Drupal vs Joomla: Real-World Comparison Between Two CMS Heavyweights

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A head-to-head battle between Drupal and Joomla -- and who's winning the fight?

 

drupal versus joomla

In the NBA, there’s a trend that’s called the “Big 3”. For Miami, that would be James, Wade, and Bosh, while Spurs have Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan.

 

And just like in the NBA, the Content Management System (CMS) industry is also loaded with three big players, namely WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla.

 

With that said, you might be wondering why I didn’t include WordPress then in the title of this CMS comparison post. Well, it’s because we’re about to dwell into the area where large, complex and enterprise-level sites are involved.

 

I know WordPress users are going to disagree with me for this, but let’s just say, you’re reading this because you know you need more -- in terms of CMS platform -- and would like to find out if Joomla or Drupal is up to the challenge.

 

If you’re a developer, you know that having a versatile CMS software is the best route for you and your big project. Your final choice heavily depends on what your needs are.

 

In choosing which CMS to add to your arsenal, reflect on this old saying, “Don’t kill a mosquito with a canon.” If you only want to create a simple blog or site, then WordPress should be enough. Otherwise, try your luck with Joomla or Drupal.

 

Without further ado, let’s get started and see which CMS are you going to choose in the end. Because just like in the NBA, you can only crown one MVP. In this case, the Most Valuable Platform.

 

Also, check out our Beginner's Guide to Drupal and our Guide to Pantheon's Drupal Hosting Platform

 

Security

 

If you’re up to date with all the tech news happening around the world, then you’d know that websites are being hacked almost every day. So that’s why we’re tackling the topic of security first and find out where Joomla and Drupal stand on this issue.

 

Drupal is considered by many, in the developers’ circle, to be the best in this area. One proof of this? The White House. It’s arguably a clear evidence why the website of the world’s most powerful leader is running on Drupal.

 

Joomla, on the other hand, also boosts of a big-name public institution. The United Nations Regional Information Centre (UNRIC) is using Joomla for their website.

 

Of course, both of these CMSs are definitely beefing up security whenever they can. Who would want to build a software that gets easily exploited, right? But then again, there are many reasons why a certain site is vulnerable.

 

A hacked website is like having a high-end security system installed in your house with the door unlock. Simply put, you as the user, is also accountable for making sure you’re not creating leaks in the jar.

 

Drupal and Joomla are populated with passionate communities. This is the beauty of having an open source software. You won’t run out of people willing to help you out when the need arises, especially when it comes to security issues.

 

Installation

 

Most hosting companies already offer “one-click” installation for both Joomla and Drupal via tools like Fantastico. However, if you’re up to the task, it’s recommended to install these CMSs manually. Nothing beats doing something, or installing a software, that gets your hands dirty.

 

Manual installation will also give you a clear understanding of how the software is installed, rather than to get it “instantly” without knowing the entire process.

 

There are a total of six steps to go through when installing Drupal. This includes downloading and extracting the software; creating the database; creating the settings.php file; running the installation script; setting up cron; and configuring clean URLs.

 

Meanwhile, Joomla, specifically version 3.0, has only three steps that you need to do for a new installation. Actually, it’s four if you include getting the software. The first step is the configuration of the Joomla site, second is setting up database, and third is the overview or finalization process.

 

Prior to Joomla 3.0, there were seven steps that you need to complete in order to finish the installation procedure.

 

Both CMSs are powered by solid support forums whenever you’ll encounter an error in the installation process: the Drupal Installation Forum and the Joomla Installation Forum.

 

Ease-of-use

 

When it comes to usability, it all boils down on how comfortable you are in tinkering with a CMS platform. To compare Drupal and Joomla in terms of user-friendliness, let’s start with the basic, like posting an article.

 

Creating content in Drupal is comparable to WordPress when it comes to the interface of the Editor, although it’s already leaning towards complexity. The article editor in Drupal consists of a title field, tags field, and body field. These three sections are then followed by options like Menus, URL Alias, Revision Logs, Author Metadata, and Comments.

 

One feature lacking in Drupal’s content editor is the ability to (simply) hide unnecessary fields. On the upside, Drupal features inline editing, which is the ability to edit content on the front-end. So there’s no need to go back to the admin area for correcting a typo error.

 

Just like Drupal, Joomla also comes with a familiar WYSIWYG editor that you can find in WordPress. The built-in TinyMCE features the same toolbar. However, the editor is situated inside a complex layout and interface, which is confusing for first time users.

 

In building content types and structures, both CMSs handle these differently.

 

“Drupal’s site structures require significant work and expertise to implement properly, but they can support very high versatility, many different use cases, and extremely complex site,” according to Bryan Ruby of the CMS Expo Blog.

 

On the Joomla side, Ruby stated, “Each of Joomla’s content types contains capabilities and settings supporting that specific type of use, and they are all available as soon as Joomla is installed.”

 

Overall, using Drupal requires one to be comfortable in dealing with the technical side of things, which means you need to invest enough time to master the CMS. With Joomla, you only need a small amount of time to understand the entire platform.

