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Everything you need to know about flat-file CMS, and are they for you?

We’ve talked recently about static Vs dynamic Content Management Systems. This month it’s the turn of flat-file CMS. As with all website tech, there are pluses and minuses. The real question is; ‘is it for you?’

No matter if a website is static, dynamic, database-driven or flat, they all have one thing in common. They need somewhere to store their data. The technical methodology behind it all takes second place to how the pros and cons of each system fit in with your specific needs.

How does a flat-file CMS work?

A flat-file CMS stores data as text files on the server, It creates separate files for parts of the website and its content. Those files are read by the CMS.

This is in contrast to a database system, which needs a special language and software engine to add, change and delete entries from the database.


You may well have guessed that one of the big benefits of a flat-file system is speed. With no database engine to add latency, data can be accessed much quicker.

However, given the many other things that have to happen (the data must be transmitted to the visitor, the visitor’s browser has to display the data, etc) this speed improvement may well be simply theoretical.

Once in the real world, all the other things going on may mean the user of the site is totally unaware of any real improvement. Some sites will really see a speed benefit from using flat-files, others not so much.


As all the files are stored on the server with no database you get benefits of a reduced security risk, as one less point of attack. Databases are regularly attacked by hackers, so they can inject malicious code.


This sees the database and flat-file systems pretty much neck and neck. With so many flat-file systems now in active development, some of the more advanced flat-file CMS platforms have features that are comparable to the bigger names in the database CMS space.

You’ll get easy to use front ends, good security, good integration with other software, great blogging support and e-shops.


Here the database CMS sees a slight advantage. Because a database is so much better at creating linked information, and making it easy to add, curate, manage, and organise that information, they can handle more data reliably.

Sure, some people are running big sites with flat-file systems, so it is possible, but it might introduce issues later on.

If you’ve got plans for a big or complex site, you’ll need to really work out if you’re going to hit a stumbling block later on.

Putting your needs first

Clearly, given the above, your specific needs will have a huge impact on whether a flat-file CMS is right for you. I’ve been working as a freelance website developer in Bristol for many years and I’ve created many sites as both database and flat-file.

If you’d like to talk about your project, I’d be happy to offer some guidance on what system might best suit your needs. Get in touch to speak to me about this, or any other elements of your website.