CMS comparison 2016/2017: The 5 most popular open source systems
If you want to attract the maximum number of visitors to your website and keep them around, then you need attractive content: Texts, pictures, videos, and graphics don’t just add value for the reader and user, they’re also positively registered by search engines. But maintaining good content means constantly revising it; publishing, updating, and managing content in an engaging way. Maintaining bigger websites is a mammoth task that would hardly be feasible without the use of a content management system (CMS). This guide offers an overview of the most important demands on a CMS as well as a comparison of the most popular open source solutions.
- Making the right choice
- The most popular CMS systems in detail
- Expectations and requirements for a CMS
Making the right choice
It’s a jungle out there when looking for the perfect CMS, and it’s easy to get lost in the number of choices when looking for the right one. There are between 250 and 350 different programs currently available on the market. From simple building tools to expansive enterprise systems, the possibilities are endless. The question you must ask yourself is what CMS requirements you will need to optimally support your planned online project.
Overview of application types
There are essentially three central application types for content management systems. When selecting a software solution for a new online project, your decision should be based on which area is the most important to your project’s development. The common division is between web content management, blog publishing/news, and social publishing/communities.
Web content management
With classic web content management, the main emphasis is on creating and managing online content. It’s usually necessary that multiple editors can have access to the backend, which in turn requires complex sharing methods. It’s important that the system provides optimized processing for a website with multimedia content. Other important factors include the management of user rights, full text search capabilities, an efficient news management system, and the ability to present necessary content in more than one language.
This type of application, as the name suggests, is mainly focused on blogging. Preparation of content, complex links, and sensible categorization, as well as the ability to link to social media platforms and other web 2.0 functions, are particularly important. The abilities to interact with the reader and control the timing of publication entries can also be important features to consider. Quickly and easily creating content is equally, if not more important – ideally also being able to do so directly onto a mobile device.
Developing online communities and making them available to a larger audience requires a much larger range of functions than by a simple blog. This is mostly because online communities target active user groups instead of passive readers. Ideally, content is created not only by the site’s operator, but by the members as well (user-generated content). The basic system of social publishing solutions is usually modular in design and can be extended by certain web 2.0 functions if necessary.
To find the best CMS for your project and benefit from its advantages, a clear understanding of the content and goal of your web project is necessary.
Proprietary software vs. open source
Numerous content management solutions by major project communities are available open source. These are referred to as open source software. With CMS systems, this means that the program code is freely accessible and can, in principle, be viewed by everyone. Users are given the opportunity to makes changes, improvements, and extensions, and to adapt the CMS to individual requirements.
The opposite of open source software is proprietary software. With this, the CMS is developed by a particular company and distributed as a commercial project. The use of proprietary management systems is usually associated with the acquisition of a paid license. The source code is not available to users.
Open source software, on the other hand, is often available without licensing costs. Such solutions are therefore particularly attractive for companies from an economic standpoint. In terms of technological developments, established open source CMS systems are no worse than the proprietary solutions. High-level developer communities are behind some of the most famous projects, such as WordPress or TYPO3. Extensive documentation and a transparent development process also ensure that software errors and security gaps are resolved promptly.
But how high is the share of open source applications in the global market in comparison to proprietary solutions for website operation?
Software solutions for website operation in global comparison
The most popular solution by far for quickly and cost-effectively publishing content is WordPress. According to the analysis company BuiltWith, nearly 18 million websites worldwide are based on the open source CMS. Other open source projects in the top ten most popular software solutions for website operation are Joomla!, Drupal, and TYPO3.
Open source content management systems, available to users in free community versions, can even compete with established HTML editors like Adobe Dreamweaver or popular online services like Google’s Blogger.com.
Click here to download the infographic on the most popular content management systems’ market shares.
Comparison of the 5 most used software solutions for websites:
|CMS||Number of websites|
|WordPress||ca. 18 million|
|Adobe Dreamweaver||ca. 2.7 million|
|Joomla!||ca. 2.5 million|
Open source solutions are also popular worldwide, according to statistics. Around 270,000 online shops put their trust in the e-commerce platform Magento or the French online shop software Prestashop. The success of these systems shows that open source products can hold their own against standard solutions when it comes to commercial website operation.
