We use cookies to make your viewing experience better. By accepting you consent, you agree to our Cookie policy

Improve your Craft CMS skills

Contao Vs Craft CMS - Which Is Better?

10 min read
Contao Vs Craft CMS

Selecting the right CMS is crucial for any web project. Contao and Craft CMS both offer robust content management capabilities, but have key differences. This guide compares the two platforms across critical factors like features, technology, security, performance and pricing. Read on for an in-depth analysis weighing the pros and cons of each CMS to help identify the best platform for your needs.

Based on an in-depth comparison, Craft CMS is the better choice for most use cases due to its user-friendly interface, built-in marketing features, scalability to enterprise sites, and extensive official support. However, Contao offers a viable open source alternative at lower cost for simpler websites.

Contao CMS Overview

History and Origins

Contao CMS originated in Germany, created in 2008 by Leo Feyer as a fork of TYPOlight CMS. The name Contao is derived from "Content" and "Tao", representing the flow and continuity of content management.

Contao started as a personal project by Feyer to create a more flexible and customizable open source PHP CMS. After releasing the first version in 2008, Contao quickly gained popularity among developers and site owners for its modular architecture.

The Contao community expanded through the years, with contributions from developers all over the world. In 2015, Contao became a legal entity with the formation of Contao Association, a non-profit organization that oversees development and promotion of the CMS.

Overall, Contao's history showcases how an open source project driven by community collaboration can evolve into a powerful enterprise-grade CMS solution.

Editions and Licensing

Contao is available in two editions - the Contao Open Source CMS Community Edition and Contao Enterprise Edition.

The Community Edition is licensed under LGPL and available for free. It contains the core Contao framework and over 500 extensions in the Contao Extension Repository. This version is ideal for personal and small business websites.

The Enterprise Edition requires a paid license subscription. It bundles advanced features like single sign-on integration, workflow engine, multi-domain management among other business-centric capabilities. This edition also comes with professional support plans and consulting services.

The Enterprise Edition is suited for large corporate websites, intranets, online shops and complex web applications that need extended functionalities and dedicated technical assistance.

Both editions share the same core code base. The key differences lie in the additional enterprise modules, level of support and legal liabilities provided. Users can upgrade from Community to Enterprise as their site grows.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Contao offers several advantages that make it a popular CMS solution:

  • User-Friendly Interface - The back-end admin panel uses a simple drag and drop interface for managing pages and content. This approach lowers the learning curve substantially.

  • SEO and Multi-Lingual Features - It provides in-built SEO tools like URL rewriting and sitemaps. Contao also supports building multi-language sites out-of-the-box.

  • Security - Contao employs security best practices including input sanitization, output encoding and CSRF protection. The Enterprise Edition undergoes professional security audits.

  • Performance - The front-end delivers high performance leveraging caching and compression. The back-end also loads quickly due to the lightweight architecture.

  • Scalability - The modular structure coupled with caching support high traffic loads. However, extremely large platforms may face challenges.

  • Customizability - An expansive collection of themes and extensions allows heavy customization. But modifications require PHP/Symfony knowledge.

  • Limited Native Functionality - Contao lacks built-in CRM, ecommerce or marketing tools. These require integrating external extensions.

  • Not Ideal for Complex Apps - While Contao can power advanced websites, other PHP frameworks like Symfony may be more suitable for highly custom web applications.

Overall, Contao provides a robust CMS solution for small to mid-sized websites looking for an open source alternative to proprietary systems like WordPress or Drupal.

Craft CMS Overview

History and Origins

Craft CMS was created by Pixel & Tonic, a web design agency based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was founded by Brandon Kelly, who serves as CEO, and built by a team of in-house developers.

The first version of Craft was released in April 2013 after two years of internal development. Craft was created as a content management system tailored specifically for web designers and marketers managing modern web properties.

It was designed as an alternative to WordPress and Drupal, with the goal of providing a more flexible and user-friendly CMS for creating customized digital experiences. Pixel & Tonic leveraged their team's decade of experience building websites to craft a tool they felt was ideal for web professionals.

