About Content Management

I recently fielded a question which asked how WordPress and other content management systems (CMS) work. That opportunity reminded me that the simple questions need answers as much as the more complex issues I often address. In case you were wondering, here are the basics.

Building Blocks

WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and other LAMP (Linux apache MySQL and PHP) content management systems (CMS) build pages with PHP, which is PHP Hypertext Preprocessor. (My apologies for the acronyms.)

Your web browser understands hypertext and a couple related scripting languages like Javascript and CSS (cascading style sheets). Mostly, your web browser gathers addresses from the servers you visit and displays the text and images in the hypertext. HTML, the basic building block of web pages stands for hypertext markup language.

PHP allows web developers to create hypertext and to “preprocess” instructions that translate into more hypertext. For a simple example, if you create a page that asks a reader to enter two numbers or some text, the server can calculate or add your newly input text to that page. PHP also performs relatively powerful and flexible functions as a scripting language. For some rather technical reasons, it doesn’t really qualify as a programming language which raises another topic for another time.

A WordPress website contains a lot more than some text and a few numbers, so it needs a way to keep all that information organized. Most CMS developers choose to keep that information in a database. It works like a huge file cabinet. You get a spot to keep user information. Another place in the database keeps the posts that you write. There’s even a place in the database to keep track of pictures and colors you choose for text or backgrounds.

What about the LA part of LAMP? Linux, like Windows or Mac OS is the operating system that runs the web server. apache (lower case “a”) is the web server software.

Assemble the Pieces

So, WordPress is a collection of PHP scripts which make web pages. MySQL stores those pages and other functional information.  In reality, many WordPress websites are built around two page designs (a page and a post). The database stores the content of each page or post with specific instructions about image placement, which images to include and text formatting. That way, you get a very neat and tidy website with many pages that keep a consistent visual appearance.

Joomla! and Drupal function in much the same way as WordPress. As a rule, content management systems perform the same tasks. They differ only in how the user interface, the way you and I interact with the site, with links and buttons, are organized. I find that WordPress makes the easiest CMS for small offices and organizations that don’t require complex access rules.

I like Joomla for websites with special rules for different levels of access to read or create content. For example, if you need separate areas of your website for the general public, paid members and board members, and maybe separate committee areas where users are prohibited from posting in other areas, Joomla controls that kind of access with ease.

Drupal powers some very powerful websites and allows developers great flexibility. As Spiderman is often reminded, great power comes with great responsibility. I find Drupal websites tend to become centered around the needs of the developer instead of the end user, more often than Joomla or WordPress sites.

Keep Learning

If you want to read more, you can choose from many books and websites about WordPress, Joomla and PHP/MySQL. I’d encourage you to look through one to satisfy your curiosity. You can also download a copy of WordPress open the scripts with a basic text editor. You may find the code pretty easy to read, with a nearby reference. If you want to try it out for yourself, click the link below and order hosting. We will always answer your questions. Who know? You may create something wonderful.

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