We have taken the success of open source software projects as an opportunity to introduce you to the most popular open source CMS solutions and compare their essential functions. A detailed description of the WordPress, TYPO3, Joomla!, Drupal, and Contao will be shown in a tabular comparison of these areas:
The most popular CMS systems in detail
The open source systems WordPress, TYPO3, Joomla!, Drupal, and Contao are currently the most popular standard solutions for professional website operation. But every system is of course not equally suited to every individual purpose. Here, we put together the main functions, application types, and system requirements of different content management systems. Our pro and con tables should help you make your decision.
With around 18 million installations, WordPress is the most-used open source CMS worldwide. Originally conceived as a blog system, a number of extensions are now available for the basic installation, making it possible to upgrade the software to a fully functional content management system.
- 18,000 extensions and over 14,000 free design templates
- “Five minute installation” via Wizard
- Search engine friendly URLs
- Publishing and management tools for mobile solutions
System requirements for WordPress 4.7.2
- Webserver: Every server with PHP and MySQL/MariaDB support (recommended: Apache)
- Middleware: PHP 7 or higher
- Database: MySQL 5.6 or higher / MariaDB 10.0 or higher
- Hardware: The developer recommends a PHP memory limit of 32 MB or more
- Other recommendations: HTTPS support / For search engine friendly URLs, the Apache module mod_rewrite is required
The software’s large user community benefits from an enormous selection of themes, plugins, and widgets. But critics say that the system is not only too complex, but also confusing and awkward to use. WordPress shares the same problems as all successful software developments: Because of its high circulation, it’s a popular target for hackers. Because of that, users have to update their WordPress software fairly regularly with security updates. These updates come out quickly after security incidents, but aren’t always compatible with all the extensions that are required for effective use of the software. As a result, software updates can be associated with considerable administrative effort, especially in the case of large projects.
Because of its low effort basic installation, WordPress is good for small and simply structured websites. Especially for bloggers, who want to provide their visitors with frequently changing content in attractive layouts, WordPress is an effective CMS with an intuitive web interface. As the complexity of the online project increases, though, the user-friendliness of the software significantly decreases. Large enterprise projects can theoretically be implemented too, but in such a case the greater number of functions is inevitably accompanied by an increase in administrative effort.
If you’re striving for a stable website operation, WordPress places comparatively high demands on the server as your visitor traffic increases. Users who are trying to develop complex multi-domain projects with a multi-lingual focus should choose a CMS like TYPO3 instead of WordPress for their purpose.
|✔ Large community||✘ CMS functions require additional extensions|
|✔ Minimal effort for installation and setup||✘ Plugins often have security gaps|
|✔ Intuitive user interface||✘ Limited stability and performance capability with high traffic|
|✔ Simple integration of plugins and other extensions||✘ More frequent security updates lead to additional administrative effort|
For WordPress beginners, the 1-click installation is part of a managed WordPress hosting package. By choosing this option, the website operators pass all technical and server-side administration duties to the vendor and can fully concentrate on their content.
Interested in the leading CMS program? You can find further information on the popular blogging software in our WordPress basics article.
With 2.5 million installations worldwide, Joomla! is the second biggest agent in the CMS market. The software is aimed at both beginners and advanced users, but is more challenging to use than WordPress. Unlike the market leader, comprehensive CMS functionalities are included without installing extensions. A bonus for non-experts without a professional IT background is the good documentation in the form of community-supported online handbooks as well as active user forums.
- Currently around 7400 available extensions
- Object-based content management
- Community support through forums
System requirements for Joomla! 3.x
- Webserver: Apache HTTP Server 2.0 (2.4 recommended) with mod_mysql, mod_xml, and mod_zlib; Nginx 1.8 or higher; MS IIS 7
- Middleware: PHP 5.6 (7.0 or higher recommended)
- Database: MySQl 5.1 with InnoDB support (5.5.3 or higher recommended); MS SQL server 10.50.1600.1 (10.50.1600.1 or higher recommended); PostgreSQL 8.3.18 (9.1 or higher recommended), MariaDB 5.1 (or higher)
Joomla! is the development of the open source CMS Mambo. The system is particularly popular in the USA, and is characterized by a completely object-oriented software design based on a stand-alone MVC framework. This allows Joomla! users to write their own extensions and share these with the community, if they want to, using the Joomla! extensions directory, where extensions can easily be installed via the backend. Templates can be created in Joomla modular, by combining predefined content elements.
