Craft Is A Powerful CMS With Delightfully Straightforward Template Development

Abandoned CartsTwenty-five percent of the world’s websites are built on WordPress, and a majority of others aren’t based on a content management system at alI. It’s no surprise that WordPress gets by far the most attention and seems almost to have become the default option for many projects. The success of WordPress is to be admired, but it’s far from the only content management system out there. In this article, I’d like to take a look at Craft, a PHP-based content management system that differs in some key ways from WordPress, and is, for some use cases, a superior option.

Craft’s Content Model

Craft, developed by Pixel & Tonic, is a developer-friendly content management system particularly suited to sites with complex content management requirements. Craft puts content management front and center with its delightfully intuitive matrix system, which allows users to build pages from so-called matrix fields, which are composed of content blocks, which in turn are built from highly flexible custom fields. Pixel & Tonic developed the Matrix plugin for ExpressionEngine, and the ideas behind Craft’s content system will be familiar to anyone who has used the Matrix plugin. This system makes it easy for site owners to quickly develop custom page layouts with mixed content types.

Theming In Craft

Craft’s developers were concerned less with building a content management system that was easy for anyone to use than building a system that web developers could use to quickly build custom sites for their clients. As such, Craft provides the tools developers need to quickly build out themes using standard web technologies. Craft themes are HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and the popular TWIG templating language. The expectation is that developers will create unique themes for their sites. For users not familiar with web development that is a significant barrier to entry. For developers used to tangling with the complexity of WordPress themes, it’s a breath of fresh air.

As Craft’s developers put it:

“Craft is for folks who like to take their time and do things right, building out their HTML, CSS, and JS by hand. This is not a site builder or some sort of design tool. There are no themes, and you won’t find any flashy UI tools full of sliders and other gadgets that will help you “design” your website in minutes.”

If you don’t have any web development experience, you’re probably better off with WordPress and a WordPress theme, but if you understand the basics of web development, Craft theme development isn’t that hard to pick up.

Craft was recently given a major upgrade, compete with hundreds of improvements and enhancements to the content model, a redesigned responsive control panel, and improved author experience.

In Conclusion

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I have a particular interest in static site generators. I like the way SSGs allow site owners to take control of their site without imposing significant complexity in addition to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. But static sites aren’t suitable for projects with complex content management requirements. Building a Craft theme is reminiscent to building a theme for a static site generator like Jekyll — the same developer-focused simplicity, but coupled with a full-fledged content management system suitable for everything from multi-author blogs to the largest enterprise publishing ventures.

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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  • Boogie

    Is it better than ExpressionEngine? I want to make a subscription website.

    • teeflipp

      Not even close, especially out of the box functionality. Add TWIG and P&T’s attention to detail, and you’ve got a package that is tough to beat.

      Unfortunately for you, at this time, there isn’t subscription functionality, so I seem to negate my comment above, but this add-on may help with subscriptions (http://squarebit.co.uk/software/craft/charge).

      • Boogie

        Thanks buddy.

        But are you saying that Craft isn’t as good as to EE? Or that Craft is better than EE?

        One of my biggest concerns is having the company be around for a bit. I don’t know where EE is headed, though a decent amount of people use it. I hear nice stuff about Craft, but I haven’t seen a major or pro site based on it yet.

        • teeflipp

          Craft > EE. P&T (company behind Craft) is very stable, and Craft is growing leaps and bounds. In fact, they’ve recently claimed it’s the most popular commercial CMS, so that would include more commercial installs than EE (20,000+). Personally, I think we’re seeing a separation between the two in terms of target customers. EE, while powerful in it’s own right, has carved it’s niche with designers. Craft is more capable out of the box, and I believe that attracts users with a bit more programming background and more dev-capable designers. <– I'm sure those last two sentences could cause a debate, which isn't my intent.

          Anyway, check this blog post to see the state of Craft and hear about some of their more pro customers.

          https://craftcms.com/news/state-of-craft-end-of-2015

          • Boogie

            So you’re saying that it’s worth learning Craft over EE? I guess that’s my biggest thing. I didn’t want to plunge a lot of time into something that might not be worthwhile. I’m not that big of a fan of WordPress, mainly because WP sites have a certain ‘look’. Same thing with Drupal. EE sites tend to look kinda custom/original, but I’ve never seen a Craft site. This year, I want to learn one so that I can use it in 2017.

            Thanks for sharing your wisdom with me and others that are reading this.

          • teeflipp

            Hard to say without knowing your skill set, needs, and long term goals. I kinda look at it this way, EE is wonderful for getting a custom designed site off the ground, but anything EE can do, Craft can do… and I believe it does it cleaner and better.

            As the author points out, both EE and Craft, require the developer to know frontend development. Where I disagree with the author is the templating language for Craft (TWIG) is easy to pick up. That statement depends greatly depending on the users experience. EE’s template language is much easier to grasp, but you’ll eventually run into limitations and then you’re stuck with plug-in development (either custom or commercial). You must travel a much longer road with Craft/TWIG before you reach limitations. Of course, all this is relative to the specific ‘thing’ you’re building.

            If you’re a budding web developer or dabbling in CMS, and have to choose one or the other, and you’ve got the time, Craft is superior in so many ways. I’m not sure I can think of anything EE is better at and I’m a big fan of both systems.

          • Boogie

            Guess I’ll be learning Craft. I really appreciate your time and words. Thanks.

          • Boogie

            I also see that some training sites that offered EE tutorials have begun offering Craft training as well. Things are looking up for Craft.

      • Boogie

        Also, thanks for the link!