CMS: What is meant by Content Management System?

Both beginners and professionals have the chance to create and manage a professional website with a content management system. Here you will find a practical overview of CMS.

Do you want to create a business website, blog or online store, but don’t know how and where to start? Do you have a lot of content ideas, but no idea where to put them?

If that is the case, a content management system should be among your first ports of call.

A Content Management System (CMS) allows you to create a website without any knowledge of a programming language. With the help of such a system, you are able to fill the website with text, images, videos and all kinds of content.

Users use a graphical interface to create and integrate or manage content.

How does a content management system work?

The content management systems themselves are often created in programming languages like PHP, Python or Perl. They use databases like MySQL, where all web content is stored and retrieved. Often, it’s an online tool that you can access through an Internet browser

Frontend and backend

Most CMS have a frontend and a backend. In the backend, you can add or edit content. You can also define the layout of the website in this area or you can change it if you want to.

Behind the scenes of a homepage, all users who have the appropriate access rights are allowed to make edits. These administrators therefore decide on the content that will eventually be seen in the frontend. The frontend is the actual website that any outsider can view.  

CMS have the advantage that several employees can log into the system at the same time with one access authorisation, provided they have Internet access. This allows flexible and mobile administration and editing of the website.  

What types of CMS are there?

However, not only one form of content management system exists. Businesses or individuals have to choose from a variety of options the one that best suits their purposes.

First of all, content management systems can be divided into open source and proprietary solutions.

Open source systems

Open source systems have the advantage that all users of the system are allowed to program functional extensions in the form of add-ons or plugins and make them available to other users.

The possibilities are theoretically endless. For example, they can help you manage your website or support you in search engine optimisation. But they can also be functions that improve the user experience for visitors to your site – for example, a shopping cart for your online store or a search function that allows you to find a specific blog article.

Private users often develop these add-ons and plugins voluntarily and free of charge for other users. Likewise, companies with a commercial intent may offer add-on features for a fee. Security updates and patches to protect you from cyber-attacks are also part of this community service.

The communities that form around these open source CMSs are generally one of the strengths of such systems. The communities exchange ideas in forums or social media groups on many topics and issues related to their favourite CMS. If you have problems when using WordPress, for example, they will help you with different advice.    

Open source means open source. This means that theoretically any user can view, access and modify the source code.

Among the most popular open source content management systems are:

  • Typo3
  • WordPress
  • Joomla
  • Drupal

Proprietary solutions

In contrast to open source solutions, so-called proprietary systems are created by companies for commercial purposes. These typically offer their service or the use of the system in return for a paid license. 

In principle, the handling can be similar to the open source systems with a graphical user interface. However, users are not allowed to view or modify the source code.

Proprietary content management systems bring some advantages for their users:

  • Since usually only the developers themselves are allowed to make changes, these systems guarantee a certain level of security. While the swarm intelligence of the open source community can quickly discover any vulnerabilities – these can also attract hackers more quickly. With source codes that are not publicly available, it is not as easy to find a point of attack. Once it has been pointed out, the developer company can also easily and quickly fix an Achilles’ heel in the CMS.    
  • Furthermore, a professional customer service will help you in case of problems. While open source communities are helpful, they often offer multiple solutions, which can be confusing for CMS novices.
  • A development company can tailor the CMS directly to your needs or customise it later if your requirements change. For example, interfaces can be used to integrate the CMS into an existing IT infrastructure. 
  • Occasionally, a basic package already includes some functional extensions. However, it is possible that you will need to purchase plugins or add-ons.

Headless CMS 

A Headless CMS differs from typical content management systems in that the backend is separated from the frontend. Content can only be stored and managed with it. 

Ultimately, the end user accesses this data source to use the content for their own purposes. This consumer is responsible for the frontend presentation on the actual website – not the content producer.

Agencies that serve multiple customers with their own design ideas therefore only have to prepare the content. The disadvantage is that editors have no influence on the layout.

Decoupled CMS

Like the Headless CMS, the Decoupled CMS separates the backend from the frontend. The difference to the former is that users of the Decoupled Content Management System proactively deliver their content to different platforms. 

In the Headless CMS, on the other hand, content is merely stored and managed – the end user or customer must access it themselves.

A Decoupled CMS is useful, for example, if you use multiple publishing channels for your content. For example, you can publish content to your website and your app. Content creators have more control over how the content is delivered. 

Flat-File CMS

Usually, content management systems such as WordPress require complex database systems and a specially designed server. Flat-File-CMS do without this kind of data management systems and store the files directly on a server in a folder structure.  

In this way, one accesses the respective data directly when making requests, without having to take a detour through a complex database. Requests are therefore processed at a higher speed.

Flat-File CMSs are characterised by their simplicity, while database systems are more complicated. However, this can also change quickly with flat-file solutions as soon as the volume of data becomes excessive. In this case, complex search queries also take longer.  

Because a database is not available and this form of CMS is not yet widespread, it has not yet been a major target for cyber attacks.

Back-ups are much easier, unlike complex database systems, which makes server moves much easier.  

However, while with systems like WordPress you can get by without any programming knowledge, with flat-file CMSs you should at least have a firm grasp of the programming languages PHP, HTML, CSS and Markdown.

The communities for these newer systems are still relatively small. Accordingly, there is not as much support available as with other and better known open source solutions.

As a result, you can find and use less themes and plugins. A specific adaptation of your website is therefore more difficult.

For which areas is a CMS suitable?

Using a CMS is particularly useful if you regularly update your website with new content. This is the case for news sites, corporate blogs or online stores.

The content management system is the fastest and most effective way to publish new content, especially in an editorial environment.  

Challenges of using a CMS

Content management systems are generally intended to make work easier for their users. Nevertheless, they do bring one or two challenges. The following points should be considered when you decide to use them: 

  • CMSs can be quite complicated and grow in complexity as you add more features. Elaborate programming skills are not absolutely necessary for the creation and maintenance of the content, however, new employees often need to be trained to use a specific system.
  • Depending on which CMS and theme you ultimately choose, your design freedom for your website may always be somewhat limited. Some flexibility is always available, but if you want to make fundamental changes, you will need programming skills.   
  • For a single static page, whose content you rarely change, the use of a CMS is not necessarily worthwhile.


Content management systems are still one of the easiest ways to create an Internet presence. You can draw from a wide range of choices.

Both beginners without programming knowledge and professionals with a wealth of experience can find suitable systems.

Despite certain framework conditions, users remain relatively free in their design freedom. However, it always depends on which CMS you choose.     

Steve Paine