Choosing a Flat-File CMS

The static site generators that seem to be so popular at the moment are not all that appealing to me. I’ve looked at the more popular ones several times and I just can’t convince myself to invest any time in them. WordPress sites, which is what I’ve been building most over the last several years, aside from old-fashioned static sites, can really get on my nerves, both with how slow they are and how much maintenance WordPress itself needs to keep a site safely and functionally up and running. I’ve been eyeing flat-file CMSs for a while now because they’re fast, easy to install, and give my clients a way to manage content.

What: A quick list of flat-file content management systems for reference, with some of my thoughts added when I think those thoughts might be of use to me later. I did a lot of searching around today, a lot of reading documentation and some actual testing. These all seem to be actively maintained, have documentation and demos and/or are free (to try).

The list:

  • Flextype – I tried a local install and the site told me it was installed successfully but then there was no way I could get to site/admin. It kept redirecting to root/dashboard, where there was no site, so no dashboard. I couldn’t find anything in the documentation or anywhere else about it, so I thought I’d just put it online. See if that would help. I don’t have any empty domain names lying around at the moment, so I thought I’d try installing it in a sub-folder. Considering the problem I was having it would probably have been smarter to put it in a sub-domain. Anyway, after 20 minutes, fearing it would take another half hour at least to upload the rest, I cancelled the upload. The folder is 18MB, a lot smaller than WordPress, but I had a lot less patience for it. I might try again but probably not. I don’t like that I can’t get into the site’s admin in a sub-folder. I like developing on localhost, so I will always be using a sub-folder for that.
    EDIT: You can install in a sub-folder! See comment by Awilum below, and here in the documentation.
  • Typemill – I tried a local install and I’ve been reading their documentation and looking at the pretty explanatory GIFs and I’m smitten but it is limited in what it can do. It’s not right for every site, that much is clear. It is focused mainly on the writing experience and although you could probably, technically, use it to make a photography portfolio with it, that is not what this CMS is optimized for. It’s pretty though and writing in it is wonderful but organizing the different pages or posts is complex and limited. Still, for documentation, a wiki, a poetry project, this would be a good match.
  • Automad – I tried a local install and I was very impressed. This is the one so far that has been easiest to use and understand and most flexible. Blogs, pages, forms, all of it. The one thing I ran into is where to put the body of a post. From what I can see it can only be added in the front end and if you change the template that content disappears.
  • WonderCMS – A very lightweight, very simple, limited and sympathetic CMS. Page editing and adding pages is really easy. You can’t make a blog with it but for a sample site this may be just the thing.
  • razorCMS – I looked at several pages on their website and could not get into this. I found it unclear and somewhat impenetrable. Probably, if I’d installed a version, I could tell you more about it. Maybe for later.
  • Monstra – I did not try this. Their user interface looked good in the screenshot but when I clicked to go back to the home page I got an access denied error, with a nicely displayed access token or key of some sort. The reason I got the error, is because the link to home links to the index page in the downloads folder instead of in the root of the site. Also, their screenshots were not optimized, not clickable, were loaded all at once and between 3 – 5 MB each. I don’t know, if they can’t make a good website, how good is their CMS going to be? EDIT: I read somewhere that Monstra is now Flextype…
  • Kirby – This is the only one for which you have to pay. At the moment it is $109/install. I think this is somewhat doable, depending on the project. I don’t mind paying. I think it’s right to pay for people’s work. This is another one I liked a lot. You can try a local install for free and i did. Very accessible and easy to understand documentation. Very flexible. Haven’t yet figured it all out but it is promising. Allows for both static pages and blogs.
  • Grav – I have not yet tried this one though I definitely like it but I got intimidated by the sheer volume of documentation that it seems you have to plow through before you can do anything. I like a combination of doing and reading, so with this one I think I should just download a version and try. It sounds as if anything is possible with this one though, so definitely worth a look.
  • Typesetter CMS – I tried their demo. I did not like their UI and I didn’t think my clients would either.
  • Bludit – I read some of their documentation and tried their demo. I like them and I’m going to keep them in mind but one of the issues I ran into, is that I couldn’t figure out if you had to have a the blog on the home page (if you have a blog) or if you could also show it on another page in your site.
  • Pico – I read their documentation, some of it, and found it very sympathetic and clear but I think this one would ask too much from clients who want to update the content of their sites themselves. Most of them will have a hard time creating new markup files with their own content etc.

Notes: There were a few I didn’t put on this list, because they were too expensive for the jobs I would want to use them for, and some websites no longer existed or the projects were no longer maintained. And I’m sure I missed some.

There is a second post with a list of flat-file systems.

If you have any tips for me, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments. If you have anything to add to any of the ones mentioned above, please let me know that too!

Photo is gratuitous pandering to my love of herons. They’re common in both Amsterdam and Oregon, two places I spend a significant amount of time.

3 thoughts on “Choosing a Flat-File CMS”

  1. I am shocked that Kirby now costs over $100! There is absolutely no reason to throw out that much money when there are multiple free CMS. It should have stayed at around $20.


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