architectural plans
Flat-file CMSs are the go-to solution for startups and small businesses looking to quickly deploy lean websites. PHOTO: Bruno Glätsch
Search engines and humans alike are demanding faster and faster websites — particularly Google, which has a self-professed obsession with speed.

Because of this widespread need for speed, flat-file content management systems (CMSs) have emerged as the go-to solution for startups and small businesses looking to quickly deploy lean websites.

Although WordPress is still the CMS of choice for slender web properties, the rise of the flat-file CMS is hard to ignore.

What Is a Flat-File CMS?

A flat-file CMS is a platform that requires no database. Instead, it queries its data from a set of text files.

Because there’s no database involved, a flat-file CMS is supremely easy to deploy and super lightweight in terms of size. Some flat-file CMS even run on as little as five core files.

Flat-file content management systems allow for heightened speed, simplicity, mobility and security. Plus, they are an approachable solution for the less technical and underfunded.

Here are the key benefits of a flat-file CMS:

Quick Deployment: installation can be done with an FTP client alone.

Site Speed: thanks to the absence of database queries, sites load a lot faster.

Lightweight: flat-file platforms are typically very small in size.

Mobile: because they’re so small in size and because they have no databases, moving flat-file projects from server to server is a breeze.

Top Flat-File CMS

If an uber-lean website is your goal, here’s a list of the top fifteen flat-file CMS to consider — in no particular order.

1. Grav

Grav

Built using Symfony and YAML, Grav supports HTML and markdown content. It has an asset manager and analytics system built-in, and boasts a large library of plugins.

Grav also leverages the Twig template engine to provide template skeletons as well as ready-to-go templates.

2. Bolt

Bolt

Bolt treads the line between being a flat-file and traditional CMS, because it does require a database. However, it makes use of SQLlite, which allows Bolt to query a copyable, single-file database, thus mimicking most of the benefits of a flat-file system.

Built upon Silex and sprinkled with Symfony components, Bolt touts itself as being ideal for content editors, front-end developers and backend developers. For a more in-depth look at Bolt, take a look at my comparison between Bolt and Grav.

3. Monstra

Monstra

Monstra is an XML based flat-file CMS that boasts a healthy selection of plugins to extend the system. Monstra is also is known for its multi-user capabilities, which allow you to set up multiple administrators, editors, and contributors.

Speed is a priority for Monstra. It minifies HTML, CSS and JS files to reduce payload size, and combines the latter two in order to reduce HTTP round-trips.

4. Pico

Pico

If you don’t mind going without a graphical user interface, Pico is worth considering.

It’s open source, uses the Twig engine for templates, and leverages Markdown for content formatting. HTML lovers can also use Pico to code to their heart’s content.

5. Automad

Automad

If you want to get started quickly with a bundled responsive theme, Automad is a flat-file content management system worth checking out. It has a caching engine, tagging system and search engine baked into it.

Automad also leverages its own template engine to build themes, and provides toolbox functions to generate page elements.

6. Kirby

Kirby

Kirby is an extremely popular solution that allows you to either add content manually — just like you would with any other flat-file CMS — or via a web interface named Kirby Panel, which lets you publish your content as a page, blog, or gallery. The Kirby Panel also allows you to manage things like users and roles.

But be warned, Kirby comes at a price. For personal and commercial licenses, you’ll have to pay $17 and $89 respectively.

7. razorCMS

razor

Built on PHP, angularJS, Bootstrap V3 and Font-Awesome, razorCMS makes a lot of sense for the less-technical, as it offers in-line editing as opposed to having to modify your content via Markdown or HTML.

You can also create your own razorCMS theme to personalize and brand your website.

8. Yellow

Yellow

If minimalism is your cup of tea, pour yourself some Yellow. It provides a stripped down text editor that enables you to edit your content from your web browser, and it allows you to upload file content manually, so you can set the sorting and publishing status.

Yellow starts you off with a default “Home” and “About” page to kickstart projects. After that, you can extend a Yellow site via plugins for things like blogs and images.

9. Statamic

Statamic

Statamic is built on the Laravel framework and — like Kirby — charges users for the privilege of using it.

It has regularly updated theme and plugin libraries, drag-and-drop page building, an image editor, a form builder, and six content types. The only problem is you need to fork out at least $199 for the chance to use it. (Correction: an earlier version of this story said the cost was $99. That $99 charge only applies to customers upgrading from version 1.)

10. WonderCMS

Wonder

Remember when I mentioned that some flat-file content management systems run on as little as five core files? Meet WonderCMS, arguably the smallest CMS in the world.

Made with PHP, jQuery, HTML and CSS, WonderCMS boasts a few themes and plugins — some of which can add features like galleries and a WYSIWYG editor.

11. NibbleBlog

nibbleblog

As the name suggests, NibbleBlog is designed to launch simple personal and business blogs.

NibbleBlog is readily available in fourteen languages, has a built-in comments system, and a number of bundled plugins, many of which are borrowed ideas from the WordPress space.

12. PulseCMS

Pulsecms

PulseCMS claims that a standard deployment of its platform is faster than 96% of all other websites.

Plus, it’s compatible with Amazon EC2 and boasts a sizeable add-ons directory. More interestingly, PulseCMS has native apps for iOS and Android that empower users to manage their sites on the go.

13. PhileCMS

PhileCMS

Launched originally as a fork of Pico, PhileCMS is powered by Twig and Markdown, and has no graphical user interface.

But it does have an events system, parser overloading, an object orientated design and a large plugin repository.

14. Typesetter

Typesetter

Typesetter serves up a media manager, themes, plugins and the freedom to use SCSS and LESS to customize your site.

It also offers a WYSIWYG editor, an integrated contact form, and it’s available in multiple languages.

15. Ghost

Ghost

Like Bolt, Ghost isn’t technically a flat-file CMS because of its use of SQLite to support single-file databases. But once again, that file is solitary and can be copied, making it almost as mobile as a flat-file system.

When Ghost was launched in 2012, many saw it as the long-awaited WordPress killer — and although that didn’t materialize — Ghost’s credentials as a blogging platform are well known.

Honorable Mentions:

If none of the flat-file solutions listed above float your boat, here is yet another batch of flat-file content management systems which deserve an honorable mention: