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Compare CMS - 4 - no-MySQL CMS

CMS with no MySQL:

           Windows IIS Server CMS and flat-file CMS  

Part 4 of our CMS Comparison series looks at Windows IIS server ASP CMS and flat-file CMS. Some of the many other pages in this resource are:

Open-source and standard server CMS: LAMP / PHP CMS
Or try the specific CMS questions in CMS Q&A
The CMS start page is here: CMS Index

This is part 4 - Flat-File CMS and Windows CMS:
Windows / IIS server and flat-file CMS
Flat-file CMS
Microsoft-IIS-ASP servers
LAMP v ASP / .NET round-up
Commercial ASP CMS
Open-source ASP CMS

Windows / IIS server and flat-file CMS

Most people looking for a website CMS are likely to choose an SQL database-driven application of some sort, the reasons being that:

  • A large site is most efficiently run from a database.
  • SQL databases of various sorts are the most common.
  • The Internet runs on Linux / Apache, and this combination is often called LAMP: the M stands for MySQL, the database application. The Microsoft alternative is MS SQL Server, the MS database*.
  • There are many SQL database (DB) flavours, and all are reliable and well-supported.
  • The MySQL database version has vast community support, and is OSS.
  • OSS content management systems fit with it hand in glove.

For all these reasons and more, a PHP - SQL CMS running on a MySQL database is a common choice. However, not all servers are LAMP of course, and not all users have a full-service server with all possible applications loaded. In some cases, users may have restricted access that means database management may be impossible.

* Microsoft database applications: note carefully that the MS DB for servers is MS SQL Server. The DB application for PCs, MS Access, which is for personal and private offline use, should not be used on a server as it cannot be hardened (made secure against exploits).

Flat-file CMS

Because some users do not have full access to the server, or do not have databases provided, or for some reason DBs have a cost premium, or require the simplest-possible solution, or have ASP-based webapps, CMS apps also come in other configurations. The most common alternative is for Windows Server 2003 IIS 6.0 (normally abbreviated to an IIS server or Windows server), but there is another type that is occasionally used, especially where the website will not be large, and where there is restricted server access or restricted server software. This is the flat-file CMS; a flat file meaning there is no SQL database but rather a text file of some type that holds the data. This is the 'CMS no database' or ' CMS no DB' option.

It  may seem unusual, but has been proven to work well for various types of website apps with less than around 1,000 pages: for example PMwiki, and MivaMerchant ecommerce up to version 4. It is quite true that these apps will support 20,000-page websites or even larger, but users report too many drawbacks at that size.

A flat-file data storage CMS or other application will never be as stable, secure or fast as a real database-driven CMS. Our experiences with flat-file apps vary from stable but slow (Miva4), to very convenient but unreliable unless carefully managed (PMwiki). However, even a flat-file CMS will be better than a standard HTML site if the content has regular changes; and where the user has no choice in the matter due to server management issues, there is little alternative. 

Caution - backups
We find flat-file CMS and wiki apps very convenient - but vulnerable. This is especially true in a .NET environment, where it has been found easy to wipe the data accidentally. This means you should pay very close attention to backing up the main site directory on a regular basis. This is so important we would set up a cron job to do it. A flat-file DB is simply a text file in the webroot - ie a file within the normal web page area - so in contrast to a database application, which is situated outside of the webroot, it is more vulnerable in several ways. In particular there is a serious vulnerability to admin mistakes, because it is easy to wipe the text file DB. As stated, this is especially true in a .NET environment.

Microsoft-IIS-ASP servers

Some enterprises prefer to specify a Windows server, rather than Linux / Apache. Although it could be seen as a somewhat anomalous choice, especially in the CMS arena where at least 75% of offerings are designed to run on LAMP, there may be valid reasons for such a choice.

Most Microsoft servers are currently Windows Server 2003 IIS 6 - that is to say W2K3 plus the IIS v6.0 server manager. These servers can have PHP and MySQL installed without problem, and if you search 'windows hosting php mysql' you will find that in fact the majority of Windows hosts seem to offer servers with this configuration, should you want it.