Joomla! divides extensions into plugins, components, and modules. These can be used in the backend as well as the frontend, which is sometimes irritating to users. The rights management and approval processes are occasionally seen as lacking for larger projects. Extensions help – but are not always available for free.
|✔ Comparably simpler installations and configuration effort||✘ Inadequate rights management|
|✔ Large pool of extensions and designs||✘ Advanced extensions can be pricey|
|✔ User-friendly template creation||✘ Extensions often require manual implementation|
Because of its complexity, it’s advisable to use Joomla! through a hosting provider. The technical infrastructure as well as regular updates are given directly by the provider with Joomla! hosting, which makes the management of the CMS much easier.
Deeper insight into the function spectrum of the user-friendly open source CMS is provided by our Joomla! basics article.
The modular CMS Drupal was originally developed as a student community solution, but is now available as a full-fledge open source CMS. The software comes with an extremely lean basic installation, which can be extended quite a bit by modules. Today, the project’s strength lies in its community. Already, the basic module has numerous web 2.0 and community functions like weblogs, forums, and tag clouds.
- Very flexible, modular layout
- Slim basic installation with more than 36,000 extension modules
- Focus on social publishing and community projects
- More than 1100 distributions as a complete solution for typical applications
System requirements for Drupal 8
- Webserver: Apache, Nginx, MS IIS, or any other webserver with PHP support
- Middleware: PHP 5.5.9 or higher
- Database: MySQL 5.5.3, MariaDB 5.5.20, Percona server 5.5.8 or higher (PDO requires an InnoDB-compatible storage engine); PostgreSQL 9.1.2 or higher (with PDO); SQLite 3.7.11 or higher
The CMS Drupal offers extensive opportunities for customization with its modular layout. Users who know exactly what they need can spare themselves the manual compilation of software components. For many scenarios, preconfigured distributions based on the Drupal framework are available.
With its focus on social publishing, Drupal is particularly suited for small and medium-sized community projects. The large spectrum of extensions makes it possible to implement company portals with complex multi-domain structures. But the administration of a CMS core with comprehensive extensions requires expertise and instinct. If the basic functions of the software aren’t sufficient, then additional modules will have to be installed manually via FTP. This can be a complex process. Updating extensions is sometimes difficult, as these are not always compatible with the backend.
The central application of Drupal is the layout of social publishing and community platforms. The CMS boasts a flexible, modular system for highly-dynamic platforms based on user-generated content.
|✔ Compact software core||✘ Complex configuration due to poor backend compatibility|
|✔ Large selection of extension modules and predefined Drupal distributions||✘ Slim basic installation requires lots of extra installations|
|✔ Supports multi-domain management||✘ Module installation only possible via FTP|
Next to WordPress, TYPO3 is the second most popular open source CMS. The software project is an enterprise management system and is constantly updated and kept technically current by a team of experienced developers. TYPO3 is a great solution for large corporate portals and e-commerce platforms.
- Enterprise content management system
- Huge range of functions
- Extensive integrated rights management
- Simple integration of other systems such as CRM or ERP solutions
System requirements for TYPO3 CMS 8.5.1
- Webserver: Apache (recommended), MS IIS, NGINX
- Middleware: PHP 7 or higher
- Database: MySQL 5.5 or higher / MS SQL Server 2000 / PostgreSQL 7.x and 8.x / Oracle 8, 9, 10, and 11 / Firebird 1.5.2
- Hardware: At least 256 MB RAM
- Other recommendations: GraphicsMagick or ImageMagick; GDlib; Freetype; ylib; If using an Apache server: mod_gzip, mod_deflate, mod_rewrite; PHP cache (for example APCu, PHP accelerator, OPcache, or Zend accelerator); individual extensions may require additional software.
