Best Open Source CMS Platforms Reviewed

published on 13 January 2024

Selecting the best open source CMS platform can be an overwhelming task. With so many options to evaluate across multiple criteria like features, usability, community support and more, it's difficult to identify the ideal solution.

This comprehensive review simplifies the decision process by benchmarking the top open source CMS contenders. From versatile giants like WordPress and Drupal to more specialized solutions, you'll get an in-depth analysis mapping each platform's strengths and limitations to help determine the best fit for your needs.

You'll discover how platforms compare for core authoring and content management, while also evaluating advanced capabilities around scalability, security, and performance. With insights into developer community support plus recommendations for hosting and implementation, this guide aims to equip you with everything required to make an informed CMS selection.

Introduction to the Best Open Source CMS Platforms

This article provides an overview and comparison of the top open source CMS platforms in 2023, analyzing their features, usability, and community support. As the article context states, we will be reviewing some of the best free and open-source content management systems available.

Exploring the Best Open Source CMS Free Options

An open source CMS is a free content management system with publicly accessible source code that can be modified and distributed. Some of the most popular open source CMS platforms include:

  • WordPress: The world's most popular CMS, powering over 40% of all websites. WordPress is user-friendly, highly customizable, and has a wealth of plugins and themes. It excels at blogging and basic websites.

  • Joomla: A flexible CMS capable of powering all types of websites. It has sophisticated user access controls and multilingual support. Joomla powers over 3% of all websites.

  • Drupal: An enterprise-level CMS with immense flexibility and scalability. Drupal powers complex websites and boasts robust security provisions. Over 2% of all websites use Drupal.

We'll compare the features and use cases of these leading open source options in the next section.

Criteria for Evaluation: Features, Usability, and Community Support

We will judge the CMS platforms based on:

  • Content Authoring: The simplicity and flexibility of creating, editing, publishing, and organizing content
  • Decoupled Architectures: Ability to separate the content backend from the frontend presentation layer
  • Accessibility: Compliance with web accessibility standards for those with disabilities
  • Multilingual Support: Translation abilities and localization features
  • Security: Built-in provisions for protection, permissions, and recovery
  • Personalization: Customizing content for specific users and audiences
  • E-commerce: Integrations and support for building online stores
  • Performance & Scaling: Speed, caching, and ability to handle high traffic
  • Web Hosting & Server Needs: Infrastructure requirements and complexity

Additionally, we will analyze the usability, learning curve, and size of the community and support ecosystem around each platform.

Is there any free CMS?

There are a few open source CMS platforms that can be used for free without any licensing costs, including WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.

WordPress is likely the most well-known free CMS. The open source WordPress software can be downloaded and self-hosted on your own web server without paying any licensing fees. There are also free WordPress.com blogs available, however these have more limitations in terms of customizations and monetization options compared to self-hosted WordPress sites.

Joomla is another popular free and open source CMS. Like WordPress, the Joomla software is free to download and use without restrictions. Joomla offers robust content management features out of the box, though it has a steeper learning curve compared to WordPress.

Drupal is an enterprise-level CMS with advanced functionality. The open source Drupal software can be used at no cost without licensing fees. However, to take full advantage of Drupal's capabilities, technical expertise is required for development, customization, hosting, maintenance, etc. So there may be other associated costs, even though Drupal itself is free.

Overall, all three platforms - WordPress, Joomla, Drupal - can be used as free CMS solutions in terms of software licensing. However, factors like development, maintenance, and hosting will impact the total cost of ownership over time. For most small sites with basic content management needs, WordPress offers the best free CMS option. As complexity increases, Drupal and Joomla provide more advanced options at zero license cost.

Is there any other CMS better than WordPress?

Yes, Drupal is an open-source CMS that many consider to be better than WordPress for certain use cases.

Drupal Overview

Drupal is free to download and you only need to pay for web hosting, just like WordPress. It is a powerful CMS with advanced functionality, but also has a steeper learning curve compared to WordPress.

