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So what exactly is a content management system? Well, in terms of web-based content management, it's usually defined as server-side software that is designed to simplify the creation and maintenance of sites. It does this by managing online content, generating web pages, and allowing users to upload and change content without requiring technical expertise. To help illustrate this, let's examine the basic functionality of most CMSs. We'll start with the content itself. Content is typically stored in some type of database.
This allows it to be reused, repurposed, and published wherever needed. The CMS typically has an administration area that allows you to input, upload, or edit your content as needed. In most content management systems, this admin area is accessible through any browser, meaning that instead of having to install client software, you can work on your site anywhere that you have an Internet connection. Now if all that CMS did was to collect content and store it in a database, it wouldn't be that useful. It's what a CMS could do with that content that makes it really valuable.
A CMS will use its internal framework to build a site around your content. This is typically done by creating pages by adding content to a series of templates based on the site's specific needs. Of course, there's a great deal of variation in how different CMSs handle this step. Many of them have pre-built templates that you can use right out of the box, whereas others require you to design much, if not all, of the page structure yourself. Most offer varying degrees of control, allowing you to use pre-built templates and themes if you would like, or allowing you to make your own if you so desire.
It's worth mentioning here that the CMS will also handle adding site navigation and may even be capable of automating the process of building complex internal applications like blogs and message boards. As you can imagine, there's a lot to gain from this approach. Organizing content, building databases, and managing that content are all handled automatically. CMSs also allow experienced designers to dramatically speed up the time required to develop sites. Designers can build complex sites in a fraction of the time it would normally take them, and even allow them to build sites with advanced functionality that might be beyond their normal capabilities.
Another advantage to using CMS is the ability it gives non-technical people to create or update content. This means a designer can use a CMS to build the site and then train the client to maintain and update that site on their own. That sounds great, doesn't it? Of course, a CMS is not right for every site or every situation. Later in this title, we'll focus on both the pros and the cons of content management systems and how to determine if they are the right tool for the job.
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