Matt RaibleMatt Raible is a Java Champion and Developer Advocate at Okta. developer.okta.com

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10+ YEARS


Over 10 years ago, I wrote my first blog post. Since then, I've authored books, had kids, traveled the world, found Trish and blogged about it all.

Building a website with an Open Source CMS

I think the open source community has done an excellent job of figuring out how to create frameworks for developing web applications. But what about websites. You know, the web presence that every company wants - for minimal cost. For most companies, it's nothing more than 5-10 pages that tells a bit about the company, show some management folks and tells you how to get to their offices.

I've developed many websites over the years, many that were static, but more that were dynamic. The unfortunate thing about all of them is they required someone technical to update them. Often, the client had to contact me if they wanted anything new on the site. I've often thought there was a better solution - and I think I'm at a point where I know what customers want, and I know how to provide it. The solution is a Content Management Solution (CMS). One of the biggest problems with static websites is they're not dynamic enough. A CMS can alleviate this problem by reducing the bottleneck that a traditional "webmaster" creates.

In my mind, there are a couple of things that make a good CMS: 1) it's open source (to minimize costs to the client) and 2) it's easy to customize. On the customization front, my demands are a bit more rigorous - mainly because I know what many folks want in a website. Here are my main criteria for a good open source CMS - when it's used to power a regular ol' client-updateable website:

  • Design customization: I should be able to customize all the (X)HTML that's generated using one or two files (like SiteMesh allows). It should be possible to change the look and feel of *everything* by modifying some CSS. It should also be possible to use Mike Stenhouse's CSS Framework to simplify layout choices for clients. Ideally, a web designer or regular ol' HTML person could do the customization.
  • Static-looking URLs: The site should look like a static site. The URLs should be all lowercase and end with .html. It should be possible to modify all the URLs to look as if all pages are static. Apache's mod_rewrite and the URL Rewrite Filter are great tools for making this happen, but it'd be nice if the administration of the application allowed for setting these rules.
  • It shouldn't look like a CMS: No login links, no registration links, etc.
  • Ability to easily add dynamic content: It should be easy to add dynamic content - such as RSS Feed headlines to pages.
  • Menu Customization: In the application, it should be possible to create menus (both main and local navigation) and configure a page to highlight a menu when a particular page is shown.
  • Versioning of pages: In case someone messes something up, it should be easy enough to revert back to a previous version.
  • Easy to use: It should be possible to train a marketing person (with little technical knowledge) how to use the system in 10-15 minutes.

For technical companies (such as Virtuas), there are a few additional requirements I'd like to see:

  • Articles with syntax highlighting: It should be easy to publish articles with code that's colorized. The Java2HtmlPlugin for JSPWiki is a good example of this. I currently don't know of any for XHTML, XML or scripting languages like Ruby or Python.
  • File Upload: For uploading white papers and other technical publications.

So I've started looking at open source CMS's that fill my requirements. Last weekend, I wrote a solution that fills all of these requirements using SiteMesh, JSPWiki, CSS Framework, Acegi Security and the URL Rewrite Filter. It only took me about 6 hours to complete, but after completing it - I started wondering if I really wanted to start another open source project and maintain it. The answer is no, I don't want to create something new - I want to use something that's already out there. However, since I do have something that satisfies all my requirements, I will use it if I can't tweak an existing OS CMS enough.

Here are a list of CMS's that I'll be looking at in the next week or so. If you're associated with any of these projects, please leave a comment and let me know how many of my requirements you satisfy.

I'm a bit hesitant on Daisy b/c it requires XSLT knowledge for design customization. Magnolia has long URLs and doesn't appear like a static site - and the PHP ones often have .php in their URLs. It should be an interesting investigation to see if these (seemingly) heavyweight solutions can solve a few simple requirements.

Posted in Open Source at Sep 12 2005, 11:48:14 AM MDT 49 Comments