If you are interested in web development, then you’ve probably at some point discovered, dealt with, or cursed at a Content Management System (CMS). This is actually one of the main avenues through which I discovered, and decided to learn PHP. Installing a CMS and modding it to get it to look like you want, let alone work like you want it to, can be painful. It can also be fun… it’s all a matter of perspective. Using a CMS can save you a lot of time and effort in putting a website up. Depending on the application that you choose, using a CMS can also add a lot of functionality to your website with minimal coding effort and time on your part.

Many CMS frameworks are built on PHP, and having PHP skills goes a long way in helping you install, secure, and modify files so that you get the look, feel, and functionality that you are seeking.

There are many PHP-based Content Management Systems out there, and picking out one that works is often a matter of trial and error. I don’t want to dwell on the different CMSs in this post since they are too many to count, but a good place to look at and compare them is http://www.opensourcecms.com. You can test-drive a lot of them there, look at the admin panel, and determine if the CMS is what you’re looking for.

My recommendation is that you get yourself a free, or relatively cheap hosting account that offers PHP and mySQL. A good feature to have would be the ability to create subdomains. You can then use this account to test and play with CMS applications to your heart’s content, without any risk to your primary website. This is the approach that I use when testing and picking content management systems.


For cheap hosting, I recommend Hasty Host because they have a great capacity plan that will allow you lots of space and bandwidth to set up different systems and test them out. If you want to use a free account, then I would recommend going with Byet Host. They offer you cpanel hosting, with 3 MySQL databases, and 5 additional subdomains.

Bear in mind that you’re going to need a MySQL database for each system you install, so the more the better. I prefer to shell out the $2.95 a month for Hasty Host because I get an unlimited number of MySQL databases, and unlimited subdomains. With the free hosting plans you will have to contend with ads on your page. However, with a plan like the one I have at Hasty Host, you are in full control, and if one of your CMS experiments takes off and you like what you’ve created, you don’t have to worry about stripping everything down, and starting again on an ad-free hosting account. You’ll already have you site set up and ready to go!

Domain Names

The other thing you may or may not need is a domain name. If you go with a free hosting plan, you won’t need a domain name unless you decide to use one, and you free hosting account allows you to. In most cases your account is a subdomain of their account, for example: myexperiments.myfreehost.com, or myfreehost.com/myexperiments. If you do go with a cheap hosting account such as Hasty Host, then you will need to purchase a domain name. I recommend always buying your domain names from established registrars, such as GoDaddy (www.GoDaddy.com).
Once you have your hosting account set up, you can start playing with the different content management systems to see what they have to offer.

Some Tips

  • If you want to test the applications side by side, create subdomains for each, so that you can compare features and functionality without the hassle of installing and uninstalling.
  • Name each subdomain with a meaningful name in case your experiment takes off and you decide to keep the website.
  • See if your hosting offers a script installer such as Fantastico, since this makes installing different CMSs easier.
  • You can use your account to test blogs, bulletin board scripts, and other scripts too!
  • Most CMS apps have user forums, which are always a good place to go for tips and help when you get stuck.

Have fun! And happy coding.


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  1. Yea, PHP certainly helps you a lot when we’re talking about CMS, especially if you want to do some improvements over your themes and plugins.

    But, the down part is that most CMS I’ve tried, except WordPress of course, have quite a ambiguous syntax. Like Joomla for example. It’s kind of hard to edit things there cause it takes you a while to understand what’s going on. At least for me it did, but i must admit my PHP knowledge is not that good :d

  2. Mike,
    thanks for your comment. I do agree that CMSs can be a handful, and the mammoth ones like Joomla in particular can be pretty intimidating for a beginner. I find WordPress to be excellent for modifying and for learning the basics of PHP. My recommendation is to always copy the original code to a txt file on your hard drive before making any changes, that way if you mess up you can go back and recover the original code and see what you did wrong,

    I would definitely recommend beginners to start with something simple like WordPress or b2evolution (my two favorite blogging programs) before trying to tackle Joomla and other more complex CMSs.

    thanks again for your comment.

  3. I have to say hands down that modx is the best cms I have used for general management.

    Its true that php knowledge is a must to use a cms effectively, I personally learned php just by developing my site in modx.

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