best-open-source-cms

16 Best Open Source Content Management System Compared

When you have a website it is because you want people to see something, know about something, or you want them to buy from you or use your services. Your goal is to bring in visitors to your website, as many as possible. For that to happen your content needs to be appealing and attractive.

But as well as being of value to the readers, graphics, text, videos and pictures and such are also recognized and registered by search engines. Key to attracting people is to revise your content often, update it, change it around, make it more engaging.

Managing and maintaining websites is work. It is a lot of work when you have larger websites with a lot of traffic. That is where a CMS or Content Management System comes in. So since I am often asked about what the best open source CMS is, what a CMS actually is and what to look for when choosing one, I have  put together a guide for you.

What is a CMS?

Before thinking about the best open source CMS let me make sure you understand what I am talking about. A content management system is basically a piece of software that lets a person edit, create and publish content on the web in various forms of multimedia or text.

You do not need to have any programming knowledge to be able to use it. You do not have to hire web developers to design and upgrade your website. You can easily do it yourself even with websites designed for ecommerce.

Difference Between Open Source & Proprietary Software

You may come across references to either open source CMS or proprietary software. Open source CMS means the program code can be looked at by anyone and is easily accessible. Those who use the best open source CMS can add on extensions, make changes, and adapt it to their own specific needs and preferences. It is often useable without needing a software license.

Proprietary software is basically the opposite of that. It is software that has been developed by a certain company and is distributed by them but the use of it requires you to have paid for a license. Users of proprietary software cannot make adjustments to the code, it is not even available to them to look at or change.

Main Uses for CMS

There are basically three ways in which people use a CMS.

  1. Managing web content
  2. Publishing news or a blog
  3. Community or social publishing

The type of software you choose will be affected by what you need to use it for. What is your main focus of your project? What is your goal?

Managing Web Content

Most people’s main intention is to manage web content.

Traditionally managing web content means managing and creating content which means several editors need to be able to access the backend. This involves sharing methods that are quite complex;

  • A system for this need to processing that is optimized especially when there is multimedia.
  • There is also a need for news management.
  • Having text search capabilities.
  • Managing the rights of users.
  • Offering content in more than one language.

Publishing a Blog or News

This is mostly for those creating a website for blogging. Key needs for those doing this are;

  • Content, categorization and complex links need to be prepared.
  • Being able to link to platforms for social media and other 2.0 web functions.
  • How it interacts with your readers.
  • Timing of how entries are posted/published.
  • Creating content is easy and fast.
  • Using a mobile device to work on it directly.

Community or Social Publishing

Being able to develop a larger community and having that open to a larger audience needs a lot more functionality than running a regular blog.

  • You need to be able to target user groups that are active rather than passive readers.
  • Content needs to be able to be created by members so user generated rather than just the website’s manager i.e. you.
  • It is a modular basic system and then you should be able to make extensions using different 2.0 web functions when you want.

Choosing the Best Open Source CMS

There are a lot of companies offering CMSs and it can be hard to know which to choose. There are easily several hundred to choose from and they range from simple to very complex and then everything in the middle!

In a moment I will outline 16 of my favorite best open source CMS options but here too are some tips on what to think about when you take a look.

  1. What plugins and themes do you want? These extend the core features of the CMS so you can do more. If you are focused on the look of your website and want to have more options when it comes to design, you will want more plugins and extensions that are user friendly.
  2. How good is the user interface? If you are not experienced you will want it to be very user friendly.
  3. Do you want to be able to customize? Some are happy with the CMS as it is but if you prefer to make customizations you need to choose a CMS that allows that. You do not need programming knowledge to use it, but if you have some basic knowledge it can help to stretch your thinking to what is possible.

Best Open Source CMS

What one person may find to be a perfect fit for their needs and ideas may not be the best open source CMS for another. So here is a look at 16 of those out there. I have not listed them in any particular order.

The 16 best open source CMS I will take a closer look at are;

  1. WordPress
  2. Joomla
  3. Drupal
  4. Magento OS
  5. Typo3
  6. Concrete5
  7. Modx
  8. Microweber
  9. PyrooCMS
  10. Fork
  11. SilverStripe
  12. Zenario
  13. Jekyll
  14. Ghost
  15. Contao
  16. CraftCMS

So here is what I have to say about each of them. Find the ones that suit your goals and specific skills and wants.