Some key things to know about Drupal:

  • Requires coding knowledge for customizations and advanced features
  • Excellent built-in security and performance optimization
  • Robust multisite and multi-language support
  • More flexible content modeling and complex workflows
  • Enterprise-level scalability and reliability

Drupal vs WordPress

While both Drupal and WordPress are flexible open source CMS platforms, there are some differences:

  • Ease of use: WordPress is simpler for beginners, while Drupal has a steeper learning curve.
  • Customization: Drupal offers more built-in features and flexibility for developers.
  • Scalability: Drupal handles higher traffic volumes and complex deployments better.
  • Security: Drupal has very robust security measures built-in.

So while WordPress works well for many, Drupal may be the better choice for large or complex sites needing advanced functionality. The tradeoff is Drupal's learning curve vs WordPress' simplicity.

What is the best CMS for my website?

Choosing the best open source CMS platform for your website depends on your specific needs and goals. When evaluating CMS options, here are some key factors to consider:

Features

The core features you require like content authoring, marketing automation, e-commerce capabilities, multilingual support, etc. For example, WordPress and Drupal have rich features for blogging and content management, while Shopify excels at e-commerce.

Flexibility and Customization

How much control do you want over look, feel, features, and functionality? WordPress and Drupal are highly customizable, while Wix focuses more on drag-and-drop simplicity.

Performance and Scalability

Consider bandwidth and traffic needs now and in the future. Drupal and TYPO3 are built to scale better for enterprise-level sites.

Developer Community

An active developer community ensures ongoing support. WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal have among the largest open source communities.

Ease of Use

The platform should align with your team's technical abilities. Wix and WordPress.com are very user-friendly, while Drupal and Joomla have steeper learning curves.

Evaluating these key elements can help determine which open source CMS best fits your goals and resources. Most platforms offer free open source downloads to test out the admin interface and essential features before fully migrating your website.

What is open-source CMS?

An open source CMS is a content management system that is maintained by its community of developers, rather than one developed and owned by a single company. The source code is available to all, and anyone can modify it and create their own functionality.

Some key aspects of open source CMS platforms:

  • Community-driven development: Instead of being controlled by a private company, open source CMS platforms rely on a community of developers and users to build new features, fix bugs, and improve security. This leads to rapid innovation.

  • Customizability: The publicly available source code allows developers to easily customize the CMS to meet specific needs. Plugins and themes make this even easier.

  • Lower cost: Open source CMS platforms are free to download and use. While hosting and support costs money, there are no expensive proprietary license fees.

  • Flexibility: Users are not locked into restrictive vendor contracts. The platform can be freely modified without needing permission.

Popular open source CMS options like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal power over 60% of all websites. Their vibrant communities enable robust platforms that can handle complex sites. For those with some technical skills, open source CMS provides unparalleled flexibility to build fully customized digital experiences.

Overview of Top Open Source CMS Contenders for 2023

We explore some of the leading open source CMS platforms that are viable options in 2023, including the newly released Drupal 10. These open source content management systems provide robust features for building and managing websites without licensing fees.

WordPress: The Ubiquitous CMS Giant

As the world's most popular CMS, WordPress offers:

  • Ease of use with an intuitive dashboard and theming options
  • Huge ecosystem of over 55,000 free and paid plugins and themes
  • Vibrant community support from a large user base

These qualities have made WordPress the go-to open source CMS for over 43% of all websites, from personal blogs to enterprise sites. It scales well and has plug-ins for features like e-commerce, marketing automation, and more.

However, as WordPress powers over 413 million websites, it also faces security issues. Proper hardening and monitoring is essential, especially for business sites.

Joomla: A Versatile Content Management Contender

Joomla is a flexible open source CMS with:

  • Extensive site building and content management tools
  • Over 9,000 extensions for added functionality
  • Multi-lingual support in over 75 languages

The active Joomla community has enabled it to evolve into an extensible CMS capable of powering all types of websites. It offers features like accessibility compliance, marketing automation, and e-commerce integrations.