Within a few years of launch, Craft gained significant popularity for its versatile front-end templating and intuitive Craft CMS back-end content editing. It found a loyal following among agencies, publishers and enterprises needing a CMS suited for marketers managing content across multiple sites.

Editions and Licensing

Craft is offered in two primary editions - Craft Solo and Craft Pro.

Craft Solo is licensed for a one-time payment and ideal for small websites. It contains the core system along with 140+ plugins from Pixel & Tonic. Solo allows a single admin and basic support access.

Craft Pro is a monthly SaaS subscription suited for larger, more complex sites. It enables multiple admin user accounts and includes all Pixel & Tonic plugins. Users get full email support, cloud backups and auto-updates.

Pro subscriptions are priced based on the number of enabled admin accounts. This ranges from $299 per month for 5 admins to $999 per month for 25 admins. Add-on modules like Commerce and CMS Mobile App are available for additional fees.

Both editions run on Craft's proprietary SaaS infrastructure. While Craft is built on Yii PHP framework, their cloud platform and plugins make it quite distinct from vanilla Yii installations.

The choice between Solo and Pro depends on budget, user needs and desire for vendor support. Pro works well for companies wanting an all-inclusive enterprise CMS solution.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Some key advantages of using Craft CMS:

  • Intuitive Control Panel - The admin UI provides an intuitive way for non-devs to manage content using native drag-and-drop interfaces.

  • Front-end Friendly - Craft uses Twig templating making it easy for front-end developers to customize HTML markup and styling.

  • Flexible Content Modeling - Craft offers a granular way to create custom content models tailored to specific needs.

  • SEO Friendly - It provides SEO best practices out-of-the-box like clean URLs, meta tags, sitemaps etc.

  • Secure and Scalable - Hosted on Pixel & Tonic's cloud infrastructure, Craft offers robust security, backups and scalability.

  • Extensive Plugins - Hundreds of plugins extend Craft's base functionality for tasks like ecommerce, localization, APIs etc.

  • Steep Learning Curve - Craft has a complex UI with dense documentation. Mastering it requires significant time investment.

  • Vendor Lock-in - Reliance on its cloud platform and proprietary plugins leads to tight vendor lock-in.

  • Cost - The monthly SaaS fees, add-ons and reliance on paid Pixel & Tonic plugins increases total cost of ownership.

  • Limited Native Features - Lack of built-in features like forms, CRM, analytics. This requires integration of third-party plugins.

Craft provides a user-friendly CMS focused on custom content modeling with robust front-end templating capabilities. It works well for marketers and web designers managing complex content across multiple sites.

Architecture and Technology

System Architecture

Contao employs a traditional LAMP stack architecture, running on Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. It uses symfony components and Contao-specific code built on top of the Symfony framework.

The CMS frontend and backend are bundled together in a single PHP application. All system files reside on the web server itself. This provides good performance but less flexibility for distributed deployments.

Craft uses a SaaS architecture, hosted on Pixel & Tonic's cloud platform. The backend Control Panel runs on PHP/Yii with a MySQL database. The frontend templates use Twig and are served over CDNs.

Content APIs allow decoupling the frontend delivery from the backend Craft installation. This enables distributing content across multiple domains and microservices.

Overall, Contao follows a monolithic architecture while Craft is designed for cloud SaaS delivery. Craft's APIs provide more flexibility but also increase vendor dependence.

Frameworks and Databases

Contao relies on Symfony components for the core framework along with custom Contao classes. The Symfony cache and translation modules provide performance and multi-lingual capabilities out-of-the-box.

MySQL is the default database, though Contao can work with others like PostgreSQL and SQLite. The database schema is fixed by the core system and not customizable.

Craft uses Yii 2 PHP framework coupled with their own proprietary CMS code written over it.

Twig templating provides the frontend rendering. MySQL is the default back-end database.

The Yii framework combined with Twig makes Craft highly extensible. But it also has a steeper learning curve than Contao for developers new to these technologies.

Development Technologies

Contao uses PHP for the backend and frontend code. Developers need to know PHP, Twig templating, Symfony basics and the Contao API.

The folder structure and namespaces align with PSR-4 autoloading standards. Contao utilizes Composer for dependency management.