1. WordPress

WordPress is with no doubt the most commonly used open source CMS around the globe. It was actually first conceived for blogging but now with the extensions available it can be turned into a complete content management system. System requirements are;

  • PHP memory of at least 32 MB or better
  • Webserver with PHP and MySQL support
  • PHP 7.2 or better for middleware
  • MySQL 5.6 or better or MariaDB 10.0 or better
  • HTTPS support / For URLs that are search engine friendly you need the Apache module mod_rewrite

What you can look forward to with one of the best open source CMS like WordPress;

  • More than 14,000 design templates for free and over 18,000 extensions
  • Quick and easy 5 minute installation
  • URLs that are search engine friendly
  • Mobile tools for management and publishing

As you can see if you want something that offers a great number of plugins and themes this could be a great option. It has the largest community of users to get tips and ideas from and set up is quick and easy.

One problem to be aware of though is that being so popular it is more likely to be targeted for hacking. Updates have to be done often and sometimes there can be compatibility issues to deal with. It is a good CMS though and is especially popular amongst bloggers still.

Just keep in mind that it does get more complex to use as your project gets more complex. It puts a lot more demand than some on the server when you have a lot of traffic. If you want multi domains and are developing something more complex another of the best open source CMS like Typo3 might be more suitable.

In a nutshell:

Pros

  • Easy to set up and install and not a lot of knowledge needed
  • User interface is good
  • Great customization options
  • SEO integration is easy
  • Large number of users
  • Lots of extensions and plugins

Cons

  • Core functions need additional extensions
  • Frequent security updates can add to administration problems
  • Security gaps in some plugins
  • High traffic can lead to performance issues and less stability

2. Joomla

Joomla is another popular option for the best open source CMS with 2.5 million people using it. While it is meant to be for new users as well as the experienced, it is actually a bit harder to use than WordPress. However there are some things it does better and that includes the fact that you get great functionality from the CMS without having to install extensions.

System requirements are;

  • Webserver Apache HTTP Server 2.0 though recommended is 2.4, with mod_mysql, mod_xml, and mod_zlib, MS IIS 7, Nginx 1.8 or better;
  • PHP 5.6, recommended is 7.0 or better for middleware
  • MySQl 5.1 with InnoDB support, PostgreSQL 8.3.18, MS SQL server 10.50.1600.1, MariaDB 5.1

You can expect things like;

  • About 7400 extensions
  • Content management is object based so users can write extensions of their own and share them
  • Good support via forums and useful online handbooks there too for non-experts

The extensions can be used in the frontend as well as the backend which is not comfortable for some users. They are also not always free. If you are new or inexperienced it is best to use Joomla through a host so it becomes a one click installation.

Pros

  • Template creation is user friendly
  • Large number of users
  • Lots of extensions and designs
  • Good for blog sites
  • Lots of customization possible
  • Good security

Cons

  • Advanced extensions cost money
  • Manual implementation is needed for a lot of extensions
  • More complex than some CMS
  • Less easy to use for ecommerce sites
  • Less flexible than say WordPress

3. Drupal

This best open source CMS was actually first developed to be a student community solution but since then has developed to be something more. At its heart it is a very basic installation but it can be extended a great deal with modules. System requirements include;

  • Webserver – Apache, MS IIS, Nginx, or any webserver that supports PHP
  • PHP 5.5.9 or better for middleware
  • MySQL 5.5.3, MariaDB 5.5.20, Percona server 5.5.8, PostgreSQL 9.1.2, SQLite 3.7.11

With it you get:

  • Modular layout with a lot of flexibility and great chances for customization
  • Slim installation but over 36,000 modules for extensions
  • More focus on community projects and social publishing
  • A number of community functions such as tag clouds, weblogs and forums

If your project is more of a small to mid-sized community thing, Drupal would be a great option. There are a lot of scenarios that already have preconfigured distribution available. However ideally users have to have some knowledge and ability. This is because you get such a slim core installation and then have to work with detailed extensions.

Pros

  • Software core is slim and compact
  • Lots of extension modules and predefined distributions
  • Can do multi-domain management
  • More flexibility
  • More user generated content
  • Good security
  • Good for ecommerce sites too

Cons

  • Backend compatibility is poor so configuration is more complex
  • That slim core installation means a lot of extra installations are needed
  • Can only so installation of modules via FTP
  • Not as user friendly as the more well-known option WordPress
  • Not as good for blogs

4.  Magento OS

If you are more focused on what the best open source CMS is for e-commerce sites, I would definitely suggest you look into Magento. There are two options essentially, the open source free to use version which does have what you need. Then there is the premium version that has all the extra features which you have to buy a license for. The open source edition is fine and can also be used for blog sites.

