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What is a Content Management System ? Understanding CMS

What is a Content Management System ? Understanding CMS:

The story behind CMS and its uses :

CMS stands for Content Management System. You hear the term CMS everywhere, and at this point you’ve probably already understood that when people say CMS, they most often mean a system that , after being installed, produces a configurable website. This is not the full definition of a CMS, as we will see below. However, the way people use the term so often makes us see that CMS installations have become a building block of the modern web,  providing an opportunity to people who aren’t programming gurus to get into the world of web development. 

Historically, the first CMS systems appeared in the early 90s , as a way for developers on a website to collaborate in creating the final product. They had nearly nothing in common with what we now consider a CMS.

With terminology kept in mind, today’s predominant use of the term CMS refers to Web Content Management Systems, or web CMS. This term is, however, not used as often.

So , in interest of knowing what is characteristic for CMS systems nowadays,  let’s examine the main features CMS systems have :

  • A three layer model of operation. The three layers consist of a way to display the pages, an interpreted scripting language which implements the logic , and a database which stores all or most of the actual contents. In most cases, the first part of the model is composed of HTML/CSS for markup, PHP for scripting and MySQL for database.
  • Automated templates  – this means that they can be changed while content stays the same. This is very important because it allows for easier redesigning and switching between many visual themes and representations.
  • Access control – users of the content management system are divided into separate groups,  each with different rights and capabilities. This is important for easier management and building of larger web structures.
  • Easy editing and visualization of content   – content management systems allow you to create and post content without the need to have an understanding of how to do markup (HTML) or how the entire system works.
  • Multilingual support – there is often support for different languages, which can be switched on demand, and generated on the fly,  unlike in static websites, where they need to be compiled and stored statically.
  • Plugins/easy extension  – most content management systems are made with the expectation that there will be a need for new subroutines that extend functionality. That’s why most of them include plugins capability.

Compared to other ways of making websites , CMS has the following general advantages :

  • Low cost. Most of those pieces of software are free or cost only an initial purchase, without further subscription.
  • Ease of use – like we mentioned before, CMS systems are perhaps the easiest way to make an online site, allowing people who are not in the IT business to start their own website or make an online business with little to no knowledge.
  • Easy modification – modern CMS systems are written in interpreted languages, and most often their source code is available in plain text form . This allows more knowledgeable people to customize them or write plugins for others to use.

Of course , CMS systems have disadvantages as well, but they’re not so much as to deserve their own list.  Some of the disadvantages include the fact that they have lots of functionality that may be unnecessary in every case ,as opposed to custom-built systems which were built around the assignment at hand. They also weren’t very  good for search engines to index, but nowadays the most common systems  have worked a way around that.

Most notable examples include WordPress , Joomla  and Drupal. All three of them have a large plugin base that makes lots of tasks easy, and share all the common features of CMS systems, but  do vary in implementation. The other differences between them come with the user interface, which works quite differently.

Hopefully , this article has answered most of your questions regarding what we call a CMS and how they’re defined in the modern world. There are thousands of these systems available free of charge on the internet, made with different purposes in mind. So even if you need something for a very narrow field, there’s a chance someone already made a CMS about it.



  1. The function widget function references $num but it is not defined. I believe you meant to use $max:

    if ($count == $max)

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for pointing me.

  3. In the Static Widget example, could you provide the code for the “Subscribe to Fresh Blog”?

  4. Nice article.Just check for Latest WordPress CMS articles.

  5. Thank you for this information. I want to make a widget to show the country flag of the current vistor. I was searching for this valuable content.

  6. Thank you for the detailed explanation.

  7. Thanks for the article! WordPress is the best :) I tried to work with Joomla for a while, but it got so complicated..

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