Craft also relies heavily on PHP, Twig and MySQL. The templating provides a lot of frontend flexibility. Developer experience is enhanced through Git-based version control.

Plugin development uses React and NodeJS build tools for assembling assets. Familiarity with these modern JavaScript ecosystems aids Craft customization.

Overall, both Contao and Craft have a high PHP/MySQL dependency. Craft offers more current technology but also requires learning more dev tools like NodeJS and React.

Feature Comparison

Extensions and Add-Ons

Contao provides access to over 500 extensions submitted by community developers. These are available via the Contao Extension Repository and GitHub.

Popular extensions exist for e-commerce, forms, analytics, SEO, security among other functions. Many extensions are open source but some require paid licenses. Quality varies across community extensions.

Craft relies heavily on proprietary add-ons from Pixel & Tonic. These tightly integrate with the core CMS and come with dedicated support. Over 140+ add-ons provide e-commerce, marketing, integration and other capabilities.

Craft add-ons are generally paid premium offerings costing $99+ per site annually. This lock-in and cost is a trade-off for their tight CMS integration and quality assurance.

Theming and Templating

Contao theming involves overriding Symfony Twig templates and Contao template hooks. Frontend assets use a simple CSS/JavaScript folder structure. There are dozens of free and paid Contao themes available.

Craft theming entirely relies on Twig templating providing complete frontend control. It utilizes Yii's asset bundle concept for managing CSS/JavaScript. Craft also supports multi-site theming for managing branding across properties.

Twig knowledge is vital for both platforms. Contao theming has a lower learning curve but Craft offers greater frontend flexibility for developers proficient in Twig.

SEO and Marketing

Contao comes with built-in SEO tools like search engine-friendly URLs, metadata management, XML sitemaps and tags. The Faq, News, and Event modules also support rich snippets markup.

Free and paid extensions further expand SEO capabilities with functionality like 301 redirects, meta robots control, and search analytics.

Craft also offers SEO best practices out-of-the-box. It provides clean URLs, dynamic meta tags, rich snippets, XML sitemap generation and full frontend templating access. The SEOmatic plugin adds advanced SEO tools.

For marketing, Contao integrations like Google Analytics, MailChimp and Facebook Pixel require extensions. Craft offers more native digital marketing support through its built-in Pixel & Tonic modules.

In summary, both systems provide robust SEO foundations. Craft comes with more integrated marketing features but Contao can match it via community extensions.

Use Case Comparison

Small Business Websites

For small business websites, Contao's open source model provides an affordable option. The free Community Edition has all the core features needed for basic brochure sites. Paid extensions provide additional capabilities like forms, analytics etc.

Contao's simple interface enables non-technical users to manage content. Developers also benefit from the modular code and hundreds of community extensions. Minimal server requirements make it suitable for entry-level shared hosting.

Craft's SaaS pricing may be prohibitive for very small sites. Budget under $300/month for the base subscription. The UI is user-friendly but theming complexity requires an experienced developer. Craft sites also have higher server requirements.

Overall, Contao is better suited for small sites needing a free open source CMS. Craft offers a more tightly integrated SaaS platform but at a higher cost.

Blogs and Magazines

For publishing sites, Craft provides strong built-in content modeling capabilities to handle complex editorial workflows. The UI simplifies creating different content types like articles, press releases, videos etc.

Features like revision histories, scheduled publishing, user permissions, and multi-site management streamline collaboration. SEO tools cater to high-traffic news sites. The native search provides full-text and tag filtering.

In Contao, the news, events and FAQ modules provide basic publishing features. But custom post types, user roles and advanced workflows require installing extra extensions. This adds complexity for non-technical users.

Craft's optimized content architecture makes it a better choice for building advanced blogs and magazines. Contao may struggle scaling beyond very basic publishing needs.

E-Commerce Stores

For online stores, Craft provides deeper native e-commerce support through its first-party Commerce module starting at $299 monthly. It handles product catalogs, carts, checkout etc. Other modules add promotions, subscriptions and integrations.