System requirements include;

  • Linux x 86, x86-64 operating system
  • Apache 2.x Nginx 1.7.x webserver
  • Be able to run scheduled jobs with PHP 5
  • Be able to override options in .htaccess files
  • LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) or LNMP stack

With it you get:

  • Ready to use extensions
  • Large community
  • Way to analyze your data
  • Integrated checkout, payment and shipping
  • Site search

Pros

  • Flexibility
  • Extended functionality
  • Good security
  • Good for ecommerce sites

Cons

  • Premium features are only available if you buy the license

5. Typo3

Another major player amongst the big hitters in the best open source CMS, Typo3 is an enterprise management system and boasts a large community. If you have a large business page or ecommerce page Typo3 is especially good for you. It is kept up to date by skilled and experienced developers. System requirements include;

  • Apache MS IIS, NGINX webserver
  • PHP 7.2 or better middleware
  • MySQL 5.5 / MS SQL Server 2000 / PostgreSQL 7.x and 8.x / Oracle 8, 9, 10, and 11 / Firebird 1.5.2 database
  • 256 MB RAM at least

With it you get;

  • Designed towards businesses and enterprise
  • A lot of different functions
  • Easy to integrate other systems
  • Large support community

Typo3 has good information that is easy to follow. The large community means there is a lot of support. But it is best for complex projects run by IT specialists who can take advantage of the entire range of functions it offers. Small sites are better to go for modular software options.

Pros

  • Large community, large number of experts, widely distributed
  • Large range of extensions and functions
  • Flexibility

Cons

  • Expertise needed in its administration
  • The larger range in function means more demands made on the host
  • Training is time consuming

6.  Concrete5

Concrete5 are not one of the big names in Open Source CMSs but are interesting and worth adding to your list to compare. They are easy to use, there is not a lot of manuals you have to read to start managing and editing your website. It is good for various websites, from online communities to small businesses, ecommerce sites and non-profit sites.

System requirements include;

  • PHP 7.2 or latest (PHP 5.5.9 is the minimum)
  • PHP Memory Limit 64 MB (more may be needed for the processing and handling of larger image files).
  • MySQL 5.1.5 or MariaDB

With it you get:

  • Mobile ready
  • Good support including tutorials
  • Flexibility
  • Security

A lot of people do not realize how much work goes into building a website. Concrete5 offer to make that load a little easier so you can build any kind of website, and run it too. Other competitors tend to focus on the building side more or the running side, they claim to cover both. It is kept functional for everyone.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Flexible
  • No enterprise version you have to pay for to get better options
  • Add-ons available

Cons

  • Smaller community than some of the more well-known options
  • Have to install per domain you are using it for
  • Not as many add-ons as other options due to the smaller community

7.  Modx

Modx are a small but good open source CMS, as they are fast and customizable. They have a smaller community but they have been helping people make and run websites for over 12 years. It likes to boast too that it is the most ‘secure, flexible and scalable‘ option.

System requirements include;

  • Minimum – Linux x86, x86-64, Windows XP, Mac OS X, recommended – Linux x86, x86-64 Windows Server 2008
  • Web server minimum – Apache 1.3.x or Apache 2.2.x, IIS 6.0+, Zeus, lighthttpd, Cherokee, nginx, recommended – Apache 2.2.x, IIS 7.0, nginx 1.2.x
  • Database minimum – MySQL 4.1.20 or higher (excludes 5.0.51), Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Default table encoding of UTF-8, SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE, CREATE, ALTER, INDEX, DROP, MyISAM storage engine recommended – MySQL 5.1.x (latest stable release), Default table encoding of UTF-8 BOM, SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE, CREATE, ALTER, INDEX, DROP, CREATE TEMPORARY TABLES, MyISAM storage engine

With it you get:

  • More design freedom
  • Great place for developers to start out
  • Community contributions
  • Full text search

There is some terminology to get used to with this best open source CMS. If you are moving from another CMS that can get confusing at first until you adjust. To use the core function you do not need to have previous experience but to use the advanced features having some knowledge is needed.

Pros

  • Full control
  • Good functionality
  • Flexibility

Cons

  • To use advanced features you need to understand php
  • Own terminology to adjust to
  • Smaller support system available

8. Microweber

If you want your CMS to be easy and quick and are okay with having a smaller community another option is Microweber. It can be used for various types of websites, even ecommerce though the features are a bit more limited there. There are website templates that are modern and management of the site is easy.

