Flat File CMS Comparison

Some developers claim 2014 will be the year of Flat File (or Non-Database) CMS. Personally I do not believe it will replace database-powered CMS anytime soon. To me they have different target users and main functions. If you are comparing of building a custom CMS vs using one of these CMS then it makes sense, but it will not replace WordPress, or Drupal, even though it always surprises me that many people still like using Joomla.

What is flat file CMS?

In very short sentence, as the phrase implies: CMS that queries its data from a text file instead of database like MySQL. Typically, flat-file CMS also has leaner structure compared to sometimes bloated fully-featured CMS. This allows you to focus the customization on the content management, instead of features that are not absolutely needed just because other sites have them.

Advantages

  • Installation can be done only with an FTP access
  • Easier to sync content when developing between development/local and production servers
  • Fast, because no queries involved
  • Lightweight, smaller total size
  • One less password to create or remember (your DB)

Flat file CMS is not a new thing. There are dozens of options out there for you to choose. I have hand-picked few that I like most and compare them. Hopefully by sharing this, it will help you in deciding which that would work best for your projects.

Statamic Kirby Monstra Pico Pulse
Web server requirement PHP 5.3.6+ PHP 5.3+ PHP 5.2.3+ PHP 5.2.4+ PHP 5.3+
GUI editor YES YES,
as separate module
YES NO YES
Native content syntax Markdown, Textile, HTML Markdown HTML Markdown HTML or Markdown
Open Source NO NO YES (GNU general public license) YES (MIT licence) NO
Number of available add-ons/plugins* ~25 ~68 ~25 ~12 ~6
Templating engine Twig
Support Forums, Tickets Forums, Direct Email Forums, Bugtracker (GitHub) Bugtracker (GitHub) Forums, Tickets
License per website $29 for personal
$99 for commercial
$19 for personal
$99 for commercial
FREE FREE $29

* as of January 2016, based on list available on developer’s website

Which CMS to choose?

Personally I want to get an opportunity to put my hands on Statamic. It is the most expensive, $99 for one commercial website, but it has very simple and nice control panel which is very important. For developers who do not need a control panel, Pico is a very interesting option.


Update May 15, 2014:
I contacted Statamic Team to consult about licensing for a tiny project I was developing. I have not received a reply to this day. I ended up giving Kirby a try because it offered to download the code freely for trial. So far I am liking it and since the license costs less than half of Statamic’s, it is becoming a favorable selection for future projects.

Update October 8, 2014:
With the release of Kirby 2, the team also offer a new pricing model: $19 for Personal license (non-commercial site) and $99 for Pro licence (commercial site). This puts it very similar to the pricing from Statamic. It will be interesting to see which one will be more popular in the near future.

Update January 1, 2016:
Added PulseCMS into comparison table.

41 Comments Flat File CMS Comparison

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  5. Will

    You know, it’s hard to find a simple, flat-file cms (like nibblelog, yellow or ghost) that supports file management. Simple uploading of images, videos and files. I do a lot of 3d printing and would like to be able to simply post my files for other people. Is there anything out there right now with an admin panel that offers file management?

    Reply
    1. Michael

      Hi Will – Actually Kirby has decent support for file management. You can create a post, drop all the files as post assets and set the template to list all attached files. If you need anything beyond that, then it is probably better for you to use a file sharing application like Google Drive, DropBox or, for self hosted, you may want to take a look at FileRun.

      Reply
    2. Kyle Gadd

      BootPress was designed to do just that. Built in admin panel, file management, analytics, and error reporting. You can try it for free without installing or setting up anything. The only thing you can’t do at bootpress.org (that you can by downloading and installing it yourself on your own server) is manage folders and plugins as that involves PHP code.

      Reply
    3. Will

      Thanks to both responses. I never really thought about using google docs or dropbox to store files. It seems like it might be a pain to do that, but at the same time, if I decide to use Ghost, I can just that until they get file management onboard. I like the look and (kida) the feel of kirby, but the idea of charging for their software and then charging for their themes is a bit of a turn off. Don’t get me wrong, they are doing good work, but I like the open source realm more.

      As for BootPress, it looks very promising too. I am about to start it up and see if it’s worth the switch (at this point, anything is better than wordpress).

      Thanks again. I let you know the results.

      Reply
    1. Michael

      Hi Irfan – It depends on your requirements to have an admin panel and budget. Grav looks promising but I believe they are behind their roadmap to offer admin panel as a plugin. If you are building a website for client and the budget permits, the easy choice would be Kirby. I have used it for a number of projects and I am very happy with it. The money spent to buy the license will be easily covered by the amount of time you save to do the integration.

      Cheers–

      Reply
      1. Jimmy Ofisia

        I’m also looking forward to Grav, I’ve been following the development since day one. As soon as their admin panel is ready, I can se myself transitioning to it right away.