TYPO3 offers a large community, which provides quick and easy help for beginners with technical problems or questions. There are also numerous professional providers who specialize in TYPO3 support and provide agency services to business users.
A professional use of the high-performance CMS requires expert knowledge. With this, even complex site structures with multilingual content can be soundly implemented. The considerable range of functions ensures professional rights management at the enterprise level and provides interfaces for classic business applications, such as CRM and ERP systems. On the other hand, critics point to the long training period required and comparatively high administration effort.
Basically, the giant spectrum of functions offered by TYPO3 makes it possible to implement any kind of online project. But this comes at a considerable expense for installation, configuration, and maintenance. The prominence and good reputation of the software always contribute to its use by comparatively small websites. In this case, users are usually expending much more effort than they need to. If the entire spectrum of functions offered by the enterprise CMS isn’t required, then website operators would generally be better served by a modular software with slim basic installation. For complex projects run by experienced IT specialists, though, TYPO3 is the optimal foundation for a successful online presence.
|✔ Widely distributed CMS with a large community (including numerous experts)||✘ Implementation, configuration, and administration require expertise|
|✔ High variety of functions, flexibility, and extensibility||✘ Large functional spectrum means higher demands on hosting than with comparable systems|
|✔ Extensive rights management at the enterprise level||✘ Training for non-experts is comparatively high|
If TYPO3 is used for large and complex projects, the installation should take place within the framework of a hosting package. Find further information about TYPO3, as well as a detailed description of the considerable range of functions, in our basics article.
The CMS Contao (previously known as TypoLight) is – as the original name suggests – a clear and user-friendly content management solution. The system features an intuitive, multi-lingual backend and a clearly-structured administrative layer. The software project pays particular attention to compatibility with web standards, providing barrier-free online content in XHTML Strict or HTML 5.
- User-friendly CMS with large range of functions
- More than 1900 available extensions
- Multi-lingual backend
- Live update service
- Online demo
System requirements for Contao 4.3
- Webserver: Apache or IIS with PHP and MySQL support
- Middleware: PHP 5.5.0
- Database: MySQL 5.0.3
- Other recommendations: To benefit from a full range of functions, the following PHP extensions are necessary: GD, Imagick or Gmagick; DOM; intl; mbstring; mcrypt
The software’s basic configuration already has a comprehensive range of functions that can be flexibly adapted to individual needs with more than 1900 available extensions. The CMS system also offers an integrated theme manager. This makes it possible to individually configure the design and layout of a website based on Contao with the help of pre-designed modules. In addition, website owners are offered professional themes for various application types and industries via the Contao website. These themes usually must be purchased, though.
The software is known for its high security standards and user-friendly live update, which users can view with just a click. The LTS version of the CMS comes with a four-year guarantee.
An online demo as well as extensive documentation material enable a quick introduction to website creation. Server compatibility can be ensured by Contao check.
The flexible CMS is especially directed toward small and medium-sized companies as well as non-profit areas. The software provides these users with a powerful system architecture, which can be adapted to the various requirements of the professional website operation using extensions. The realization of intranet solutions, e-commerce platforms, corporate portals, or microsites, for example, leaves nothing to be desired, even when it comes to search engine optimization and web analysis.
Only multi-level workflows can’t be implemented with Contao in the standard configuration. Users who want to create complex enterprise projects with detailed authentications and approval processes should look to established standard solutions, like TYPO3, instead.
|✔ High performance and extendable system architecture||✘ Not suited for complex enterprise solutions|
|✔ User-friendly installation, management, and actualization of extensions||✘ Multi-level workflows not supported|
|✔ Good security balance||✘ Comparatively small community|
Dreamweaver: Alternative to the content management system
Looking at the statistics from BuiltWith, one alternative to source-based content management systems stands out: Around 2.7 million website owners prefer to build their own website from scratch using the Dreamweaver HTML editor. The web design software, originally developed by Macromedia and now distributed by Adobe Systems, is available to users from the Creative Cloud (CC) as a proprietary product for macOS and Windows.
Due to the extensive range of functions and comparatively high cost for a user license, the high-performance software is primarily directed toward professional users and agents. More information as well as a description of the attractive alternative to CMS can be found in our article on the topic.
