Drupal and WordPress. Similar to WordPress, Joomla utilizes “templates” similar to the themes that are utilized by Drupal and WordPress. As with other systems, there are existing templates for download or you can create your own.

Drupal is a system that many developers favor. It is the most customizable from a development standpoint. The install includes the base of the CMS. This allows the user to create a basic website. The system gains its extended functionality through its large availability of add-ons. The downside to Drupal is that it is not as user-friendly and takes time to learn to use. Unlike WordPress or Joomla, when there is an update available, moving to the next version is a big process. Often users will not upgrade due to difficulty in updating modules.

With all this talk about content management systems and their role in modern Web design, I don’t want to sit here and say that the static Web page is dead. I think they are a great idea … if you want to design a website, crawl through code every time you need to update, and keep the same thing up there for the next decade.

On the other hand, I prefer the ease of publishing content, updating styles and designing and maintaining a living, breathing and current site.