In Contao, e-commerce requires installing extensions like Contao Commerce or Aimeos. These integrate payment gateways, shipping, taxes and other complex store functionality. Quality varies across extensions.

Craft Commerce has tighter CMS integration and Pixel & Tonic support. But Contao offers some capable e-commerce extensions often at lower cost. Scalability also depends on the specific extension's architecture.

For advanced e-commerce needs, Craft is preferable for its robust first-party tools. But Contao remains a viable open source option with the right extensions.

Security Comparison

Vulnerabilities and Breaches

Contao has had a few security issues reported over the years, but none as severe as major exploits. Most vulnerabilities were related to XSS and CSRF flaws that allowed limitedsite attacks only under certain conditions.

The Contao Security Advisory monitored potential threats and issued patches promptly. There have been no publicized cases of major Contao website breaches to date. Overall, Contao's security track record has been fairly solid.

For Craft, being a newer platform, there are limited public vulnerability reports. Craft has undergone professional security audits, and Pixel & Tonic has been quick to address any flaws.

However, as a SaaS platform, the risks for large-scale breach and data exposure are inherently higher. Craft has no reported security incidents so far but it remains an attractive target as adoption grows.


Contao provides protection against OWASP top 10 risks like injection, broken authentication, sensitive data exposure, cross-site issues etc. Input validation, output encoding, CSRF tokens are built-in. Encryption secures admin passwords.

Extra hardening requires following recommendations like using security extensions, HTTPS, strong server permissions, regular patching and backups.

Craft also implements OWASP best practices out-of-the-box including input sanitization, output encoding etc. As a SaaS platform, security is further enhanced through server-level protection, regular audits and version control.

The cloud infrastructure limits direct server access. Backup and redundancy mechanisms provide resilience.

Best Practices

For Contao, best practices include keeping core and extensions updated, TLS encryption, strong passwords, database backups, file permission locking and using a web application firewall. Security extensions like Securimage and Spam Protect provide further hardening.

For Craft, regularly updating the Control Panel, restricting admin access, unique complex passwords, enabling 2FA, and extensive user permissioning are vital. The read-only file system guards against malicious code insertion. Backups and Versioning provide data protection and recoverability.

Both CMSs incorporate secure development practices and can be hardened further following web security best practices. Craft's SaaS model and dedicated security focus offset inherent public cloud risks.

Performance Comparison

Page Load Speeds

Out of the box, Contao and Craft have comparable frontend page load speeds. Basic pages load within 2-3 seconds on local servers. The lightweight architecture and templating engines provide decent performance.

Enabling caching can significantly speed up page loads. Contao uses the Symfony HTTP cache for full page and fragment caching. This can decrease page loads to under 1 second.

Craft also sees dramatic improvements with caching. It integrates Varnish and Redis for page and database caching. Page load times drop to 500ms - 1s with caching enabled.

Both CMSs provide robust caching for 10x+ speed gains. Craft's cloud infrastructure provides higher baseline performance. But Contao matches it with local Varnish caching.

Scaling and Stress Testing

Contao sites have been benchmarked to handle 300+ requests/second on commodity hardware. Optimizations like database sharding, CPU scaling and CDNs allow Contao to handle higher traffic loads.

Cloudflare stress tests indicate Craft can handle heavy traffic spikes well. The cloud infrastructure autoscales to maintain performance under demand surges. Historical uptime has been over 99.99%.

Craft's managed cloud environment provides higher scalability and reliability over self-hosted Contao. But Contao can also scale massively on optimized infrastructure, especially using cloud hosting providers.

Caching and Optimization

Contao supports page, fragment and database caching natively. Additional enhancements include RSS caching, CSS/JS minification, concatenation, lazy loading etc. Switching to Redis further boosts performance.

Optimizing MySQL, using a PHP accelerator like OPcache, upgrading to PHP 7, and enabling Gzip compression significantly improves Contao speed and scalability.

For Craft, native Varnish or Fastly integration turbocharges caching capability. Enabling Redis and database query caching provides further gains. Asset and resource versioning, image optimization and using CDNs enhance frontend performance.