While not as beginner-friendly as WordPress, Joomla provides more configuration options for developers. Its focus is also more on traditional websites over blogs or simple brochure sites.

Drupal: The Enterprise-Grade CMS Powerhouse

Known for large enterprise-level websites, Drupal is built to:

  • Provide stellar content authoring and management abilities
  • Scale to handle extremely high traffic loads
  • Enable complex, customized implementations

Drupal 10, the latest release, brings improvements like automated testing, React integration, and GraphQL support.

With a dedicated security team and updates every 3 months, Drupal offers robust security. It powers complex sites like Tesla, NASA, Harvard, and the Grammy Awards.

The trade-offs are its steep learning curve and need for dedicated resources for development and maintenance. But for advanced websites, Drupal delivers powerfully.

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Comparing Open Source CMS Features

We do an in-depth analysis of the essential content management features across the shortlisted open source CMS platforms.

Content Authoring and Editing Experience

The best open source CMS platforms provide intuitive content authoring with WYSIWYG editors for easily formatting text, inserting media, and previewing content. For example, WordPress has the Gutenberg editor which makes content creation very simple with drag and drop blocks. Similarly, Drupal provides the CKEditor for rich text editing. Joomla also has a WYSIWYG editor for formatting content. All of these platforms support features like headings, text styling, quotes, tables, etc.

When it comes to editing workflow, Drupal has more advanced capabilities like scheduling content publishing, revision tracking, etc. Joomla also provides versioning for content editing. Overall, WordPress offers the easiest authoring experience while Drupal and Joomla provide more advanced editing features.

Advanced Media and File Management

Managing images, documents, videos and other digital assets is essential for any CMS. WordPress enables media library access across sites in multisite installs. Drupal integrates with cloud storage services like AWS S3 for managing assets. Joomla supports bulk uploads and editing image properties like alt text.

For image optimization, Joomla integrates with Cloudinary while Drupal has modules like ImageAPI Optimize. WordPress requires plugins like ShortPixel but delivers great media management capabilities out of the box. Drupal edge ahead with more advanced DAM features.

Customizable Layouts and Templating

All leading open source CMS platforms provide theme systems for customizing site presentation and layouts.

For example, WordPress has a thriving ecosystem of free and premium themes. It also enables creation of custom page templates for flexible content presentation.

Joomla templates use the easy-to-learn Bootstrap framework. Developers can build custom templates with multiple positions and variations.

Drupal introduced experimental layout builder in Drupal 8. Drupal 9 improves layout management further with templates and display modes for crafting page designs.

Overall, WordPress offers the most flexibility and customization in layouts while Drupal provides a structured approach with display modes. Joomla strikes a balance with Bootstrap based templates.

Managing Users and Permissions

Fine-grained access control is important for securely managing CMS content. WordPress has a roles and capabilities system for assigning user permissions. Drupal has even more advanced user access rules and admin roles for granular content access.

Joomla ACL also provides view, edit and other levels of access by content type or user group. Overall Drupal edges out with more extensible user permissions while WordPress strikes a simplicity vs configurability balance.

SEO and Metadata Capabilities

On page SEO is vital for visibility and traffic. WordPress provides SEO metadata like page titles and descriptions for customizing how pages appear in search engines. Drupal and Joomla also enable configuring meta tags.

For structural markup, WordPress has plugins like RankMath and Yoast SEO. Joomla extensions like sh404SEF also help with URL formatting and sitemaps. Drupal contributed modules provide advanced functionality like XML sitemaps.

Overall the platforms are evenly matched for basic SEO needs but Drupal and WordPress edge out Joomla when more advanced optimizations are required.

Evaluating Advanced CMS Capabilities for Diverse Needs

As the web evolves, content management systems must keep pace with new technologies, devices, and user expectations. Selecting a future-proof CMS platform means evaluating capabilities beyond basic authoring and publishing.

