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Choosing a CMS

In general you should probably choose a CMS because you already know how to use it or it is already used by your organisation. Each CMS has different advantages and disadvantages and different people will give you views on which is better. This chapter is aimed at giving you the requisite information to choose the best CMS for you.

CiviCRM works with several popular open source Content Management Systems (CMS).

  • Backdrop CMS
  • Drupal 7
  • Drupal 8
  • Joomla
  • WordPress

There are lots of resources that help guide organizations in their selection of the best CMS for their content strategy and website.

The choice of which CMS to use with CiviCRM is generally appropriately determined by factors other than differences in how CiviCRM integrates with each CMS. For example, your website may already be built using one of these CMS and there may be no need to go to the expense and hassle of reimplementing it in a different CMS. Or your CMS project may have good reasons for preferring one CMS over another. This page discusses how there may be some factors relating to your use of CiviCRM that may affect or be crucial to your decision on which CMS to use, even if many organizations find these points do not play a significant role. Before starting a project you should consider how you plan to use CiviCRM both now and in the future. Two big questions are:

  1. How much information from CiviCRM do we want to display on our website (e.g. A live list of our current members)?
  2. What information, collected through our website, do we want to store in CiviCRM (e.g. Family data from a public form with the family relationships automatically added).

This is known as integration. The type of integration you require may help you determine which is the best CMS for you.

Availability of Extensions

There are historical reasons why different CMS options have different levels of integration with CiviCRM. In 2005, CiviCRM launched without its own extension mechanism, but it was possible to write custom integrations in the form of Drupal modules or Joomla plugins, the two CMSes supported at that time. Partly as a result of the ethos of the Drupal community members participating in the CiviCRM ecosystem, a larger variety of Drupal modules to integrate with CiviCRM were created and matured.

Support for running CiviCRM with WordPress was added in 2012, which allowed WordPress plugins to implement custom integrations. 2012 also saw CiviCRM roll out its own native extension system: flexible, cross-CMS support aiming to reduce the development and maintenance effort involved in creating customizations to extend and modify core CiviCRM functionality. In recent years a large number of CiviCRM native extensions have been released, though there continue to be CMS-specific integrations, particularly around permissions and forms. So the reasons for choosing one CMS over another based on the available functionality and integration levels continue to decline.

Integration Features

Broadly there are some differences which arise because of distinctive features/norms in each CMS community, e.g.

  • In WordPress, it's pretty common to embed content in your web-pages using short-codes. CiviCRM has several short-codes in WP.
  • In Backdrop CMS/Drupal 7/Drupal 8, it's pretty common to embed content in your web-pages using blocks. CiviCRM has several blocks in Drupal.
  • In Backdrop CMS/Drupal 7/Drupal 8, CiviCRM makes use of the CMS's "roles" and "permissions" using the CMS's interfaces and approaches, and there are modules to synchronize CiviCRM groups and membership types to them.
  • In Joomla/WordPress, "roles" and "permissions" can also be managed using the CMS's interfaces and approaches, and there are plugins to synchronize groups and membership types to them.

Installation Process

The installers are a bit different - web-based installation is easier in Joomla, but it's more flexible in Drupal or WordPress. Command line based installation is easier in Drupal or WordPress.

Testing

The core system is the same across all CMS options, but occasionally there are bugs in the CMS integration code. For historical reasons, the most robust automated testing is performed on Drupal7 though as of 2019 there are very active WordPress manual testers and a growing numbers of WordPress tests are being added.

The size of the install base shown on the CiviCRM Stats site also affects how well reported issues are and how quickly fixes are tested and merged. While trends are subject to change, as of 2019, Joomla shows the least growth and WordPress the most.

Therefore it may take a bit longer to identify/resolve bugs in the BackDrop, Drupal8, Joomla and WordPress integrations but automated testing on these platforms is being continually improved.

The following chapters in this section go into more detail about what is offered for each CMS.

Before starting a project you should consider how you plan to use CiviCRM both now and in the future. Two big questions are:

  • How much information from CiviCRM do we want to display on our website (e.g. A live list of our current members)
  • What information, collected through our website, do we want to store in CiviCRM (e.g. Family data from a public form with the family relationships automatically added).

This is known as integration. How much integration you require will help you determine which is the best CMS for you.

You may also choose a CMS because you already know how to use it or it is already used by your organisation. Each CMS has different advantages and disadvantages and different people will give you views on which is better. This chapter gives a quick introduction to each of them.

Drupal is the most flexible and has the best integration with CiviCRM. If you have complex CMS needs or envisage a lot of interaction between users on your website and your CRM, then Drupal might be the CMS for you. The main negative is that this flexibility makes it harder for new site builders to get to grips with.

Backdrop CMS is very similar to Drupal 7, with many improvements making it slick and lightweight. It started as a fork (that is, a copy) of Drupal 7, aimed at users for whom Drupal 8 was likely to be too complex either to use, or to migrate to from Drupal 7. Drupal 7 modules and themes require modifications to work with Backdrop CMS, though many have already been ported and are actively maintained.

Joomla isn't as popular as WordPress, though it is more popular than Drupal. Joomla is easier to learn than Drupal. The amount of integration available is lower than then when using Drupal.

WordPress is by a wide margin the most popular of the four options. It is considered to be very easy to build sites using WordPress, especially for people that are not familiar with web technology. A lot of people know WordPress as a blogging platform rather than a CMS, but it is becoming more powerful and flexible with each release. The amount of integration available is lower than when using Drupal.

Differences at a CMS level are mentioned elsewhere through this guide.

Users and Contacts

  • Anonymous site visitors and those with a website login are website Users
  • Individuals and organisations with a CiviCRM record are Contacts