CMS • a brief introduction

Using a CMS (content management system) for our web projects will take our sites to a whole new level and will allow us to... well, manage our content. This is not to say that all web projects will have to make use of a CMS ~ it is about finding the best solution for our project's mission. There are many options out there - the courageous might build their own :D But for now, let's talk CMS.

consider all angles

The move to working with a CMS is a challenge and you might feel a little anxious. But don't worry, take your time and consider your options and ambitions, and as you know ~ we're here to help so talk to us :)

Before you set out to build any site, be that for a client or for your MP - it will be important to answer certain questions: not only which CMS is best but whether a CMS is the right direction in the first place. Not all scenarios will have a clear demand for a management system though many will do.

questions to ask for client projects

While a client project scenario does not strictly apply to all our web projects - the following will still serve as pointers to various aspects of our projects.

In the case of any web project - my advice would be to look at the whole picture and consider not only the needs of your project but also your own skills and learning journey. This is the perfect project to get stuck into and learn. Which way exactly is what you'll have to decide :)

A quick word before you start

If you've already worked with any kind of CMS before ~ easy peasy ~ you'll likely know enough to play and experiment and figure out what works best for your project. Even if you've only worked with a CMS as content editor/publisher, you'll likely know quite a bit about how a CMS works from that perspective and what kind of functions your project would need.


A CMS is a piece of software that runs on the server to facilitate the creation, editing and overall management of digital media content. It includes an interface for the management of content and the function to deliver this content to the final output. Uses vary from simple scripts for forms etc to bigger solutions for webmail or forums.

The main advantage of using a CMS for a given website is that it will allow the user to modify the online content without the need to code. An interface facilitates creation, modification and deletion of content, updating the database with any changes and delivering the final result to the end user.


CMSs come in different shapes and sizes and can use different technologies. One of the most common is the LAMP stack which is comprised of four open source components: Linux (operating system) + Apache (HTTP Server) + MySQL (database) + PHP (programming language).

icons for AMP stack


When you started learning to code, you were considering the separation of content (HTML) and design (CSS). Broadly speaking, the CMS follows the same principle but adds the database (content) to the mix and uses templates (design). Of course, there's much more to it, but this is one of the core points.

illustration of CMS use

What are the options?

Looking into the various flavours of CMS out there, you'll soon realise that there are many, many differences and just as many different opinions. It is a matter of assessing the project, its mission and the final target group and weigh this against the intricacies of the CMS. There is no easy answer and one size does not fit all.

From a practical angle, there are open source options, proprietary solutions as well as SaaS (Software as a Service). Each has their own strengths and advantages, both philosophically and technically.

Quick note

The links to the various different CMSs listed here are not endorsements per se. I've included links to those most popular or used in the past by our students for their MPs.

difficulty: doable

difficulty level

As most of you are new to web design/dev, I thought it'd be helpful to rate the different technical setups by difficulty so you can gauge the level of challenge ahead. Hover the icon to see detail / read text. Hope it's useful :)

What are the technical differences?

Since their conception, CMSs continue to evolve and there are various technically different systems you should consider. The decision which will fit your project will depend on whether you'll be primarily serving web content to the usual browsers on various devices, or whether your project is more complex and aims to deliver to the IoT (internet of things).

useful reading