Contao CMS: a sleek alternative to TYPO3

As an alternative content management system (CMS) to heavyweights like TYPO3 and Joomla, this open source CMS has quickly established itself on the market. Among content developers, Contao is considered both flexible and easy to expand–and it’s particularly user friendly for beginners. The system is well suited for multilingual, mobile, as well as responsive design needs, and has extensions available for e-commerce use.

The most important facts

Formerly known as TypoLight, the browser-based CMS, Contao, is a relatively new program. The open source software first appeared in 2006, and four years later, developers renamed it to Contao. The change was made due the name’s similarity to competitor, TYPO3. Contao is a classic web content management system; this means that social publishing and blog publishing as well as extensions for blogging options are the system’s main focus points.

Here are all the technical facts and links:

  • Programming language: PHP
  • Database: MySQL
  • Readout in XHTML Strict or HTML 5
  • Available in 30 languages
  • Link to the current version

Planning security for companies

Above all, companies investing in a CMS need one thing: the ability to plan in the long term. At the end of 2011, the developers at Contao aimed to provide more planning security through new organizational features and clear control systems. Among other things that were agreed upon during this time were:

  • Clearer control systems for downward compatibility
  • An improvement of publication cycles
  • Fixed release times

With version 2.11, Contao developers introduced a long term support (LTS) feature. Generally, program versions are supported for 24 months and are also provided with updates (even if newer versions are released). Contao’s release plan can be found here.

System requirements:

For installation, Contao requires a webserver with PHP and MySQL support. PHP can be used beginning with version 5.4.0 and MySQL at version 5.0.3.

Additional system requirements at a glance:

 

PHP extensions

Used for

Mandatory

GDlib

Editing images

Yes

DOM

XML files

Yes

SOAP

Extension repository

No

Phar

Live updates

No

mbstring

International symbols

No

Mcrypt

Encryption

No

(from February 2016)

Current information on installation can be found on Contao’s official website. Here it’s also possible to check Contao’s server compatibility.

Who is Contao suitable for?

Contao is a very versatile CMS and can be used in many ways. Medium to larger web projects in particular benefit from the high-performance, easily expandable system architecture. The following best-practice examples showcase the system’s diverse array of applications, from its enterprise model to the micro site.

Contao’s central CMS structure

Contao is a page-based CMS and structurally differs from other solutions, like Joomla or Drupal. The hierarchical page structure enables users to manage several different pages with ease, while the system’s tree structure provides a basic framework. Here, basic settings like meta tags and settings for extensions and visibility are determined. And thanks to modules, stylesheets, layouts, templates, insert tags, PHP, and additional extensions, users have a wide range of design possibilities available to them for tailoring the CMS to their individual goals.

The basic version

Most users will probably notice that Contao’s standard version already contains a large variety of functions. This multitude of integrated modules makes it easy to get work done with this CMS. As a result, creating, managing, and editing texts as well as multimedia content is both easy and intuitive.

The most important features at a glance:

  • Extended editor functions
  • Full text search engine
  • Integrated data manager
  • Form generator
  • Core module for news and event management
  • Newsletter module
  • Capable of operating multiple sites/multiple languages
  • Web accessible

Extensions

Contao users have direct access to available extensions via the system’s back end. For this to work, web spaces need to support SOAP protocol. The back end is where users can manage existing extensions. From e-commerce systems (see below) to managing real estate, Contao’s large community provides users with a wide range of extensions.

Managing user rights

As a CMS, Contao differentiates between users and members. The latter group are able to set up a password-protected member area, which, in addition to login/logout functions, also feature registration forms and user account management options. User rights can be managed in a nuanced way, and different roles can be assigned to different users (e.g. editors, administrators, etc.). Whether full or restricted, access rights can be defined for both individual users and groups as well as different layers.

Contao SEO options

Most on-page SEO measures are easy to carry out using Contao. The requirements for these–a neat source code and options for high-quality internal links–are already fulfilled. Furthermore, the system supports SEO efforts by:

  • Generating search-engine friendly URLs
  • Incorporating dynamic page titles
  • Including completely automated meta data
  • Creating an XML sitemap
  • Including a Google analytics and Piwi connection

E-commerce use

Isotope e-commerce provides users with a premium e-commerce module for Contao. This enables administrators to set up a connection between content management and e-commerce solutions. While the program’s concept, page structure, and layout are from Contao, the basic functions are that of an e-commerce system. Isotope has a flexible, adjustable design, which can be integrated with different payment services like PayPal; it also offers different shipping options, and, like the CMS itself, is available in multiple languages.

Pros and cons of Contao

A CMS comparison is always difficult, as there are many individual factors that need to be considered when finding the right one. This being said, some clear advantages and disadvantages do stand out. Here are some of Contao’s pros and cons:

What they’ve done right:

  • The large range of functions in the basic version
  • The large selection of extension modules
  • Web accessibility and intuitive use
  • Staying up to date through long-term-support
  • A strong support community

For beginners, the program’s basic functions are clear and easy to use; however, implementing Contaos templates in order to adjust its design does require some experience. The cut-and-dry structure is also somewhat prone to losing complex and, under certain conditions, multilingual content. In such cases, ample support and documentation should be provided for users.

Find out just how Contao stacks up against other content management systems and which solution is best for your web presence by reading our CMS comparison.