Alchemy CMS: the open source project based on Ruby on Rails

The CMS framework Alchemy CMS was first published in 2007, and has been free to use under the BSD license since 2010. It’s being developed further by the Hamburg-based software company magic labs and by the large community of users of the programmer platform GitHub.

Alchemy CMS is an open source project that’s built using the web application framework Ruby on Rails, meaning that unlike the majority of its competitors, it employs the programing language Ruby. This gives the modular CMS a high level of flexibility and security, enabling it to be used in a variety of projects. All the elements can be configured to meet the requirements of any project, and the system can be extended with thousands of free-to-use RubyGems. You can host Alchemy CMS on any server that supports Ruby on Rails, the database SQL, and ImageMagick.

Flexible and user friendly – Alchemy CMS

Since Alchemy CMS should be thought of as less of a traditional content management system, and more of an extension of the Ruby on Rails framework, experienced programmers will find that there’s practically no boundaries or limitations to integrating it. Every individual element can be configured to fit and additional modules can be installed effortlessly. In this way, you can quickly connect Alchemy CMS to a shop system or any other web application. Web developers can also add individual data sources like membership lists or product catalogs into the system, which the editors can then access and process. Along with the benefits listed above, Alchemy CMS offers the following additional advantages:

  • Strict separation of layout and content
  • Interface designed for the user
  • Easy implementation of different formats due to flexible storage
  • User roles with different rights and restrictions
  • Page layout can be stored in cache

Many similar systems store layout structure and text formatting together in a shared database, which can make optimization of content for different screen sizes unnecessarily complicated. This is where the Alchemy CMS development team takes a different approach, programming the CMS in such a way that implemented content is stored separately from layout-specific sizes and so can be expanded for different screen size formats very easily.

While website developers can design different elements freely and are only limited by their level of expertise and by the project requirements, the options for editors who work on this CMS are deliberately limited. This is because the whole idea behind Alchemy CMS is to allow inexperienced users to focus entirely on the content of the website, leaving the challenges of programming and designing to the expert developers. Meanwhile, thanks to the ‘Live Preview’ function, you can always check how your new content will appear on your website. In the user accounts management section, the system administrator has the option of creating individual accounts with customized access rights.

The most important Alchemy CMS features explained

The different options for creation and configuration on this content management system make Alchemy CMS a worthy alternative to popular counterparts like WordPress, Typo3, or Joomla. Thanks to the underlying framework, the CMS can also be used as an admin backend, for example for mobile apps. Besides the advantages already mentioned, this open source software also includes the following features:

  • Multilingual function: you can manage several different versions of the same page in one Alchemy CMS installation, allowing you to run a multilingual website with different domains.
  • Support of tags: you can create tags to summarize related topics, allowing you to sort your articles in a more dynamic way
  • First class image processing and management: with help from the image processing plugin Dragonfly, Alchemy CMS automatically formats your images, photos, and graphics. Alternatively, you can also take care of the rendering manually. Dragonfly makes use of the proven image processing tool ImageMagick, available via the Ruby library, RMagick. Additionally, all images are saved in cache during processing.
  • Multiple file upload: you can comfortably upload several image files onto the server simultaneously and sort them with a drag-and-drop tool. This makes it easy for users to create large image galleries without having to transfer each image individually.
  • Full text search: you can search Alchemy CMS for pages or tags, with help from the high-performance search engine Ferret

What does Alchemy CMS have to offer for SEO?

Along with the editing of classic SEO elements like titles and meta descriptions, the system supports search engine optimization, and if you change the address of a page, it will automatically generated redirection. You’ve also got the option to bolster your content management system with extra SEO tools by browsing the big selection of Ruby plugins (known as Ruby Gems). The following extensions are particularly popular on Alchemy CMS:

  • seo_meta: This is the most popular plugin for meta tags when it comes to Ruby on Rails.
  • acts_more_seo: This extension has a special feature that ensures all page URLs are SEO friendly
  • seo_fuel: Thanks to this Ruby Gem, you can configure SEO settings for every individual page of your project

Running an online shop with Alchemy CMS

Although you can’t create and operate a fully functioning e-commerce site using the standard modules available on Alchemy CMS, there are a number of suitable plugins for this. For example, by installing shoppe, you can access all the tools you need to run a simple but complete online store – including modules for products, product categories, orders, and credit card payments. Shop_bunny features a shopping cart function and a coupon function for business-building discount offers. Alternatively, you could opt for spree or nimbleShop as other choices for your online shop plugin. These plugins have additional extensions that can support PayPal transactions.

Other interesting Ruby extensions

There are some other impressive and useful Ruby on Rails extensions on rubygems.org that can be used to increase the range of functions offered by your Alchemy CMS installation. Here’s a selection of our favorites:

  • xforum: A forum with a drop-down menu for a multilingual communities (requires JavaScript)
  • google-analytics-rails: This extension supports you with the implementation of Google Analytics in your web project
  • google-geo: An extension that allows you to display map data collected from the Google Maps API

Summary: easy to program and easier still to use

If you like to work with the programming language Ruby, and you’re already familiar with Ruby on Rails, then you’ll have no problems at all getting started with Alchemy CMS. The simplicity that has made Ruby popular is also clear to see on this open source system – you can easily create anything, from small projects like blogs, to large-scale company websites in next to no time at all. And Alchemy CMS is designed to be just as simple and intuitive for editors as it is for programmers. The task-oriented interface and easy content implementation makes it straightforward for inexperienced users to add great content to their website.

You can find the latest version of the content management system, including instructions for installation and configuration, on GitHub.