Decoupled and Headless CMS Architectures

Decoupled architectures separate the frontend presentation layer from the backend CMS, communicating via APIs. This offers more flexibility:

  • Choose any frontend framework (React, Vue, etc.)
  • Faster, more customizable frontends
  • Easier progressive web apps, JAMstack sites

Examples:

  • WordPress as backend with React frontend
  • Contentful headless CMS delivering content via APIs

Key features:

  • REST or GraphQL APIs
  • Integrations with popular frameworks
  • Webhook support

Multilingual and Localization Support

For global audiences, CMS platforms should simplify translating content:

  • Automatic translation workflows
  • Interface translation (RTL language support)
  • Regional variants of content
  • Localized date formats, currencies etc.

Examples:

  • Drupal out-of-the-box multilingual support
  • Joomla language packs for interface translation

Integrating Marketing Automation Tools

Beyond content, CMS platforms increasingly provide built-in features for:

  • Email marketing and newsletters
  • Landing pages and simple websites
  • Contact and lead capture forms
  • Customer profiles and segmentation

This reduces need for multiple systems.

Key capabilities:

  • Email marketing integration
  • Form builders
  • CRM / customer profiles
  • Segmentation and personalization

E-Commerce Solutions for Creating an Online Shop

For selling products online, many CMS platforms offer e-commerce integrations:

  • Product catalogs and inventory
  • Shopping carts and transactions
  • Taxes, shipping, and payment gateways

Examples:

  • WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads plugins for WordPress
  • Drupal Commerce module

Ensuring Accessibility and Compliance

Choose a CMS that helps with:

  • WCAG 2.1 and ADA compliance
  • GDPR consent management
  • Automatic ALT text for images
  • Administrative interface accessibility

This reduces overhead in ensuring sites meet latest standards.

Security: A Keystone for Open Source CMS Platforms

As publicly accessible platforms powered by open source code, it is critical for these CMS solutions to have strong security measures in place to prevent threats.

Core Security Provisions and SSL Certificate Integration

  • Encryption of data at rest and in transit ensures privacy and prevents unauthorized access. Popular open source CMS platforms like WordPress and Drupal enable SSL certificate integration out of the box.
  • Access controls, user roles and permissions prevent privilege escalations. This is an important aspect as these platforms can have multiple users and contributors.
  • Regular security updates and vulnerability testing ensures any flaws are quickly identified and patched. The open source community behind platforms like Joomla rapidly responds to threats.
  • Data backups help recover from potential ransomware or other attacks. Most CMS solutions have plugins to enable automated backups.

Ongoing Maintenance and Security Updates

  • The open source community behind these platforms frequently issues maintenance releases and security patches. For instance, the recent Drupal 10 release contained multiple security fixes.
  • Transparency around vulnerabilities is critical. Most platforms have public issue trackers detailing reported flaws and progress updates.
  • Given the public exposure, response times to threats is prioritized. Popular CMS communities often issue patches within hours for critical issues.

Complementary Security Measures

  • CDNs and firewalls provide additional hardening against DDoS and other network attacks.
  • Server hardening best practices help minimize attack surface area. This includes disabling unused components, SELinux policies, etc.
  • Anti-malware plugins offer threat detection capabilities for uploaded files and content.
  • Following platform security guidelines and staying updated is key for site owners to remain secure.

Assessing Performance & Scaling Capabilities

We assess the CMS platforms' baseline speed, caching abilities, and capacity to handle high traffic loads.

Benchmarking Default Website Performance

When evaluating CMS platforms, it's important to test performance in a default, low-traffic configuration. This provides a baseline for:

  • Page load times: How fast pages load from a cold start and after caching.
  • Request counts: The number of requests required to assemble each page. More requests can slow things down.
  • Bandwidth needs: Total bandwidth consumed per page. Lighter is better.

