With solutions such as The Zend Framework and CodeIgniter making it easier than ever to create complex web applications, it can be tempting to flex your developer muscles and create custom framework-based solutions whenever the opportunity arises.
However, the PHP community has also made great strides with another type of web development solution, as the content management system (CMS). Intended to facilitate the workflow in a collaborative environment, a CMS is traditionally considered to be ideally suited for managing the writing, editing, and publication of pages, images, and downloadable documents comprising a web site. However, today's CMS solutions are capable of doing so much more, with the PHP community arguably leading the charge towards the availability of impressively sophisticated open source, hybrid open source, and commercial solutions.
In this article, I'll take a look at five prominent PHP-driven content management systems, discussing their key features and highlighting prominent deployments. Although such compilations are popular for inducing much discussion regarding the particular merits of one solution over another, my goal is merely to provide those beginning the investigatory process with a valuable starting point. If you would like to recommend other solutions, please add your suggestions in the comments!


With version 1.0 released in 2001, Drupal ranks among the oldest and most popular CMS solutions. Its maturity shines through in a wide variety of ways, whether through the incredible amount of project documentation, the high-profile users (see "Prominent Deployments" below), or the availability of third-party learning resources such as DrupalCon.
As is a common theme throughout this article, Drupal's success rests largely on the vibrant user community, which has contributed literally thousands of modules capable of extending the core software in every conceivable way. You'll also find an aftermarket of free and commercial Drupal-specific themes capable of satisfying any design need.
Users interested in commercial support services should check out Acquia, a Drupal-oriented firm founded by none other than Drupal creator Dries Buytaert.

Prominent Drupal Deployments

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Figure 1.
WhiteHouse.gov Offers Slick Video Integration
Check out the Drupal demo.


ExpressionEngine is the most recent newcomer of the five CMS solutions introduced in this article. However, this is really in name only, as ExpressionEngine's roots are intertwined with pMachine, which at one point was one of the most popular CMS solutions around. With such a storied history, and built atop the popular PHP framework CodeIgniter, ExpressionEngine already offers an incredible array of features and boasts an impressive portfolio of high-profile users.
Three versions of ExpressionEngine are available, with a free version and personal version ($19.95) available for non-commercial use and a commercial version available for $249.95. You also can purchase a variety of modules for managing multiple sites and forums at relatively low costs.

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Figure 2.
ExpressionEngine 2.0 Beta Is Bundled with Dozens of Easily Installable Modules

Prominent ExpressionEngine Deployments

Check out the ExpressionEngine demo.


An open source CMS with roots dating back to 2002, Joomla has long ranked among not only the PHP community's but also the world's most popular content management systems. Offering a wide range of features within the core download, Joomla offers everything a developer will need to create a community-driven web site, including:
Like Drupal, Joomla can be extended in countless ways thanks to a vibrant community that has contributed more than 4,200 extensions as of the time of this writing. Some of these extensions are quite ambitious. For example, the BookiT extension can manage conference bookings or hotel reservations, and VirtueMart is a complete e-commerce shopping cart solution created expressly with Joomla in mind.

Prominent Joomla Deployments

Check out the Joomla demo.


Although a relative newcomer to the CMS ecosystem, SilverStripe managed to turn quite a few heads when it was chosen to power the web site for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The historic interest in the 2008 Presidential Campaign meant big traffic for the site, with 2.6 billion pages being served during convention week alone.
Like most of the other CMS solutions discussed in this article, the SilverStripe project is backed by a namesake corporate entity that offers a variety of design, hosting, and integration services. To learn more about what SilverStripe Ltd. has to offer, check out silverstripe.com.

Prominent SilverStripe Deployments

Check out the SilverStripe demo.


Originally conceived in 2003 as a blog management tool, WordPress has since become one of the most successful open source projects in the world, with an estimated 202 million WordPress-powered web sites hosted worldwide. Note the reference to 202 million web sites rather than blogs, as over the years WordPress has evolved from a blog-specific solution to one capable of managing even the most ambitious web site endeavors.
The core WordPress engine is a tad sparser than the other solutions discussed in this article, with the developers choosing to focus primarily on the key features that make any community- or team-driven web site successful. Among other features, you'll find a content commenting solution, support for user registration, the ability to manage multiple content authors, and a well-designed themes solution.
Developers seeking to go beyond the core features can browse the WordPress Plugin Directory, which as of this writing contains over 8,200 plugins capable of performing everything from basic yet useful tasks such as tracking the total number of published comments to revamping your web site's look-and-feel for viewing on the iPhone or other mobile device. Additionally, the themes directory contains more than 1,100 themes suitable for skinning everything from a user group blog to a Fortune 500 web site.
WordPress has also taken care to provide users with ample opportunities to update and manage their sites while on the go, thanks to several native mobile applications. Applications for Android, BlackBerry, and the iPhone are currently available. These mobile options alone could be enough to seal the deal with prospective clients who are concerned about their ability to monitor and manage web site content while facing hectic travel schedules.

Prominent WordPress Deployments

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Figure 3.
Tasty Kitchen Offers a Convenient Serving Size Adjustor
Check out the WordPress demo.

Where to from Here?

Clearly, PHP developers aren't left wanting when it comes to powerful CMS solutions. However, although all of the aforementioned solutions are ultimately capable of achieving the desired goal, each boasts unique advantages and features, as well as suffers unique flaws. Therefore, while I hope this overview provides you with some direction regarding which solution might be most suitable for your particular needs, I nonetheless strongly recommend taking the time to download, install, and experiment with each solution before settling upon a final decision. Further, if you need a particular feature, such as a shopping cart or forum solution, be sure to specifically investigate what each CMS solution has to offer in that regard, and check out other users' forum and blog posts to learn more about their particular experiences.

About the Author

W. Jason Gilmore is founder of EasyPHPWebsites.com. He is the author of several popular books, including "Easy PHP web sites with the Zend Framework," "Easy PayPal with PHP," and "Beginning PHP and MySQL, Third Edition." to e-mail him.