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What is a CMS?

By Heshy Friedman

CMS Content Management System

An often-used acronym in website development is “CMS.” This stands for “Content Management System.” In laymen’s terms, it describes a website where the site owner or users can control aspects of the content directly through the website. This is usually accomplished through a password-protection portal, where designated system users can login and have access to view or edit content on the website.

The content can include almost anything, such as editing text and pictures on a web page, or viewing database entries or form submissions. CMS platforms can be very simple, with only very specific and limited items used within CMS framework, to very complex, where an entire website is controlled via the CMS. CMS platforms can also allow very specific control of certain content items, or be more open for general page editing.

CMS may also be known as Web Content Management Systems (or use the acronyms WCM or WCMS.) This term may more specifically refer to entirely web-based systems, but the distinction is rarely made and both terms are acceptable, though CMS is the more widespread variant.

CMS systems can be custom coded for a specific website requirements, but they more often are using a pre-developed system framework. A very popular CMS framework that manages many websites is WordPress, which allows the content of the website to be controlled by a site owner or user. Other popular CMS frameworks include Joomla and Drupal.

Shopping cart websites also use a CMS to organize and control the product, customer, and order information. These include platforms such as Magento Commerce, OpenCart, and Shopify. Shopping Cart websites are virtually impossible to run without a CMS platform. Data-driven websites are also generally controlled via a CMS so that site administrators and privileged users can access the appropriate information that they need.

For informational websites, there are advantages and disadvantages of using a CMS. CMS websites are more demanding on server resources, and also need their software and plugins to be updated regularly to ensure proper performance and site health. Common CMS systems that are not running updated versions are vulnerable to attack by malware and hackers, as they look for older versions that are missing patches and security updates. Websites can also be more demanding to set up and code initially within the CMS framework, so they will typically be costlier to set up than a non-CMS website counterpart. However, the ability to edit the content and control parts of a website by a site administrator is usually an important factor and necessitates the requirement of a CMS.

For simple, small websites that don’t have any data controls, and will not be changed often, those are best left without a CMS and just coded as static HTML. Such websites will be less costly to maintain, and will not need to be updated regularly. They are also less vulnerable to hacking and intrusions from flaws and outdated versions.

Whether to use a CMS or not really depends on the nature of the website. Each website needs to be assessed individually to determine what will be the best approach, with a consideration of the site goals and budget of the person or company putting the website together.

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