Multi-site Management with Drupal, Plone and Joomla!

6 minute read
Eric Brown avatar

Open source web content management systems are starting to gain some traction in the enterprise as the ever growing need to be cost conscience continues.

Most organizations are looking for a single solution to manage multiple sites -- whether they be microsites for marketing campaigns or fully fledged websites. This means multi-site management capabilities are becoming a critical differentiator for Web CMS solutions.

But not all multi-site management capabilities are created equal. We took a look at the multi-site management capabilities of three of the most popular open source web content management systems and this is what we found.

Multi-site management has been a difficult aspect of content management to master for the open source community. And although this is changing with various recent releases and updates, it's not clear which of the popular options we considered -- Drupal, Joomla! or Plone -- is doing it better.

In a recent article on CMS Watch, Tony Byrne contrasts Joomla! and Drupal on the multi-site management front. But according to public comments on the article, the question has been raised as to whether or not Plone may be the better option.

Open Source Options for Multi-site Management

With the debate ongoing, a fresh look at each option and how it stacks up against the others is needed. That way your business will be able to determine which option will work best for your needs.

Keep in mind that as all three are open source platforms, third-party plug-ins will provide some if not all of the multi-site management functionality.

Plone Multi-site Management Capabilities

Plone (news, site) is an open source Web CMS with good standing in the industry. The Python- and Zope-based system runs on Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, FreeBSD and Solaris. It also integrates with LDAP, SQL, SOAP, Web Services (WSDL) and WebDAV.

With built-in workflows, quality security and scalability, Plone is a robust and mature open source web content management system.

In regards to multi-site management, Plone has what it takes. According to Scott Paley of the Plone Foundation and consulting firm Abstract Edge,

“Plone has the ability to set up sub-folders with their own workflows, user permissions, internal search and themes. Plone 3.3 is about to be released and will add features that allow you to set up separate navigations on a per-folder basis. In Plone, a folder can be set up as a sub-site. There is an add-on product available now called Lineage which makes this process really painless.

So, as of Plone 3.3 it will be very easy to set up a single Plone instance that will run any number of sub-sites, each with their own look-and-feel (this requires an add-on product), different navigations, different portlets, separate content for listing pages, separate internal search, separate workflows and permissions, and separate user dashboards. Each sub-site can truly be set up as 'separate', and this is easy to do.”

Lineage for Plone

Lineage, developed by Six Feet Up, is described as a microsite creation product for Plone. It allows sub-folders to act as independent Plone sites which can then be managed through the Plone interface.

The software creates what Six Feet Up calls a hub and spoke structure in which the parent site can access and view all child sites but child sites are restricted to their own content.

  • Unlimited sub-folder creation
  • Parent sites get full acces while child site access is restricted
  • Easier to manage than clustered Plone installations
  • Syndicate chosen content to child sites from parent site

With Plone you can achieve multi-site management almost out-of-the-box, with the exception of the Lineage addition to facilitate a better structure. And with upcoming updates to the Plone framework, true multi-site management will be even easier.

Joomla! Multi-site Management Capabilities 

Joomla! has a long standing history in the open source community. A list of awards coupled with a vast amount of users around the globe makes it a web content management system to contend with. As multi-site management goes, Zac-Ware aims to take Joomla to multi-site management stardom with their Jentla suite.

Learning Opportunities

Jentla for Joomla! Features

Jentla is a suite of extensions and services that facilitate easy multi-site management through a single Joomla! interface. With Jentla, large amounts of Joomla sites can be administrated through a master system and central database. With it, you can:

  • Manage up to 1000 sites
  • Replicate entire sites for development testing
  • Manage all extensions and modules from the parent interface
  • Automatically archive all data in a central location on the parent site

Jentla also creates a better hierarchy of global admin, contributors, approvers, moderators and publisher support. Aside from the list of features, with Jentla, security updates for Joomla can be implemented network wide.

Drupal Multi-site Management Capabilities

Considering Drupal’s long standing history as a front runner for open source content management, one would think that Drupal would have outstanding multi-site management capabilities. But this is not necessarily the case.

Despite the fact that Drupal has had multi-site functionality with the addition of third-party plug-ins since version 4.6 and that there are three different options offered, Drupal is lacking a bit in ease-of-use and security.

Three multi-site management options offered for Drupal are Druplet, HostMaster 2 and Multisite Manager Module. All three offer some level of management for multiple sites, but each has their own set of issues that can be seen easily when comparing them.


  • Requires installation workaround
  • Easy to use after installation
  • Major security risks without the use of paranoia.module to disable PHP code
  • Not available for Drupal 6
  • Stable but still in development

HostMaster 2

  • Extremely difficult installation
  • Difficult to get working
  • Secure with some provisioning
  • In development for Drupal 6
  • Not very stable

Multisite Manager Module

  • Easy to install
  • Easy to use
  • Secure except in the case of an enabled option to create separate databases
  • Available for Drupal 6, but in alpha 1 stage
  • Stable

As you can see, multi-site management with Drupal is not without its headaches. It’s recommended for Drupal users not using Drupal 6 to use the Multisite Manager Module as installation, use and stability are the best of the three. Drupal 6 users may need to seek other options.

Drupal, Joomla!, Plone -- Who Wins?

Plone certainly seems the more versatile option overall with its inherent ability to talk to nearly any database and the ability to install it on nearly any environment.

Despite which option you may choose, all three systems have a long standing history as quality products and are in wide use globally. Granted, when it comes to choosing a solution for multi-site management some options are better than others, but what is important is that you do the analysis and chose a solution that fits your needs. As we all know, there is no best, but there's maybe a best fit.

Look for Drupal, Plone and Joomla! to keep pushing the bar with open source multi-site management, but keep an eye on competitors like SilverStripe, CMS Made Simple and others, as this functionality is going to stay in the hot seat for some time yet.

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