 

Simply put, if you want to create the most advanced and versatile websites, you need Drupal. For relatively uncomplicated, or somewhere in between, type of sites, Joomla is your choice.

 

Community

 

Having a support system in any product is like having a cushion every time you fall. Both Drupal and Joomla are blessed with communities that offer a place to go to when you need some tips, help, or tools in building your project.

 

Drupal is known of for its collaborative development community. Netstudio’s Yannis Karampelas, who’ve been developing in both Drupal and Joomla, says it best:

 

“On Joomla every developer built and promoted its own component or module essentially competing with all other developers of similar components. For example, there are over 50 photo galleries. On Drupal on the other hand, everybody work together to build a very good and complete module for each task.”

 

Often times, when you need to extend the functionality of your Joomla site, you’ll have to pay for themes, modules, and plugins. This commercially-driven ecosystem of Joomla is what drives other developers to switch to Drupal, which doesn’t have any commercial modules.

 

Mobile-ready

 

The number of mobile (smartphone and tablet) users each month is growing like crazy. And for this reason, many owners are now making sure their sites are ready for these new type of consumers. Before, you’ll have to create a separate site targeted for mobile visitors. Now, all you need is to develop a responsive web design that can adjust to a device’s screen size.

 

Out-of-the box, Joomla 3.0 is already mobile-ready. It means that you don’t have to pay extra to get your site to support the device of a mobile user. It’s worthy to note that even the Joomla admin dashboard features a responsive design. It means you can access the back end of your site using your smartphone or tablet.

 

With their adoption of the Bootstrap framework, Joomla is the first and only CMS platform to become mobile-ready in both ends of the software, the front-end and admin areas.

 

Drupal 7 does not come with a default mobile and device compatibility. And the modules that are trying to compensate for this drawback are not doing complete justice. Drupal is not oblivious to this. That’s why a new mobile focus for Drupal 8, which is slated to be released in September, is underway.

 

It is expected that the new version of Drupal is going to be mobile-ready. Just like Joomla, the admin area of Drupal 8 will be administerable through mobile devices.

 

Performance and Scalability

 

As I’ve mentioned in the opening paragraphs, Joomla and Drupal are designed for primetime. When your website starts getting over a million hits in a month or even a week, then having a CMS platform that performs and scales to the demand is very important. And this is where a reliable caching engine comes in.

 

Joomla already comes with a page caching system called the System Cache Plugin. For a more advanced solution, a Joomla extension like JotCache will give you more control on what to cached and don’t.

 

For Drupal’s part, there’s another version called Pressflow, which is basically the same software but specifically designed for high-performance, enterprise-level Drupal sites. Pressflow is integrated with tools that can provide “scalability, availability, and testing enhancements.”

 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

 

Getting your site indexed in the front page of major search engines like Google or Bing is still considered the most effective way of gaining massive amount of traffic.

 

So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why having a SEO-friendly feature is vital in choosing the right CMS platform. Heck, it should be on top of your features list right from the start.

 

Right off the bat, both URLs of Joomla and Drupal contain numbers and other meaningless querystring, which a search engine crawler would love to avoid at all cost. Although, the two CMSs comes with a feature that fixes this issue.

 

For Joomla, getting it right the first time in the SEO department is quite a challenge because the CMS tend to create multiple URLs for the same article or content. In fact, it will take you 11 steps to achieve a desirable SEO result, according to this tutorial from the Moz (formerly SEOMoz) blog.

 

For Drupal’s part, a Clean URLs option is part of the installation process. But if you forgot to set it up from the start, you can always enable Clean URLs even after installation. And if that’s not enough, you can use a module like Pathauto, which gives you more control in building the URL structure that you want.

 

Users

 

Just like in any business, having a testimonial or case studies page is one way of marketing your product to other people. For a CMS to gain adoption in the developers’ world, it may have to prove its worth first. And the best way to do that is by showcasing the companies or groups that are using each platform.

 

Aside from the UNRIC, Joomla also powers the sites of Harvard University, University of Notre Dame, The Hill, Guggenheim, and MTV Greece.

 

The White House is not the only site powered by Drupal, it also include names like The Economist, Examiner.com, Fast Company, and Georgia.gov to name a few.

 

According to their individual websites, Joomla has been downloaded for over 35 million times, and Drupal is being use by almost a million people in 228 countries.

 

Summary

 

If you’re familiar with the story of the “Three Little Pigs”, then you know which piggy house remains standing in the end. The CMS platforms are like the pigs’ houses, which are made in either straw, wood, or bricks. What material you’re going to choose is up to you.

 

In the end, you have two open source CMSs at your disposal. You’ll just have to choose the platform that perfectly meets the requirement of the project at hand, and the capabilities of the users managing the website.

 

And because Joomla and Drupal are open source softwares, both are in active development. It means that these two CMS platforms will be getting better and stronger as the years go by.

 

All these constant innovations between Joomla and Drupal will yield only one winner in every fight: and that’s you, the CMS user.

 

Image via Flickr by Daniel Novta