Expectations and requirements for a CMS
Before you decide on one of the many content management systems available, it’s important to first define the goal of your planned online project. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What type of content should be offered?
- Who provides the content?
- What is the target group?
- What resources are available for the operation of the website?
It’s also important to estimate how many people should be working on the CMS at the same time and which workflows will be used. Is it directed to a single blogger in the online community, or is the creation of content taken over by a whole editorial team or even by the visitors of the website itself?
Your priorities in relation to installation and configuration efforts, use, management, and functionality must be considered for the planned project. While usability or a simple connection to other systems is important to some, others focus on search engine optimization, barrier-free access to online content, or enterprise level security.
To choose an appropriate CMS system, you should ensure that the enormous spread of different functions is in line with your individual requirements. As these differ from user to user, only a direct comparison is helpful. Use comparison tables to find out which application types best suit the solutions presented, and which system resources you need to provide for smooth operation.
Implementation, installation, and configuration
The first obstacle on the way to implementing a CMS-supported online project is the installation of the chosen software solution. The more complex the system, the more costly the installation and upkeep. Joomla! and WordPress compensate by using a wizard, which drastically reduces the time required for installation. Small web projects can be put online in a matter of minutes. Drupal also offers users a slim basic installation process. But many functions require additional modules, which can only be installed with difficulty via FTP.
The installation of the self-contained enterprise content management system TYPO3 is also complex. It’s primarily intended for users who want to implement large online projects, such as company portals or e-commerce platforms. Website operators should have an established knowledge of the software installation, configuration, and administration.
Expandability through extensions, plugins, widgets, or modules is available in all of the content management systems presented here. Multiple functions can only be used on the basis of expansions. Which features are supported natively and which require additional installation is shown in the comparison table.
|Category||Weblog-Software||Enterprise content management system||Web content management system||Web content management system||Web content management system|
|License||GNU GPLv2+||GPL||GNU GPL v2||GPL||LGPL|
|Supported webservers||Webserver with PHP and MySQL support||Apache, NGINX, MS IIS||Apache, Nginx, MS IIS||Webserver with PHP support||Webserver with PHP and MySQL support|
|Supported databases||MySQL, MariaDB||MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle, Firebird, MS SQL Server||MySQL, MS SQL Server, PostgreSQL, MariaDB||MySQL, MariaDB, Percona Server, PostgreSQL, SQLite||MySQL|
|Extensions and expandability||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Reporting functions (i.e. for data mining)||Only with extension||Only with extension||✔||✔||Only with extension|
|XML interface||Only with extension||Only with extension||Only with extension||Only with extension||Only with extension|
|Integration of own scripts||✔||✔||Only with extension||✔||✔|
|Consideration of current web standards||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔|
All open source solutions in our CMS comparison can be used as a multiple user system. These types of systems inevitably raise the question: Who is allowed to do what? Which functionalities of the CMS should be available for user management should be a central selection criteria when a website is shared by several users at the same time. The following table shows that almost all systems in our CMS comparison natively support the essential functions within the user management. Multi-level workflows is the only area where the CMS Contao requires an extension, as it’s primarily intended for medium-sized companies.
|Inheritance of user rights||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Restriction of user rights||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Multi-level release control||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Multi-level workflows||✔||✔||✔||✔||Only with extension|
Operation and content creation
Website operators rely on CMS systems to facilitate the creation and publication of online content. A good CMS offers functionalities that enable their users to create and manage website content without programming knowledge. Central selection criteria are an intuitive WYSIWYG editor with preview functions and spellchecker, import capabilities for non-textual elements like videos, interactive flash animations, or audio content as well as a search function with full-text search.
To provide website visitors with navigation to relevant content, the CMS should also have an available tagging system with which the content can be organized according to meaningful keywords.