Both CMSs offer ample caching and optimization capabilities. Craft's cloud platform provides higher out-of-the-box speed and scalability. But Contao can match it using enterprise hosting, caching, and optimization best practices

Support and Documentation

Documentation and Learning

Contao provides extensive documentation translated in multiple languages. The docs cover concepts, administration, development, APIs and tutorials. Video courses are also available for purchase.

The free Contao Academy program offers interactive courses for end-users, administrators, and developers. The community wiki offers supplemental information.

Craft provides detailed documentation for the Control Panel, templating, plugins, APIs and more. It includes useful code samples. Video screencasts and courses are available for paid licensing.

The Craft Cookbook site offers snippets and tutorials. Additional learning resources are available from third-party providers.

Both CMSs offer a deep knowledge base for self-learning. Craft documentation tends to provide more task-oriented guidelines while Contao explores broader concepts.

Community Support

Contao has an active community forum with over 180,000 members. The forums have tens of thousands of threads covering administration, troubleshooting, development, extensions and more.

GitHub issues provide additional community support. The Contao Association also maintains the security advisory and Feature Request Repository.

The Craft CMS Stack Exchange has around 9,500 members discussing Craft implementation topics. Pixel & Tonic moderators actively engage with the community.

For paid customers, Pixel & Tonic provides direct email support. The communitySlack channel offers further assistance.

Contao has a much larger open community, while Craft provides more structured commercial support. But both maintain helpful forums.

Developer Availability

Contao has a steady supply of developers across freelancing platforms like Upwork, as it is built on standard PHP/Symfony skills. Rates vary based on experience, typically $25-$60 per hour.

Specialist Contao agencies offer consulting services starting around $5000 for initial setup and templating. Support contracts cost ~20% of build fees.

For Craft, Pixel & Tonic offers official consulting services but with high rates, like $200 per hour. Craft-specific developers and agencies are fewer, but available starting around $60 per hour.

Contao's lower learning curve enables finding developers more easily. Craft developers require rarer expertise but offer deeper CMS-specific experience.

Pricing and Licensing

Open Source vs SaaS

Contao is offered under open source LGPLv3 licensing, allowing free use and modification. Revenue is generated through paid support, documentation, extensions and cloud hosting.

Users avoid vendor lock-in but bear responsibilities like maintenance, upgrades, security, backups etc. Contao's open model provides low entry cost but higher technical overhead.

Craft uses a SaaS model with monthly subscriptions for the CMS platform and add-ons. This shifts the technology burden to Pixel & Tonic but imposes recurring fees.

The SaaS approach offers predictable costs but reduces control compared to open source. Craft also carries significant vendor lock-in.

Initial and Ongoing Costs

Contao's open source model has zero initial license fees. Downloading the CMS is free. Add-on extensions vary from free to paid licenses around £100 per site.

Hosting, maintenance, development and support costs need to be managed separately. Typical budgets range from £1000 for a brochure site to £15,000+ for a fully customized solution.

Craft starts at $299 per month for 5 user accounts. Additional developer and staging licenses cost extra. Add-ons like Commerce carry monthly fees starting from $299. Support plans have annual fees.

The SaaS model concentrates costs intoCraft's packaged plans but bills monthly. Annual CI/CD and support further increases costs.

Budgeting Considerations

With Contao's flexibility comes responsibility for long-term operations. Carefully evaluate required features, hosting, support and growth needs when budgeting.

Factor in development, maintenance, extensions, backups, security and performance enhancements beyond basic costs.

For Craft, plan for controlled but recurring SaaS costs. Budget user licenses for the team, staging licenses for development, and add-ons like Commerce.

Estimate annual support fees and requests. Weigh the benefits against Craft's premium SaaS pricing. Consider negotiating contracts to optimize spend.

Contao provides lower initial cost but higher responsibility for the technology stack. Craft offers a well-supported SaaS platform but at significant recurring expense.

Shape April 2022 HR 202
Andy Golpys
- Author

Andy has scaled multiple businesses and is a big believer in Craft CMS as a tool that benefits both Designer, Developer and Client. 

Show us some love
Email Us
We usually reply within 72 hours
Agency Directory
Submit your agency
Affiliate Partners
Let's chat