        Reply
  6. Bill

    I know it’s an old post. I was wondering what your criteria for selection was? I like quick easy consistent setup, actively maintained,. open source. I play with Pluck, Nibbleblog and TextPress. Grav looks great, getSimple seems to be the most maintained, but installation was mixed, I don’t know why. FlatPress looked good, but like many projects, stagnated. So did Pluck, but that’s why we brought it to github with more admins. It needs more modernizing, but it’s maintained, and I don’t think I’ve ever run across a simpler solution to pass to a user,

    There’s just something about uploading files, and installing. Plus, Pluck and Nibbleblog are on Softaculous, which is probably why I discovered and started with them.

    Reply
    1. Michael

      Hi Bill – The criteria when I wrote this post were popularity and, for ones that offer GUI, good interface. Flat file CMS developers and community have come a long way in one short year. Now there seems to be countless applications with the same general goal which is a good thing but also make it much more difficult to pick one.

      I have used Kirby on two commercial projects and it has become my top pick. It is actively maintained, excellent documentation and so far I had no problem installing it under different environments. While it is not free, but worth every penny. You know that you have chosen the right platform when you deliver to the client and they are able to use it with very minimal training. I think you should give it a shot. Another thing I like about Kirby is their philosophy which you are free to play around with it and only need to buy the license only when you are ready to put it into production.

      Reply
  7. Kyle Gadd

    I created BootPress – A Flat File CMS” that seems to be more along the lines of what you are looking for. MIT open sourced, Smarty templating, Markdown, HTML, the ACE editor, and works on PHP 5.3+. It also offers more than the typical Flat File CMS, because we also use Flat File databases (SQLite) to give you fulltext porter seaching, sitemaps, listings, tags … everything you have come to expect from a database-powered CMS, and longed for with just flat files. Maybe 2014 wasn’t the year of the Flat File CMS, but I see no reason why 2015 can’t be.

    Reply
    1. Michael

      Hi Kyle – BootPress looks promising. As a CodeIgniter user myself, it is great to know there is a flat file CMS to be based on it. With integration with Bootstrap also, it is more like a framework instead of simple content management. I just hope it will not become too complicated, which against the idea of using flat file CMS in the first place.

      2014 was the year of incubation, with so many wonderful projects around this concept. It should only take a year or two before it really goes mainstream and compete with more popular CMS.

      Reply
      1. Kyle Gadd

        You are absolutely right. I built it as a framework for myself initially, then I thought “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to have a built-in blog”, because what site doesn’t need the ability to just create a page? Then I ran across Pico and though “Wow! This is sweet. I could do it so much better with my blog”. For some reason I just had Flat File CMS stuck in my head lately, but it really is more of a framework. Thanks for pointing that out to me. I have rebranded to reflect that sentiment. As for becoming too complicated – Never! Quite the opposite. I only ever make changes to anything if it will be simpler as a result. If I could think of any way that BootPress could be simpler, I would be coding it right now, and I have thought of little else these last 3 years since inspiration struck.

        Reply
      2. Michael

        It’s so encouraging to hear about your passion with the project. I will certainly check on BootPress from time to time and hopefully use it on one of my projects some day. Good luck!

        Reply
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  9. Paul

    Don’t forget GetSimpleCMS (get-simple.info/). Many plugins available, and the easiest template system I’ve seen. Can take any template (one created yourself or pre-made) and turn it into getsimple ready in about a minute. Make sure to check out the i18n plugins from Mvlcek (http://mvlcek.bplaced.net/). Very talented guy.

    Canada eh?

    Reply
    1. Jimmy Ofisia

      Hello Mark,

      I’ve tried Yellow last week and it got stuck. Probably because there’s no https on localhost. But, that’s just my assumption. Looking forward for the bug fix, I can’t wait to try it again.

      Reply
      1. Mark

        Hi Jimmy.

        Sorry about this and thanks for letting me know. It could be the https conection, let’s check. I’ll contact you on Twitter.

        Reply
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    1. Michael

      Greetings, Jimmy! Thanks for sharing those links. Nibbleblog got my attention, as unlike a book, I judge an app by its website 🙂 Next time I probably can compare DB-less blogging platforms.

      Reply
      1. mayks

        Hi Izzul – Thanks. Yes, flat file CMS is the answer to the self-created rule that all modern websites now need to have a CMS. It takes minimal amount of time to add, in which 10 years ago would take 2/3 of the web development time to implement.

        Of course it is not an ‘every-situation’ solution. Consider the specifications and requirements of the project you are working on. Hopefully my other post can help in deciding: http://www.sunarlim.com/2014/05/use-flat-file-cms/

        Much support for HTMLy, I need to seriously consider to include it on the comparison.

        Reply

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