System requirements include;

  • PHP >= 5.4
  • PHP Extensions: mcrypt, gd2, lib-xml with DOM support, mod_rewrite if using Apache
  • Apache >= 2.4
  • MySQL >= 5.0

With it you get;

  • Lots of features
  • Flexibility
  • Easy editing
  • Custom layouts

It uses drag and drop methods with which you can build and manage your store or website. The small community is made up of about 35,000 users.

Pros

  • Easy to manage
  • New to CMSs people can use it
  • Nice live edit mode
  • Multi-purpose

Cons

  • Can test for free but have to pay after
  • Have to upload products separately to your store
  • Not many free templates
  • Not updated for security reasons as often as some other options

9. PyroCMS

It may be surprising to some that I include PyroCMS in my 16 best open source CMS list as they are a new option. They came into play in 2015 and are best for websites that are simple like blogs where you do not intend to be adding any additional functions to your site.

System requirements include;

  • HTTP Web Server
  • MySQL 5.x or higher
  • PHP 2.x or higher
  • GD2
  • cURL

With it you get;

  • Modular system so more functionality
  • Easy to use
  • Simple and responsive control panel
  • Built in localization

With PyroCMS you can create a simple and sleek website. It is easy for even the inexperienced to use and it is quick. There is a community to turn to though it is small at the moment.

Pros

  • Simple without confusing and complicated technical jargon
  • User interface is good
  • Good security with regular updates
  • Field types add functionality and make it easier to edit

Cons

  • Not many extensions
  • Not as customizable
  • Needs more tutorials and support

10. Fork

Fork has been around a little longer than Pyroo having started in 2010 but it is another small and easy CMS that is for more simple websites. This could be the best open source CMS for you if you just want something basic, easy to use and the option of some extensions but not so many it becomes confusing.

System requirements include;

  • PHP 7.1 or higher
  • The following PHP extensions should be installed and enabled; cURL, libxml, DOM, SimpleXML, SPL, PDO, mb_string, iconv, GD2 graphics library, Json, PCRE, intl
  • MySQL 5.0 or higher
  • Apache 2.0 with .htaccess, mod_rewrite, mod_expires, mod_deflate enabled

With it you get;

  • Easy content management
  • Modules
  • Lots of built in features
  • User friendly backend

This is a fast growing company from Belgium originally, but while its community is still small, it is developing and can be found around the world.

Pros

  • Built in features easy to use
  • Flexible modular system
  • Can see sitemap when editing
  • Secure

Cons

  • Smaller community
  • Less extensions to choose from

11. SilverStripe

If you prefer to manage the site via your desktop and are looking for something more traditional SilverStripe may be a good open source CMS for you. It has basic design templates for your website but is not easy for new users and needs some knowledge and skills to do more customization.

System requirements include;

  • Linux – Web server e.g. Apache, Nginx
  • Database e.g. MariaDB, Postgres, MySQL
  • PHP 5.6 and PHP 7.x

With it you get:

  • Flexible framework
  • Easy to use for managing and developing at basic level
  • Modular system

SilverStripe is a good CMS that is customizable, flexible and easy to use. When it comes to the extensions and such though it does help to have some knowledge and skills already. It may take a bit of time to really learn what you can do with it. It is secure but there are more sophisticated options out there.

Pros

  • Customizable
  • Good basic features any can use
  • Flexible
  • Online tutorials

Cons

  • Smaller community
  • Need more skill to really get the best out of the customization
  • Upgrades may cost you

12. Zenario

Zenario is a little different to the other best open source CMS options here. It is not all in one like the others, rather there are online portals for portfolio sites and IoT applications. It is a smaller option with less users and there are therefore less extensions available and less customization. There are a few advanced features but not as much as others.

System requirements include;

  • Apache Server version 2.4.7 or better
  • PHP version 7.0 or better
  • MySQL version 5.5.3 or better (or MariaDB equivalent), MySQL 5.7 or better is preferred
  • GD, libCurl, libJPEG and libPNG libraries and multibyte support in PHP
  • Apache mod_rewrite support for .htaccess files is highly recommended

With it you get;

  • Multilingual web based CMS
  • Not designed for users who do not have basic knowledge
  • Best for company intranet pages or consumer portals
  • Old school feel to it

Zenario is not intuitive to use and is more an advanced CMS for backend experienced users. You do get complete control but it does not come with lots of frills or a lot of templates. It is not the best open source CMS for regular blog owners or ecommerce sites. But it has a place.

Pros

  • Best for IoT applications on online portals
  • Great multilingual feature
  • Can be white labeled fully

Cons

  • Less extensions
  • Not good for the inexperienced as it is complex
  • Limited design capability

13. Jekyll

While Jekyll is not a full CMS it does have some functions that act that way, it is a static website generator. You use it with GitHub for free hosting and managing of your web pages. This option is another good one for people who want just something basic, free and secure!

