Back in the old days (10 years ago in Internet years) a web designer was consider a magician of some sort who could – by writing some code – create web pages that were later accessed by everyone via web browser. The pages were written as static individual files, one file for every single page. Each small change in the site content, navigation, look required the web designer to edit every single page, one by one to make the changes consistent across the whole site.
Open Source to the rescue
Luckily the introduction of free, open source software, especially Linux operating system gave a way for Content Management System (CMS). The trio of application included in every Linux installation (Apache web server, MySQL database and PHP language) enabled smart programmers to create wide variety of CMS systems. The idea behind them is to help publishers, website builders to create, publish and edit website dynamically from back-end administration panel.
The days of static sites seemed to be finally gone.
No matter which system we choose, they all require 3 elements – installation files (downloaded from creator’s website), hosting account (to store these files and make them accessible all the time) and a database connection (content, setup information, user accounts are stored inside a database). The last 2 elements usually come together when we sign in for a hosting plan.
One websites, multiply user
Websites built with CMS system can be edited not just by one user – administrator. The system allows to crate multiply users who can access the admin panel and make changes. Using built in permission levels we can limit each user whether they’re able to create, edit, delete only selected parts of the site. We can also create approval system where users with higher level of access must approve new content before it’s being publish.
Content separated from layout
The content created in CMS based website is stored inside a database. It is no longer hard coded inside static HTML pages. The presentation or the layout of the site is done initially by a designer and once the layout is finalised and approved an owner of the site can “take over” the administration and concentrate only on content creation. It is no longer necessary to know coding language in order to keep the site up-to-date, change the navigation menu or add extra features.
Plugins, modules, templates…
Each CMS systems offers basic functionality straight after the installation and setup. This functionality can be extended by additional plugins. Each platform calls them differently (plugins, modules, extensions) but the basic idea is to introduce extra functionality that was not possible in original system. This may be a simple image gallery, homepage slideshow, e-commerce store, live chat window etc.
Another group of extensions are templates (or themes). Their function is to change the layout/look of the website. Each systems offers a default theme to present the content but every site owner wants their site to look different and original.
The plugins and well as templates can be installed for free – these can be found on CMS authors own website (some systems offers them right inside administration menu) – but they’re also offered as a premium, paid products.
Popular system used in 2015
A website is no longer a static representation of text and images that’s used to be updated every few months. People expect a website to be always up to date, filled with fresh content regularly. This means picking the right CMS for the job is essential.
When we approach a potential client we always ask about the purpose of the website. This help us to determine the best system to use. The most popular systems in use currently are:
Started as a blogging platform it is now the most popular system in the world, with over 20% of all website running on WordPress. The system gained its popularity thanks to its easy of use, approachable administration backend, huge choice of plugins and themes.
Drupal is used for high traffic, heavy-duty sites like Whitehouse.gov or whether.com. It’s flexibility allows to create different content types, setup very detailed access permissions. Thanks to the vast numbers of module expanding the system we can create very complex sites without coding skills.
This systems sits between the two. It’s easy to administer but still allows to create complex layouts and permission levels.
Other CMS’s in use
There is another big group if CMS systems that are used commonly across the web. That’s e-commerce. On-line shopping is growing more and more among customers so every company that sells (products, services, digital downloads) needs to be ready for them. Each of the platforms mentioned above can be extended via plugins and extensions to become an e-commerce platform but there are also CMS system built specifically to serve on-line clientele.
Probably the most popular of all. It’s used to run heavy-traffic, huge catalogue sites like Nike, Liverpool FC, Pepe Jeans.
The youngest of the bunch but very easy to use and setup. Recommended to run small to medium size stores (up to 20,000 products)
This systems is gaining in popularity the most recently. The last version offers the most features out-of-the-box which helps building a functional store without a need of purchasing extra modules.
It’s hardly rare to find anyone not using some sort of CMS system to create a website nowadays. Thanks to their ease of use and accessibility, owners can update the sites themselves – thus CMS is the only way to go. The most popular systems are constantly developed which means all security issues are quickly resolved but also each system update brings new features and functionalities.