However, this does not apply to all hosts. Smaller hosts, and especially resellers who have no access to the server, sometimes cannot supply these rather obvious options. You might also find hosts with a no-3rd-party-software install policy; and those simply with support techs who don't know how to install PHP / MySQL on a Windows server.

Because of this, a minority of users who are on Microsoft servers may need a no-PHP, no-MySQL CMS. Although this is a slightly limiting choice, nevertheless there are several candidates in both the OSS and commercial area. In fact the commercial offerings seem capable and not too expensive. Since it is probable that there would be commercial reasons for this choice - such as being tied to a particular host by your enterprise's policy - then a commercial option seems much more likely than in the LAMP server field.

However, there may be other reasons to choose a Microsoft server CMS (which would almost certainly be an ASP-based CMS), such as loyalty to a top-quality web services provider who specialise in this option; and you can't really argue with that. Either way, CMS considerations here basically devolve to a list of the best ASP / .NET CMS, and it would seem logical to provide more commercial options here than in an equivalent list for LAMP.

Basic MS servers (i.e. without PHP / MySQL installed) have two choices for the database that is required: Microsoft SQL Server, or MS Access. The latter choice should never be used on a webserver, being strictly for desktop PC or LAN use. There have been numerous security exploits of MS servers where this was ignored. The MS Access DB can be used on a protected LAN server, though, as long as there is no Internet access to the LANserver.

It is interesting to consider the advantages or disadvantages of the IIS server option as against the more popular Linux / Apache solution. At first, it is easy to dismiss MS servers but on reflection there may not be too many disadvantages, in some cases, especially when you factor in the ability to run PHP and MySQL on an MS server. However, it would be necessary to pay particular attention to software upgrades, for security reasons; and another major obstacle is likely to be the fact that server management by the webmaster will vary from difficult to impossible, due to the possible inaccessibility of the the IIS server manager interface. If this is accessible directly by the webmaster, though - as of course it must be in order to manage a site - then objections are less serious. It may be, then, that a dedicated server option is the answer here.

As to the advantages, they may be best to leave to IIS adherents to list. LAMP users might consider the fact that there are many large and successful operations running on IIS; and when Windows Server 2008 comes in, there will no doubt be many more converts. IIS is proven to work well for large sites under heavy load, so regarding a Windows box as only appropriate for small sites would be incorrect.

In any case a single server solution in the marketplace is a bad idea, as the more diversity the better; and just as it is a good thing there are alternatives to LAMP servers, there need to be viable alternatives to Windows as the single obvious choice for a desktop computer OS.

Windows servers are certainly more capable as a webserver solution than than Linux or Mac are as challengers to Windows supremacy as a desktop OS. IIS has maybe 25 - 30% of the server market, and it will be a very long time until Linux and Mac have anything like that percentage of the desktop OS share, even together.

LAMP v ASP / .NET round-up

LAMP v Microsoft servers; or PHP v ASP and .NET - the big question. The Linux / Apache server option is the choice of the majority, in the same sort of proportion that Google has of the search market. There are two main reasons why that means it is a sensible choice for running a CMS on: there is a lot more software in all departments, and different ways of obtaining that software, together with plenty of support options; and it will always be a cheaper route because of those factors. MS IIS with ASP is a minority choice, chosen for specific reasons.

In some cases the IIS server management console is not available to the webmaster, and this is inevitably a huge drawback. It is probably true to say that a website cannot be managed properly if this is the case. You wouldn't want to be the webmaster of a bunch of IIS sites, with no access to the IIS management interface, as life would be just too difficult (and possibly expensive as well). The equivalent, managing a LAMP server but with no access to the htaccess file, is the same thing. Contact the host to do every single script change of the smallest type? Not a pleasant thought.

If your people are ASP / .NET / Coldfusion / MS SQL Server coders by preference, and can't work with PHP / Flash / MySQL, then MS / IIS could be the way to go. In practice there are no great drawbacks as long as you have server management access; Windows server sites work OK under heavy load, and the code can validate 100% every way. Costs are bound to be higher by this route, though, and it might be wise to consider software updates and outsourced security audits a little more carefully than is common in the LAMP arena.