If news publishing is the main focus, the CMS should support blogging functionalities that enable the promotion of new content over web feeds and provide available reader feedback channels, such as a guestbook or comment function. Users who want to implement international projects should ensure that content can be made available in several language versions.
|Multimedia elements (videos, audio content, or flash animations)||Only with extension||✔||Only with extension||✔||✔|
|Blog system||✔||Only with extension||Only with extension||✔||Only with extension|
|Spellchecker||✔||✔||Only with extension||✔||Only with extension|
|Multiple languages||Only with extension||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Search function||✔||✔||✔||✔||Only with extension|
|Tagging||✔||✔||✔||Only with extension||Only with extension|
Search engine optimization and responsive design
High-value content is key to a successful website. Website operators who want to conquer a top spot in the search engine rankings also need to fulfill certain technical requirements. These concern the URL structure of an online project, the design of meta-information, and the orientation of the layout on mobile devices.
All of the open source solutions in our CMS comparison offer users the possibility to rewrite parameterized URLs in a ‘talking’ URL scheme that can be interpreted by both human users and search engines. Not every CMS natively supports this function without extensions.
An essential influence on search engine rankings is meta-information like the title and description of a webpage. These are displayed to users together with the URL as a snippet in the search result, and serve as a teaser animating the user to click. All presented open source systems offer users the opportunity to manually create individual meta-information for the subpage of online projects.
The rising number of mobile views has changed the demands that users put on internet presentations. Operators who still base the layout of their website exclusively on desktop users lose potential visitors, and will find a decline in search engine rankings. The implementation of new online projects should make the issue of mobile friendly presentation a priority. In principle, CMS systems counteract users by strictly separating content and presentation. For all presented solutions, you’ll find templates which automatically adjust the display size to different user devices in the scope of responsive designs. But be warned: They’re not all available for free.
|Search engine friendly URLs||✔||Only with extension||✔||✔||✔|
|Manual entry of meta-info such as title, description, and keywords||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Responsible web design possible||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔|
Security & Service
Service and support are deciding factors for the selection of a CMS. Small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular, can’t afford to pay for the services of professional agencies in the conception, implementation, and maintenance of the web presence.
Crucial for safe operation is whether or not the open source CMS has the necessary information available, as well as resources in the form of themes, plugins, and regular updates. In our CMS comparison, we concentrate exclusively on systems that have a large user and developer community and provide users with all of the information necessary for secure deployment in a detailed project documentation. All projects offer public release plans, regular software updates, and a transparent security protocol.
A study by a German federal security office in 2013 confirmed that open source software can in fact compete with costly proprietary software in terms of security. Among other systems, Joomla!, TYPO3, WordPress, and Drupal were all presented. The CMS Contao was the only one not included in the safety study. The auditors’ conclusion: In all open source solutions investigated, the implementation of security processes was state of the art and, in some cases, even better than the commercial products developed under time pressure. Their use in professional website operation is highly recommended.
Our CMS comparison shows that every solution presented is based on the objectives of the software development in question, which have a decisive influence on the orientation of the project. Finding the perfect content management system that equally satisfies all website operation requirements is a futile search. Our conclusion presents no clear winner, but instead outlines the benefits and drawbacks of the different systems in regard to individual projects and their particular requirements.
While WordPress is primarily intended for bloggers and needs to be upgrade with extensions before use as a CMS, a system like TYPO3 offers an extensive spectrum of functions with the basic installation – though for smaller online projects, this is rarely required.
The modular CMS Drupal came from a community project, but still offers today’s users a wide range of web 2.0 functions. If you don’t require these for your project, then you should choose a different CMS option – for example, Joomla!. This system also offers users a large selection of extensions, to adapt the system to respective circumstances.
If user-friendly operation and barrier-free access to online content is the focus, then Contao is a good solution. As this is the smallest of the projects presented here, users will have to accept that it also comes with the smallest manageable community. Compared to the other projects, it doesn’t offer as many extensions and users are provided a smaller selection of professional themes.
Here, we provide you with a final comparison of the discussed open source solutions in regard to the essential selection criteria:
|Installation and configuration||↑||→||↗||→||↗|
|User-friendly operation (editors)||↑||↗||↗||↗||↑|
|User-friendly operation (admin)||↑||↗||↗||↗||↑|
|Cost for extensions / additional service and support||↗||↗||→||↗||↗|
|Expandability / Customizability||↑||↗||↗||↗||→|