For example, on a basic brochure-style site built in WordPress, we might see:

  • Page load time: 1.2 seconds
  • Requests: 28
  • Bandwidth: 1.3 MB

Meanwhile, a comparable Drupal-based site could benchmark:

  • Page load time: 1.5 seconds
  • Requests: 65
  • Bandwidth: 1.9 MB

So while WordPress ekes out a slight performance advantage here, both platforms are reasonably quick for low-traffic sites.

Caching Strategies and Website Optimization

When traffic spikes, caching and optimization becomes critical for performance. Here, platforms like Joomla and Drupal shine over simpler ones like WordPress.

Built-in caching features vary:

  • WordPress: Limited native caching. Relies heavily on 3rd-party caching plugins like WP Rocket.
  • Joomla: Decent native caching abilities. Also supports plugins like JCache.
  • Drupal: Excellent built-in caching and asset aggregation systems.

Additional performance wins come from minifying CSS, JavaScript, HTML files, and enabling GZIP compression. Joomla and Drupal have more robust tools here as well.

So while WordPress can be optimized for speed, Joomla and Drupal have a performance advantage out-of-the-box, with fewer dependencies on 3rd-party solutions.

Reliability of Scaling for High-Traffic Sites

When evaluating open source CMS platforms, we also need to examine "success stories" with documented performance at high traffic volumes.

Platforms like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal all have examples of large brands relying on them for millions of monthly visitors. However, Drupal seems to have more very-high-traffic use cases documented.

For example, Drupal powers complex, high-traffic sites like:

  • Tesla.com (60+ million monthly visitors)
  • Economist.com (26+ million monthly visitors)
  • MIT.edu (over 1 billion annual page views)

So while all three platforms can theoretically scale with things like database caching, CDNs, etc., Drupal has more public high-traffic implementations, proving horizontal scalability into the billions of annual pageviews.

Hosting, System Resources and Cost Analysis

Analyzing Server Environment Needs and Performance

When evaluating the best open source CMS platforms, it's important to analyze the server environment needs and expected performance. Some key considerations include:

  • PHP and MySQL versions: Most open source CMS require PHP 5.6+ and MySQL 5.6+. Newer versions like PHP 7.4+ and MySQL 8+ are recommended for better performance.
  • Operating system compatibility: Linux-based OS like Ubuntu, Debian, CentOS are preferred. Some may also support Windows Server.
  • Computing needs: CPU cores, RAM, SSD storage etc. based on expected traffic. WordPress may need 1 GB RAM for 100k monthly visitors.
  • Caching mechanisms: Opcode caching via Redis/Memcached helps minimize server load. Other caches for database, objects etc.
  • CDN for media/assets: Offloading static media to CDNs improves site performance and scalability.

Evaluating these technical aspects helps match the CMS platform to an appropriate hosting environment for optimal stability and speed.

Popular managed hosting providers that specialize in hosting CMS platforms include:

  • WP Engine: Optimized WordPress hosting with custom PHP-FPM stacks, SSD storage, CDN and advanced caching. Prices start around $35/month.
  • Pantheon: Enterprise-grade hosting and DevOps workflows tailored for Drupal and WordPress sites. Plans start at $100/month.
  • Acquia: Cloud hosting on Acquia's infrastructure, with expert Drupal optimizations. Subscriptions begin at $80/month.
  • SiteGround: Fast shared hosts optimized for CMS like WordPress and Joomla. Starts at $14.99/month.

These managed hosts fine-tune their stacks for specific CMS platforms. They provide essential performance enhancements, security, and scalability capabilities out-of-the-box.

Calculating Ongoing Cost Considerations

The total cost of ownership (TCO) for an open source CMS stack includes:

  • License fees: Open source platforms have free licenses, but commercial add-ons may have fees.
  • Managed hosting: $35-100+/month for optimized CMS hosting.
  • CDN usage: Typically $0.15 - $0.30/GB of bandwidth via CDNs.
  • Security services: $200+ for SSL certificates, $30+ for managed firewalls etc.
  • Developers and maintenance: Can range from $50 - 150+/hour for customizations, upgrades, support etc.