A flat-file database CMS could also of course be used on a Microsoft server, perhaps if there is no SQL of any kind on it, or there is no access to the server management. In this case we might possibly be talking about a flat-file ASP CMS.

The popular list of server / codebase / database options for CMS, then, goes something like this:

LAMP - PHP, flat-file DB

Microsoft Windows
IIS - ASP, flat-file DB

Commercial ASP CMS

These are all ASP-based website CMS applications.

RedAnt Colony

A capable CMS which is supplied, installed and supported by RedAnt Design. An ASP CMS, it has good SEF URLs and will cost from £5,000 up for the most basic site. The popular range is probably small corporate implementations in the £10k to £20k area. Best features are its overall quality, good looks, and top accessibility / code validation scores. A full-commercial CMS, it will be supported by the suppliers rather than 3PD developers.



Sitekit CMS

An ASP CMS from a Scottish company with 10 years experience. Friendly URLs and good accessibility standards from a range of solutions, starting around £7,500. A wide client base with many top-class sites.


Stonefire CMS

A high-quality ASP CMS from Surfocracy. This is a small firm that is now starting to regularise their bespoke CMS offering, and they have a big future. A basic site costs around £3,000 and up; a small enterprise site c.£15,000 ($30k). CMS-ecommerce solutions are a speciality.


Open-source ASP CMS

Umbraco CMS

See our extensive review of Umbraco CMS here.


ASP solutions are often encumbered by too much JavaScript and/or Ajax. It's hard to work out why developers want to load sites up with this rubbish, but they need to be told firmly that this has a negative impact on accessibility and search results.

There is a temptation now to use unnecessary levels of scripting on very simple and basic sites; you will pay with poor search positions, as search engines hate scripting such as JS and Ajax. As far as search results and commercial results go - which are essentially the same thing - it is just not wanted. A basic website with text and images has no need for any 3rd-party scripting at all; and additional display modules for media such as Flash need to be implemented with minimum scripting, and certainly in off-page scripts rather than on-page code. Scripting for additional functions must be contained in server-side scripts.

Another important point is that the index page must of course be the cleanest page on the site - it would be the last place to put scripts for backend functionality, logins, and so on.

Ensure your solution doesn't have any of this trash scripting, and make sure to have that clearly defined in the CMS supply contract. Most sites just need clean xHTML pages, and there's nothing better for search results. Pay attention to SEO for CMS or you'll regret it.

"Ajax is good for cleaning toilets, you don't want it on a website." Not my quote but I couldn't agree more.

Codeplex VWD-CMS

An ASP CMS that can be run client-side for simple implementations, or server-side (as per usual) for the normal CMS style of install, using MS SQL Server.


DotNetNuke - DNN

An ASP - .NET CMS. This is a successful project with a mature and proven application. It is unusual for the OSS field because there are a number of books on it. In our experience this always indicates three things: a large community, a mature project, and a well-organised approach by expert community members. The project also seems to have had cordial relations with Microsoft, and that can't hurt when using MS technology.

main site:

a useful UK resource:


This is a lightweight open-source ASP - .NET content management system that can use a MySQL or MS SQL database (also Access of course but hardly recommended, except on a closed LAN). It needs Visual Studio to create a site with, using VB or C#. It has core support for multi-site. N2 is not for newbies, it belongs to the 'developer preferred' class of application - you will need some .NET experience before tackling this.

It will run on shared hosting (which not all ASP CMS will), though we don't have details of which Trust level it needs - presumably one of the two lower levels.

N2 has high-quality code and URLs, with excellent SEO potential - though with this type of CM system where the dev creates much of it, the results can be variable according to the skill and knowledge of the dev concerned.


Flat-file CMS



This CMS is probably the best-known flat-file app. It is a PHP-based CMS that has its roots in Mambo, and is sometimes called Mambo Lite. At Nov 2007 both the websites are down but possibly just for rebuilding. Dec '07: limboportal back up.



A lightweight flat-file CMS in PHP. This application looks good and is becoming very popular.


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The CMS called WebAPP is another flat-file website CMS application. It uses Perl rather than PHP coding.



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