System requirements include;

  • Ruby version 2.2.5 or better
  • RubyGems
  • GCC and Make

With it you get:

  • Simple to use but some technical language knowledge is needed
  • Good for blogs especially
  • Best for static sites
  • Support documentation

Jekyll is best for smaller websites or landing pages or blogs. It can be up and running quickly but does require some technical knowledge. It is an interesting and fast alternative to the more traditional CMS options.

Pros

  • Lightweight framework
  • Lots of support
  • Easy to deploy for developers
  • Backup

Cons

  • Harder to implement dynamic components
  • Difficult to put in new content
  • Challenging to learn

14. Ghost

Ghost is a simple CMS that is modern but more focused on SEO and content structure. It suits people with websites that are blogs or publications like newspapers or magazines. Because of that focus, there are not the extra features but it is secure, and looks professional.

System requirements include;

  • js
  • Ubuntu 16.04 or 18.04
  • MySQL 5.5, 5.6 or 5.7 only
  • NGINX
  • 1GB memory

With it you get:

  • User focused platform for modern publications
  • Non-profit organization
  • Publishing tools
  • Flexible content management
  • Simple site editing
  • Queue up posts in advance to be posted

Ghost is used by several top news and publishing companies. Its focus is on supporting sites for journalism. A whole team can work on it and it has SEO built in directly. You may not get to put in extra special unique features, but you will get a beautiful and easy to manage modern site.

Pros

  • Publishing and journalism focus so great for news sites, blogs and such
  • Simple and straightforward to use and edit with
  • Group can work on it
  • Flexible

Cons

  • No extra features and fancy addons
  • js is not commonly supported by a lot of shared hosting companies

15. Contao

Contao was once called TypoLight and is a user friendly CMS that is also multilingual and well structured. It is great when it comes to compatibility and it is flexible to use.

System requirements include;

  • Apache or IIS with MySQL and PHP support webserver
  • PHP 5.6.0 middleware
  • MySQL 5.0.3 database
  • PHP extensions – Gmagick or Imagick, GD, DOM, intl, mcrypt, mbstring

With it you get;

  • Lots of fucntionality
  • User friendly
  • Online demo
  • Live updates
  • Multilingual backend
  • Over 1900 extensions available

It has an integrated theme manager too and a range of functions with the basic configuration that is pretty good already. You can purchase more themes too. It is known for its good security levels and it is best used by medium or smaller companies.

Pros

  • Great security
  • User friendly live update
  • Good support documentation
  • Flexible

Cons

  • Not best for more complex sites
  • Small community

16. Craft

Craft is another recently developed CMS, it came about in 2012 and remains a smaller option in part due to the fact it is for a more specific market. Unlike somewhere like WordPress that tries to appeal to all types of website owners, Craft is more for professional developers. This means it does not offer things like a lot of premade themes as the assumption is a professional developer will want to write their stuff.

System requirements include;

  • MySQL 5.1.0 or better, with InnoDB installed
  • Apache, Nginx, IIS webserver
  • PHP 5.3.0+ with safe mode disabled
  • PHP 32 MB of memory or better
  • 20 MB disk space free or more
  • 1 MB dataspace free of more

With it you get;

  • Clear backend
  • Sleek core but some plugins can extend the function range
  • Free license if the website is for yourself

Craft is clearly for the professionals so is not for anyone looking for a CMS for new comers. If you are helping to develop a website for someone else you have to buy a license, it is not free or open.

Pros

  • If you are a professional developer you may prefer this option
  • Tidy coding
  • Open if you are making your own website

Cons

  • Have to buy a license of the website is not yours
  • Small community
  • Difficult to use for anyone not a developer

Conclusion to the Best Open Source CMS

As you can see there are lot of options out there, some with very small differences, and some with very obvious ones! Make sure you know the purpose of the site, that can help narrow down the search a great deal. Then be honest about your skill and knowledge. That will narrow it down further. Do you need a larger community to rely on?

Other things to consider include whether you need it to be multilingual, will there be a lot of multimedia put on it, so you need a search function? When you have it narrowed to just a few of the best open source CMS options also look at their security and what other users have to say in general.

Updated on: February 5, 2019

Thank you for this amazing article about current CMS systems. Yes in 2019 this seems to be the real picture of the market. I like that you have compare thair strongest and weaknesses sides. Thank you for it.

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