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When it comes to building a feature-rich, scalable website, not all content management systems (CMSs) are created equal. For large or complex projects, you’ll likely need more in terms of extensibility and security than drag-and-drop solutions that are designed to help non-developers get started quickly. If you need a CMS with more under the hood, you may want to check out Drupal or Joomla! They each require a little more technical expertise to set up and maintain, but they can more than make up for it if you’re building a complex site for a large organization.

In this article, we’ll compare these two CMS platforms and help you decide which one is best for you.

An Intro to Joomla!

Joomla! is an award-winning free CMS that really does it all, also boasting a lot of extensibility and ease of use. It powers millions of websites and applications of all types: think anything from personal blogs to corporate portals and intranets. It’s built with PHP and MySQL (or MS SQL, or PostgreSQL), which makes it easy to install and set up for any developer who’s familiar with these technologies. No need to be super advanced, but Joomla! does require a bit more technical skill than WordPress out of the gate. Similar to WordPress, a Joomla developer will download the CMS, set up hosting, and your site could technically be live in a matter of minutes.

If you’re looking to build an ecommerce store or a social networking-style application, Joomla! performs well in these areas. Once you’re set up, updating and maintaining a Joomla site is right on par with WordPress’s ease of use. Should you need to add additional, special functionality, Joomla has thousands of extensions (many are free) in its Extensions Directory. These extensions come in a few different forms: languages; plugins; components, which are the most complex; files and packages; and modules, which are similar to a WordPress widget. You can find extensions for anything, from image galleries and slideshows to script integrations, URL redirects, and ecommerce functionality.

The core Joomla! Framework is different than the Joomla CMS, and it gives developers the ability to create PHP-based applications without the overhead that comes along with the whole CMS package. Hire a skilled Joomla developer to leverage the Framework to do things like build integrated ecommerce systems with product catalogs and inventory control systems, add on handy reservation systems to a restaurant site, or integrate data reporting tools.

Sites that are powered by Joomla include Nintendo Nordic, Harvard, Linux, and The Hill.

An Intro to Drupal

Drupal gets five stars when it comes to power and security, but fewer when it comes to ease of use. Being a majorly powerful CMS, Drupal calls itself a “content management framework” that lets users launch, manage and scale “ambitious” sites and applications. Think larger, enterprise-level projects. It’s powered by PHP (and the Symfony PHP framework) and gets its extended functionality from modules that build off of its Core package (which includes basic things like blogging, forums, contact forms, and other community-style functionality).

Setting up low-level functionality requires little to no programming experience, but to take advantage of all those high-powered extras, you’ll need help from a skilled Drupal developer. It gets pretty complicated customizing the back-end of a Drupal-powered site, not to mention the dashboard can be tricky to find your way around until you get used to it.

Sites that are powered by Drupal include The Economist,, NFL teams like the Cowboys and the Patriots’ sites, and some US government sites like


  • Both have powerful developer APIs. Drupal’s API offers access to numerous UI components, data functions, and more. Joomla has APIs for both its CMS and its Framework.
  • Both extend core functionality with add-ons. For Drupal, that’s modules—36,000+ libraries of code, APIs, and tokens that add functionality in categories like ecommerce, SEO, mobile, spam prevention, and third-party integrations. For Joomla, that’s components, extensions and plugins, and there are around 7,000+ available.
  • Both are free and open-source.
  • Both require installation, setup, and hosting. Unlike a cloud-based site builders like Wix and Squarespace, both these require you to download the CMS, install it, set up hosting and purchase a domain.
  • Both offer mobile responsive themes. Drupal mobile sites can perform better when run on a subdomain (which may affect your SEO). Mobile Joomla! Is a great mobile extension, and Joomla! also supports Twitter Bootstrap.


  • Drupal has a more complex build under the hood. It can take longer to get used to and has a steeper learning curve, but it’s definitely a good option for larger projects and enterprise-grade sites. Joomla! is easier to learn and use—and it doesn’t lack in options to ramp up admin capabilities if you need them.
  • Version updates are handled differently. Drupal updates are more comprehensive overhauls and because they don’t include a code update, the process is more labor intensive. In some cases, you may have to redesign the whole site for an update. For Joomla! Version updates, it’s a simple matter of clicking “Install the Update.”

So which platform is right for your project?

In summary, the comparison between these platforms really comes down to two things: your skill level, and the complexity of your project. Drupal is going to ask a bit more from you to make the most of its amazing features. It can rise to the occasion of the most complex of sites, and keeps security locked down.