Factors like number of sites, traffic levels, features needed affect TCO. But open source avoids proprietary license costs up to $150k+ for enterprise systems.

Community Support: The Backbone of Open Source CMS Platforms

The developer community, support channels, and ecosystem viability hugely impact the CMS experience. As open source software, community support serves as the backbone for continued advancement. Let's explore key areas that determine the quality of assistance users can expect.

Assessing the Developer Community Size and Expertise

The number of contributors and community members engaged with an open source CMS platform offers insight into its popularity and potential longevity. Specifically:

  • Active code contributors indicate developer enthusiasm. Fostering an engaged community directly correlates to platform innovation over time.
  • Agency partnerships reveal 3rd party vendor support. Vetted agencies with certified developers expand the available talent pool for implementation and customization services.
  • Global adoption measures worldwide relevance. Widespread use across countries and languages signals flexibility to accommodate diverse needs.

For example, WordPress touts a community of over 500,000 active developers and thousands of agency partners in over 120 countries. Such extensive reach promises strong continued enhancement.

Comprehensive learning resources empower users to fully utilize CMS capabilities:

  • Well-organized documentation with getting started guides, API references, and best practice recommendations enables self-service troubleshooting.
  • An easily searchable knowledge base with a robust catalog of questions and answers assists in quickly finding existing solutions.
  • Contextual in-line help and tooltips provide assistance directly within the admin console at the point of need.

Drupal sets a high standard here with hundreds of thousands of community-contributed solutions in its knowledge base, plus context-sensitive help integrated throughout the admin interface.

Engaging with Forums, Blogs, and Conferences

Vibrant forums, blogs, and events connect community members for continued learning and support:

  • Discussion forums allow collaboration with other users and developers to get answers and share knowledge.
  • Blog platforms publish the latest platform news, tips & tricks articles, and guides from across the community.
  • Conferences and meetups facilitate in-person networking and training opportunities globally.

For example, Joomla users have access to free online forums with over 7 million discussion posts, plus a community magazine updated daily with relevant articles.

With open source CMS platforms, an engaged community ecosystem makes all the difference in ongoing enhancement and assistance. Evaluating contributor enthusiasm and available learning resources helps determine expectations for support reliability.

Conclusion: Choosing the Best Open Source CMS for Your Needs

Main Takeaways from the CMS Features Comparison

After comparing the top open source CMS platforms, a few key takeaways emerge:

  • WordPress stands out for its ease of use, flexibility, and vast ecosystem of plugins and themes. It's a great choice for blogs, basic websites, and online stores. However, it can lack robust enterprise-grade features.
  • Joomla provides very strong multi-site management, multi-lingual support, and complex web application capabilities. It suits large, complex sites like news portals or intranets. But it has a steeper learning curve.
  • Drupal excels in advanced functionality like marketing automation, personalization, and scaling. Its modular architecture makes it ideal for building custom solutions. But it requires more development expertise.

Identifying Ideal Scenarios for Each CMS Platform

Here are some guidelines on which open source CMS aligns best with specific use cases:

  • Use WordPress for basic websites, blogs, and simple online stores that need an easy admin UI and wide design flexibility.
  • Select Joomla for large, multi-lingual portal sites with complex access control and diverse content types like news, forums, etc.
  • Choose Drupal for advanced websites and web apps needing custom modules, marketing features, or high performance at scale.

Guidance for Your Final Decision on Open Source CMS

When deciding between open source CMS options, first outline your key criteria like budget, timeline, features needed, and in-house vs external development resources available.

Then match those needs to the CMS strengths above - WordPress for simplicity and ease of use, Joomla for enterprise content hubs, or Drupal for advanced custom solutions. Weigh the pros and cons to determine the best fit.

Leverage free trials and community support during evaluation. And consider the total cost including extensions, hosting, maintenance etc not just license cost. Selecting the right open source CMS platform is pivotal to building a successful online presence so analyze your options carefully.

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