Greater Lafayette Information Technology Society

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January 17, 2012
Wally Hubbard

Content Management Systems

Many web sites are built with content management systems, which allow the web site owner to focus on content and skip a lot of the work that goes under the hood. The slides from the January 16 meeting are available in PowerPoint PPT and PDF formats.

Modern web sites require HTML, Graphics, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), JavaScript, a database (e.g. MySQL) and a programming language (e.g. PHP). JavaScript is used in the browser to support the user interface, but another programming language such as PHP is needed on the server to connect the database and build dynamic pages. Content management systems provide all of these, and organize them into a base to start from.

There are many CMS systems available. The web site CMSmatrix.org lists 1,212. We'll focus on five of the most widely used.

There are also many ways to run a CMS. You can do it directly on your own machine, or in a virtual machine that runs on your computer. You can use VMWare Player to run a virtual machine and build your own site, or download a prebuilt site (http://bitnami/org/stacks) to run in it. You can also rent a bare server from an ISP and install it, or rent a server with a pre-built installation.

Linux is commonly used, and the most common setup is called a LAMP stack. The letters stand for Linux, Apache (web server), MySQL (database) and PHP (or Perl or Python, programming langages for the server). The top LAMP CMS systems are WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. All are versatile. WordPress is great for a blog, Joomla is great for a brochure site, and Drupal is great at handling multiple users.

An example of a WordPress site is LafayetteTech.org. At Purdue, Joomla is behind the nanotechnology site nanoHUB.org. And probably the most famous Drupal site is whitehouse.gov.

A CMS can do the basic tasks needed for a web site, and many add-ons are available for the major CMSs. WordPress has  17,841 Plug-ins and 1,465 Themes, Drupal offers 14,180 Modules and 1,385 Themes and Joomla has  8,873 Extensions. These are all open source systems and the software can been freely used. The add-ons support such functions as advertising, blogs, message boards, e-commerce, event management, signups, games and project management.

Popular Windows CMS systems are DotNetNuke and SharePoint.  DotNetNuke comes in both free and paid versions, and you'll pay for SharePoint. An example of a DotNetNuke site can be seen at kiwanis.org. An example of a SharePoint site is evonik.com. SharePoint was aimed at internal corporate web sites, where each employee can control their own pages, but is also expanding to use in public-facing sites.

Tips for running a CMS: Update your content (there's little reason to visit sites that never change) and update your software (security holes are always being discovered and patched).

Follow the links above to download and play with the various CMSs. For Windows, Microsoft provides a free tool, WebMatrix, that sets up sites for you.