Content management without overhead, Part 1 Flat-file CMS for every taste
Content management made easy: Developers who want to provide help texts, FAQs or simply a website for an app often have to deal with systems such as WordPress, including overhead. It is much easier with flat file systems.
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For simple websites, for example text-based blogs, flat-file CMS are excellent. (Picture: suzyhazelwood / Pexels )
Whether FAQ, internal wiki, help texts or an end customer website for a small app: Software developers always come back to the situation that they have to provide the written word or image material for a larger target group.
The excursion into web development is often unavoidable. Anyone who opens this Pandora’s box will quickly notice that most content management systems-be it Drupal, WordPress or even Typo3 – are completely overloaded for small web projects.
On the one hand, you need a relatively powerful web space, which causes costs and maintenance. On the other hand, the overhead for the maintenance of the system itself is enormous, especially since these CMS are very widespread and correspondingly popular with attackers.
Flat File CMS: Simple and Efficient
Anyone who simply wants to publish content is therefore better advised to use a smaller solution: So-called flat-file CMS store content in simple (“flat”) text and HTML files and folder structures and thus do without external databases such as MySQL or MariaDB. This allows you to work even on the simplest webspaces, which saves costs. And if necessary, can be moved by simply copying. But there are more advantages:
Ease: A flat file CMS is copied to the server and set up with a few clicks in the browser or via text editor, done.
Speed: The absence of database management ensures high speed, especially for simple pages.
Ease of maintenance: Maintenance work can be carried out easily via FTP program and text editor.
Security: Flat file systems are a living KISS (“Keep it simple, stupid”): Fewer interfaces and functions mean less attack surface for computer criminals and reduce sources of error.
Backup friendliness: With flat file systems, a simple backup is to copy the files to another storage, for example via rsync to a cloud folder or via Cronjob to a backup server.
Comfort: In most cases, the operation corresponds to common operating concepts of “large” CMS systems, i.e. a user frontend and an admin backend. What is largely omitted is the server level, since hardly any maintenance is required here.
Flexibility: Common flat file systems are not only easily adaptable to your own needs, but also have modern technologies such as markdown, plugin and theme interfaces.
Flat file systems: Which are recommended?
Currently, the “market” of mostly free content management systems is similar to the flat-file principle of the situation that offered itself 20 years ago with the advent of the first blog systems: At that time there was a rich selection of comparable systems in addition to WordPress, but in time WordPress emerged as the most popular.
Such a development is currently not foreseeable in the flat file area, especially since the content management systems and wikis usually exist next to the large systems and take over special tasks. However, there are a number of very promising candidates:
Wiki systems are usually complex because they are designed for many parallel users and processing steps. This is exactly why DokuWiki exists: The flat-file wiki system is designed to set up smaller wiki systems in no time, such as those required for teams, smaller companies, knowledge bases or intranet dictionaries. The decisive factor here is the almost non-existent overhead compared to “large” systems such as MediaWiki: When a project is finished, the DokuWiki folder on the webspace can simply be zipped and archived. Nevertheless, users do not have to do without the comfort of the large systems, which, however, are still the ultimate for the rare large wiki projects.
The name of the German open source project FlatPress is program, not for nothing one is oriented to WordPress. And for good reason: FlatPress focuses – as originally WordPress-on the blog aspect of content management, namely the easiest possible publishing of loose content. Standard compliance is very important to the developers of the system running under PHP, in addition, the system has been around for 15 years, as a result of which it has reached a certain degree of maturity. Themes are created using the Smarty theme engine.
GetSimple is an efficient and flexible flat file CMS based on XML. The CMS running under GPL offers some interesting special functions: The creation of themes is kept particularly simple and it is optimized for the creation of small websites. Numerous add-ons allow you to quickly adapt the system to your own needs. Due to the high degree of minimalism, GetSimple is particularly suitable for very simple websites.
Gollum-Wiki is more for tech-savvy users: The idea is to provide a wiki system based on Git. This means that changes can be conveniently entered via Git commands. However, users do not have to do without Markdown, BibTeX, MathJax and other languages. The installation is done quickly by command line, also the entire operation is handled in this way.
Grav is a modern open source CMS with flat file technology. In addition to a powerful API and high speed, Grav can score points with its theme and plugin system: The admin interface is also available as a plugin, the operation can also be conveniently done via editor. Markdown and image editing features are also on board. If you know WordPress, you will immediately find your way around here.
Pico CMS serves a similar target group to Grav, i.e. users who want a technically simple CMS with a number of practical functions at hand. However, Pico focuses much more on simplicity and speed and can also be operated via the command line. A powerful theme interface and support for plugins is also on board.
Typemill also pursues an interesting, minimalist approach: The slim, easy-to-set flat-file CMS is specially designed for use in text-heavy applications. It is used for micro-publishing, for example for documentaries, web business cards, developer notes, scientific articles or web novels. This makes Typemill particularly suitable for developers. The plugin and theme selection is relatively small and subordinate to the textual and scientific approach, but the existing themes and plugins are extremely practical. The idea of the “store” is pretty: Anyone who uses themes or plugins can provide the developer with a tip via Paypal.
Basically, there is nothing against testing flat file systems in personal use or using them as a central productivity solution in the company. They are installed in just a few steps, even backups or copies are a breeze.
At the same time, flat-file CMS fulfill the intended purpose of providing a solid content management basis for small and medium-sized projects. Developers can benefit from such a system in everyday life, because it runs extremely resource-saving on any webspace or local web server and causes almost no overhead.