What is a CMS?


Content Management

The term CMS primarily refers to Content Management System. But before we can jump into the discussion of what is a CMS, let us discuss what does the meaning of the term Content.

What does the term "Content" mean?

As our discussion is primarily about computer technology let us discuss what we mean when we use the term "Content".  In this digital age most of the information or data that we have is stored in electronic format on digital electronic devices.

This information or data  could be:

  • Text -  emails, articles, posts, blog entries, messages, receipts etc.
  • Images - camera images, scans, graphics create with different software, generated patterns, screenshots etc. Things usually stored in images formats like jpg, png, gif etc.
  • Audio and Videos - data created using mobile deceive, camera, microphones, phone recordings, music files, animations etc. usually stored in formats like wav, mp3, ogg, mp4 etc.
  • Other software and applications on your system.

All this data is either created by us or someone else. Usually this data conveys some information to us or is of some use to us. The above discusses things fall in the concept of the term "Content"  with respect to a digital or computer system.

A management system

When we use a digital system or computer systems all the content as discussed is to stored and managed so that we can access the same as an when required.

Think of a real life library where the main content is available in form of books, periodicals, magazines, journals etc.  This content can either be placed haphazardly or in a systematic manner.

We know that if the content is not placed and categorized properly if will be very difficult for us to retrieve information easily and properly as well as in time.  A library thus follows a system and we know that the content is properly organized in well labelled racks in categories sorted in alphabetical order.

In the similar manner we use different types of software starting from our operations system itself which primarily lets us store and mange content in form of files and directories.

Further we use tool like file managers to manually organize these file and folders.   Different applications as used to manage different type of file formats and the actual content in those file.

So we have been using different management system at some or the other level to organize our content primarily to be able to access and organize our content.

Content Management System

A content management system or usually refereed as a CMS is an application that lets us manage digital content easily.  If we generalize an "Address Book"  is a simple application which allows us to manage contact details for us.  Using the applications we can create, retrieve/search, update or delete the content.  The application primarily makes it easy for use the manage the same.

So a CMS is primarily an application that will allow us to manage our digital content in a easier manner.    

Content Management Systems when generally referred is a software application that helps us primarily do the CRUD operation. CRUD here refers to Create, Retrieve, Update and Delete operations.  A CMS will allow us to manage digital content, particularly for websites.

One can consider it as platform that lets you build and edit your website without needing to have programming knowledge.  These types of  Content Management Systems which are specifically designed to run on web-server or are accessible over internet or intranet are called Web Content Management Systems.

Web Content Management System

A web CMS is typically deployed so as to manage content of a website easily.  A web CMS will usually provide you functionality to manage you content i.e. create and publish the content in terms of pages, post, articles etc.  

In a website we would also need to have the following functions which should be automatically managed or the CMS should provide easy interface to manage the same.

  • Provide links for navigation and links for access to different content
  • Help categorize our content
  • Access control to different content
  • User management
  • Search facility for content

Generally a web CMS is usually designed or structured for specific type of purpose. Say if  you want to have a website to post articles or say have a blog maintained you would primarily go for "WordPress".   

It is safe to say that you will have to choose a CMS based on you primary needs, though today most of the CMS'es are flexible and scalable enough that they can be used for multiple other purposes.

Content Management Framework

Another term that is commonly used is the CMF or the Content Management Framework.   The CMF is primarily a CMS i.e. that it will provide the functionality of CMS, but it is usually not designed or structured  in a specific use case way.  The idea of a CMF is that it is to be used a  base for the further development of the structure or workflow that will be required for your website.

A  CMF is not expected to be used out of the box solution.  After deploying a CMF  you or the web developer is expected to further implement the structure, policies, access control, roles, content structure or content types etc. 

Certain CMS like Drupal fall under the category of CMS and CMF.  Drupal can be used by default as a CMS but its main strength lies in its design being flexible enough to be used as a  CMF.

It is important to understand the difference between CMF and CMS and accordingly choose one for you setup.  As compared to a CMS, one will need more expertise and face a higher learning curve for implement a setup via a CMF.

Enterprise Content Management System (ECMS)

An Enterprise Content Management System (ECMS) is an extension of the concept of CMS. It is a software platform (application or web-based) designed to facilitate the basic CRUD operations for content, but extends to other important aspects like workflow management, collaboration etc. 

Think of the extension with an example of an employee requesting for a leave. Typically this would happen over email.  The approval and dis approval will also happen over email.  

But if we look at it as a common process in the organization, this will be the part of ECMS. Where the logged in employee fill the leave request in a predefined format provide in dates, reasons etc. The request is automatically received by senior manager who can further approve disapprove or ask for further clarifications.

This system forms what we call a simple workflow.  Also it help us store this communication as a content which can be useful in the future. 

Similarly the organization may have a lot of different workflows and processes which are usually incorporated in a ECMS.  

One will notice is that ECMS are usually tailor made for organizations.


A content management system provides a easy way for us to manage and organize content.  Based on usage, structure and primary purpose and places of use we have discusses the basic breakup of the content management systems into CMS, CMF and ECMS.  

Primarily all of these have to provide us with the basic functionality of the CRUD operations with a suitable UI so that programmer or non programmer can use it with ease.

Usually the primary idea  in deploying a CMS helps us improve our efficiency by allowing us to focus on the content instead of the management and organization of the same.

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