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The Growth Of Flat File

A trend which has emerged and is expected to grow throughout 2014 is the abandonment of over complicated CMSs and the uptake of stripped back flat file solutions.

What is flat file?

Flat file is a website design structure where content is stored in files and folders, as opposed to databases. Whilst a traditional CMS queries the database to retrieve content, a flat file CMS can readily transmit data in a simple file and folder structure. There is no backend to administer, like WordPress.

Why choose flat file?

There are a number of advantages to not using a database (turning to flat file), the main one being speed. As mentioned before, flat file eliminates the need to query a database, so pages load much quicker.

Simplicity is another big one. A lot of web developers have moved away from popular CMSs, as they believe, over time, it has become so large and feature-rich, it’s now unnecessarily complex for an online publisher’s basic needs. A flat file CMS can make things much more straightforward, with a focus on publishing, as opposed to extending functionality.

Flat file provides other benefits over a database driven system. Take away a database from the website ‘equation’ and things instantly get simpler - you don’t need to spend time managing and maintaining the database and there is no need to write complex SQL queries to access your content. A database would also be the first port of call for would-be hackers, looking to exploit potential vulnerabilities and holes in database security; however this threat is now eliminated.

A problem that many associate with using a flat file system is that ‘non-techy’ individuals may be unable to add content to a website as they do not have coding knowledge. A database supported CMS like WordPress makes it easy for such users through a WYSIWYG text editor and a fully functionable interface. That said, the solution with many flat file CMSs is a conversion tool called Markdown. Markdown is a plain text formatting syntax, designed to easily convert plain, easy-to-read content into valid HTML - removing the need for content writers to learn code.

When should you use a database?

Despite the rapid uptake of these simpler CMSs, there are scenarios where using a database driven CMS is still more suitable. If your site consists of large amounts of data, constantly changing content or user generated content, then a database CMS would be the recommended solution. The same applies if you wish to integrate features such as a third party commenting system or simple ecommerce functionality.

Popular flat file CMSs

As flat file architecture has continued to grow in popularity, so has the number of supporting CMSs. There are a number of popular CMSs, regarded highly by developers and bloggers alike:

  • Statamic
  • Kirby
  • GetSimple
  • Pico
  • Ghost * - Now available on the Cloud

  • Note: Although not technically a flat file CMS - it uses a SQLite database- Ghost takes a similar simplified and lightweight approach.

Have you switched to a flat file architecture, or are you planning to? You're welcome to share your thoughts and comment below.