two animals locking horns
Bolt and Grav both tout themselves as being agile, quick to deploy and easy to manage. PHOTO: Ming Jun Tan

Speed is becoming an increasingly relevant factor in the quest to deliver great digital experiences.

In fact, an incredible 40 percent of internet surfers abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. 

Talk about a tough crowd.

Additionally, site and app deployment time — which directly impacts time to market — is another area with an ever increasing need for speed.

A Look at Two Open Source CMS Platforms

Bolt and Grav are two content management systems that are aiming to bring that speed to the masses with flexible software that’s free, open source and lightweight.  

Both platforms tout themselves as being agile, quick to deploy and easy to manage, even if you’ve got a large scale project on your hands.

To help you choose between them, I’m putting these two lightweights head-to-head.

Grav Overview

Grav CMS

Grav is an open source project hosted on GitHub. It was originated by RocketTheme but made possible by a community of developers and users who share their knowledge and experiences on Grav's GitHub repositoryGetGrav Forums and chat room.

Grav lead developer Andy Miller, who was a developer at Joomla for four years before stepping out on his own, said Grav is heavily inspired by "a whole raft of other platforms," but is written from scratch focusing on speed, simplicity and flexibility.

Grav has been built using several renowned technologies including Markdown, YAML and Symfony.

The flat-file CMS runs on PHP 5.5.9 or greater, and requires no technical configuration. You simply download it, unzip the file, and then upload it to a server.

When it comes to design, Grav employs Twig templates to render its pages, all of which are accessible via the URLs that relate to the folder structure that underpins the entire platform.

Grav also provides users with skeletons, which are essentially bundle packages consisting of the core files, plus a combination of pages, plugins, and configurations. These varying skeletons are ideal for developers who want a foundation to build upon — especially if the goal is to shorten the time to market even further.

Grav’s downloads page currently boasts 68 themes, 148 plugins, and 40 skeletons, although all three of those numbers are steadily increasing.


  • Grav is a flat-file CMS, so there’s no database to configure
  • One install of Grav can run multiple websites
  • There’s a healthy range of skeletons, themes, and plugins
  • A built-in caching system for pages and images helps further improve the speed of Grav
  • Multi-lingual support features come bundled


  • As a flat-file CMS, Grav’s lack of a database becomes a hinderance when it comes to large-scale projects
  • You’ll need sound knowledge of Markdown in order to use Grav

Bolt Overview


Launched in 2012, Bolt is described by its founders as "a tool for content management, which strives to be as simple and straightforward as possible. It is quick to set up, easy to configure, uses elegant templates, and above all: It’s a joy to use."

Just this month, the developers released Bolt 3.2, which they said "further solidifies the stability of the Bolt 3 branch" and includes multiple new "under the hood" improvements.

Built upon Silex with Symfony components, Bolt is built for speed. It’s free, open source and only requires PHP 5.5.9 – just like Grav. But unlike Grav, Bolt is not a flat-file CMS, which means it’s not quite as quick to deploy.

However, the existence of a database does help Bolt when it comes to more complex projects. Plus, Bolt is still light on its feet thanks to its use of SQLite, which compacts the database into a single document which can be moved around like any other file.

Bolt also makes use of Twig Templates, and boasts well over 100 extensions. However, Bolt’s extensions repository is only home to 27 themes.


  • Because Bolt has a database, it’s better equipped to handle large-scale websites
  • Built on Silex, Bolt is a streamlined and speedy CMS by its very nature
  • A fully responsive backend makes it easy to manage a site from a mobile device


  • Bolt is not a flat-file CMS, which impacts deployment speed and may prove tricky for novice webmasters
  • Bolt’s user interface, themes, and plugins lack polish

Key Differences

As a flat-file CMS, Grav is going to be slightly quicker to deploy, and a whole lot easier to manage and migrate from server to server. On the other hand, the presence of a database within Bolt would make life easier if you’re trying to tackle a more complex project.

Another major difference between the two is the quality of the user interfaces and themes on offer. Grav certainly has the upper hand in this regard, as it delivers a far cleaner looking user experience across the board.

So Who Wins?

There’s no doubting the nimbleness of these two platforms. Both of them are well positioned to deliver lightning fast customer experiences.

But with that being said, I’d lean towards Grav if speed and ease-of-use is your priority. However, if you feel like the presence of a database will help your cause, Bolt is the way to go.