Which is Better: Hand Coding or Pre-Built CMS?

Ashley, a member of the LockerGnome community, asks on YouTube:

“What are your views on Web-based CMS compared to hand-coding a Web site? Do you feel that a smaller (lesser known) CMS is as good or better than the more popular products?”

The debate between using custom code versus a pre-rolled CMS (content management system) such as WordPress or Drupal is one that takes place in almost every office that has been faced with needing to build a presence on the Web. There are some clear advantages to each of these solutions, as well as several key disadvantages.

Apple’s primary Web site is almost entirely done by hand. This requires a lot of time on the part of the responsible department each time an update needs to be made to the site. This also requires a great amount of work when interfacing with a database like MySQL.

The upside to doing things by hand is that it’s easier to get exactly what you want and create a truly custom template for your site to build from moving forward. If you don’t expect a lot of changes to be made to it, a static Web page can be much easier to cache and serve during heavy periods of visitation. In short, the less dynamic your content is, the faster and more reliable your site will be.

On the other hand, pre-rolled CMS solutions like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and others are great building blocks on which a more dynamic site with frequently changed information can be built. Blogs, galleries, online commerce, and other dynamic content can be easily served from an optimized and frequently updated CMS.

In terms of getting up and running faster, a pre-rolled CMS can take you from no site to a fully functional site in minutes. Switching out a default theme for one of your own creation can be done more easily, and the support structure for the backbone of the site is much stronger in numbers and availability. If something goes wrong with WordPress, a large community of developers is available to address and patch the problem.

Custom sites developed by hand may be harder to support unless the original developer is on hand throughout the lifetime of the site’s operation. Everyone has a different style of coding, and it can be hard for some developers to determine the structure of someone else’s scripting on the fly. That isn’t to say it can’t be done, but it would be a lot harder.

You can easily hire programmers with experience in WordPress or Drupal. These programmers should also have the ability to code something by hand, but they may find navigating around and troubleshooting issues with these more recognizable CMS back-ends much easier.

Ultimately, the choice is up to you, the site owner. Do you think hand coding is better for you in the long run, or would you rather have something with a larger support structure and a faster setup?

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