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Although it started off as primarily a blogging platform, WordPress has grown into a rather robust CMS that is now driving an estimated 25 million web sites. This huge number, which dwarfs estimates for Drupal and Joomla!, is more the result of the types of sites that WordPress is used for rather than any clear functional advantage over the other two. Now, I'll come back to that point in a minute, but for now I want to examine WordPress a little closer by taking a look at how it manages content and builds sites.
WordPress allows you to organize content by using categories and tags. Categories can be arranged in hierarchies and allow you to develop the overall structural organization of your content. Tags, on the other hand, are single level and offer you a way to add more meaning and organization to articles and content. WordPress also allows you to assign multiple categories and tags to an individual piece of content, making it easy to establish relationships and create highly descriptive content. Building sites and structuring pages in WordPress is based heavily on its blogging nature.
WordPress assembles pages in a modular way, with sidebars, footers, and headers existing as external files that are called and assembled into the finished page as it is requested. These files are called templates, and they are the building blocks of any WordPress site. You can create multiple template files and then assemble pages using the templates that you need for that particular page. The content of the page is created using something called the WordPress loop and the template hierarchy.
The WordPress loop is a PHP function that loops through the site's content and displays things like the appropriate number of posts or a specific article. The template hierarchy helps WordPress determine which loop is appropriate. For example, if you're on the index page, the index.php file has a loop that displays multiple posts. If a user clicks on one of those posts to read more about it, the single PHP page is called, which contains a loop that displays only the requested article. If that confuses you, don't worry.
I don't want it to seem like you can't control content in a more direct way. You can also create as many pages as you want manually and add and edit content directly on that page. This entire process, as well as the design and additional site functionality, can be controlled through a theme. WordPress themes are much more than just a way to change the layout and design of a WordPress site. They are collection of templates, functions, and CSS files that drive the way a site operates, and allows theme developers to extend the functionality of WordPress.
The complexity of creating themes and understanding the WordPress loop well enough to modify its behavior illustrates what is--at least to me--one of the more intriguing things about WordPress. Although to successfully build a theme and customize WordPress's behavior takes a fair amount of technical skills, it hasn't slowdown the adoption of WordPress one bit. Well, this is because of how easy it is to install and change themes. A well-built theme allows a user to simply install it, plug in content, and have a fully functioning site up and running in mere minutes.
Changing not only the look and the feel of the site, but the functionality as well, can be as simple as installing and in activating a new theme or just tweaking the existing theme's CSS. So even though the vast majority of WordPress users have no idea how to modify the inner workings of their sites, they don't have to. They can simply change to a new theme whenever they would like. In addition to the convenience that themes provide, WordPress has a number of other features that users find really attractive. First, like Drupal and Joomla!, there's a huge number of plug-ins available that make it simple to add more advanced functionality.
The roles and permissions in WordPress are really broad, with five predefined rules available for users of the site, including three that are dedicated to editing content. You can also find plug-ins that allows you to build custom roles and permissions. WordPress also tracks content revisions and makes it really simple to revert to an earlier version. Simple multilingual support is available through a plug-in, and starting with version 3.0, WordPress has supported multiple sites through a single install. With its emphasis on blogging, WordPress is a fantastic choice for smaller web sites that have a fairly simple structure.
The hundreds of available themes and large development community make it easy to find a custom theme that fits the needs of your site. There is a wide range of high-quality themes available for free, as well as a very robust aftermarket for professionally designed themes. WordPress's development community is a very mature, active community, making it easy to find people to create plug-ins and help with site development when necessary. Now for simple sites, I doubt you are going to need outside help. In fact, I would say with no hesitation at all that non-technical people would find WordPress relatively simple to set up and use.
The millions of WordPress sites that are active today are a testament to that. However, the complexity of creating themes and the limitations enforced by WordPress's reliance on the loop means they are trying to scale up a WordPress site or build a site that has content rules driven by complex business logic, can be rather frustrating. Yes, WordPress sites can handle heavy traffic and contain as many pages as you want, but using it for larger complex sites might not be the best choice. Learn more about WordPress and download it, try it out for yourself at wordpress.org.
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