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The Top Five PHP Content Management Systems

By W. Jason Gilmore
on February 18, 2010

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

  • Zappo’s: One of the world’s largest online apparel retailers, Zappo’s has recently begun moving several corporate sites to Drupal, including http://zeta.zappos.com/ and http://blogs.zappos.com/.
  • The White House: In what was certainly one of the highest-profile coups for open source CMSs, in late October 2009, it was announced that WhiteHouse.gov had migrated to Drupal. Given not only the enormous traffic to the site on a daily basis, in addition to the obvious security considerations, the decision to use Drupal for a high-profile governmental web site is a great testament to the viability of not only Drupal, but open source software in general.
Click for larger view
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

  • ERwin: The ERwin Data Modeler product has been a staple among database administrators and developers alike for years. The vast product web site offers a great deal of information about the product, community, and purchasing options.
  • HelpSpot: HelpSpot offers an impressive array of technical support options for small and large businesses alike. This powerful example of an ExpressionEngine deployment is ideal for determining just how far this CMS can take you.
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:
  • User management tools capable of authentication using protocols such as OpenID and even Google Accounts
  • A media manager capable of managing a wide variety of content types
  • A built-in contact manager
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

  • The Guggenheim: The Soloman R. Guggenheim Museum ranks among the country’s most popular, hosting some of the world’s most famous artwork. Its web site allows visitors to become members or renew their memberships, browse and search the museum’s collection, or learn more about current exhibits.
  • Palm’s Developer Center: Palm’s Developer Program web site contains all of the information developers need to learn how to develop applications for the Palm computing platform, including Ares, Palm’s new web-hosted development environment.
Check out the Joomla demo.