For smaller sites most times the larger CMSes aren't necessary and may end up slowing you down. Having to develop a site on a test server and set up the database are steps you really don't need to take for a site with mostly static content. You want to be able to develop as fast as possible yet still want to give your client at least the ability to edit their own copy.
Or maybe you are building the site for your own use and don’t need all the backend stuff most CMSes come with. Just a real simple CMS that allows for batch upload of photos or display content dynamically in a few places. Since I know very little PHP a lot of the time there are a few little things I’d like to add to static sites yet not have to deal with a large CMS or find a script somewhere on the web to use.
This is where flat file CMSes come into play. You don’t have to worry about setting up a database or worry about special hosting requirements. As long as the server supports PHP you should be in business. Depending on your PHP or other programing knowledge you can find a flat file content management system that using that language or that uses it’s own templating language for dumb people like me.
The vast majority are open source and light weight compared to some of the bigger database driven content management systems.
Of course there are many options for content management systems out there. You can either go with a a simple CMS or something more powerful like ExpressionEngine, my personal CMS of choice. Or take a look at the list of five best CMSes for designers.
PHP Based Flat File CMSes
Most of the flat file CMSes I looked at where PHP based since most hosts support php and it is probably the most common server side language for smaller sites and most CMSes in general.
There are tons of CMSes out there but lots are very new. This one is version 3.1 so it has been around the block once or twice and has developers working on it. With over 100,000 downloads, or so the website says and a team working on it not just one guy in his basement.
Data is stored as XML and installation is pretty basic. It looks like there are a few plugins and pre-built themes available. It comes with a pretty basic set of template tags for the usual stuff like excerpts, displaying the title and so on.
A little different than the other ones on this list. The content management of Page Lime lives on their servers and you connect to it with just one line of code. Which can actually be pretty nice. Most of us are used to using Google’s hosted fonts and copies of JQuery and so forth. The cms is geared toward web designers who need a simple way for clients to manage their own content.
The only thing I don’t like is you need to add a subdomain like cms.yourswebsite.com to sites using this.
The one real nice feature that stood out to me of this one is it’s image and photo editing capabilities. Most clients don’t have a way of doing basic image resizing and color correction, Page Lime has it built in. If you pay for the CMS you get access to premium features like being able to rebrand the control panel.
Price: 50 sites for $19 a month
This one is fairly new but boasts 10,000 downloads so far. Data is stored as XML. Looks like there are some extensions already created for it.
Statamic is still in beta but is actually the reason why I got interested in flat file content management systems. Looks like they have some good developers behind this project and the cms looks very promising. It doesn’t look like it won’t be open source which is disappointing but I’m going to still keep an eye on it and see how it is when it comes out.
I really think there is a big hole in the market for an open source, flat file cms. Lots of people use WordPress for small sites but even that is overkill.
Pluck is another nice CMS currently in version 4.7. It does look like it may be getting neglected at this point but is still usable.
Pretty simple to install just upload the files to your server and add the Feindura class to your site and you are good to go.
Kirby is a little different. It doesn’t have a fancy backend. You can manage the site with just files and folders. You create your site structure by creating folders. Text files are used for the site content. An interesting approach.
With Pulse you create Blocks to add content editable content to. Pulse is nice because you can add it easily to an existing site.
Monstra is a simple little php based CMS. Looks pretty easy to get up and running. Not a huge following yet but it looks like it has the potential with it’s api for developing out plugins and additional core features.
Looks like it still may be in the works.
What Did I Miss
These types of CMSes are numerous yet they can be hard to find because they don’t show up in the search engines. Sometimes developers just make a cool little CMS and don’t promote it at all outside a small circle.
So I know there are some other good ones out there. Feel free to drop a link to your favorite flat file content management system in the comments below.