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Drupal Vs Craft CMS - Which Is Better?

10 min read
Craft CMS Vs Drupal

Choosing the right CMS can make or break your website. With so many options available, deciding between Drupal and Craft CMS may seem overwhelming. This post cuts through the noise to highlight the key differences between these popular platforms. By evaluating their strengths and weaknesses across vital criteria like usability, scalability and security, you'll discover which solution best fits your needs - saving you time, money and headaches down the road.

With over 20 years of development and 1 million sites, Drupal dominates with a 2.7% market share. However, Craft has seen rapid growth to power 500,000 sites thanks to its superior UX, onboarding and ease of use. Drupal excels for large complex sites while Craft is ideal for marketing sites and UX-focused use cases. Ultimately both hold strong positions in the PHP CMS space.

Drupal Overview

History and Creation

Drupal traces its origins back to 2000 when it was created by Dries Buytaert as an online message board. Originally called "Drop" and written in PHP and MySQL, it was renamed Drupal in 2001 and released as open source software. Over the past 20+ years, Drupal has evolved from a simple discussion platform into a full-featured content management system (CMS) and content management framework (CMF). The Drupal community has exploded in that time, with thousands of developers contributing modules and helping evolve Drupal into what it is today.

Technical Architecture and Technology

Under the hood, Drupal utilizes PHP for all of its server-side coding and logic, with MySQL as the primary database. This aligns with the popular LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) and LEMP (Linux, Nginx, MySQL, PHP) technology stacks used by many web applications. Drupal handles all the complexities of content rendering and delivery, while developers can focus on using its APIs and extending functionality through custom modules and themes.

Plugin Ecosystem

One of Drupal's biggest strengths is its extensive ecosystem of modules and themes. With over 45,000 free modules, developers can expand and enhance Drupal's out-of-the-box capabilities to create tailored solutions. The most popular modules have millions of downloads and allow

Drupal sites to add e-commerce, localization, SEO, layouts, forms and more. Everything from blogs to social networks can be built on Drupal thanks to this flexible plugin infrastructure. For developers, being able to leverage or extend existing modules is a huge advantage compared to building custom solutions from scratch.

Craft CMS Overview

History and Creation

Craft CMS was created by Pixel & Tonic, founded by developer Brandon Kelly, and initially launched in 2013. It was designed from the ground up as a commercial PHP-based content management system, offering a paid "pro" version as well as a free open source version. In the decade since its launch, Craft has seen rapid adoption among web developers and agencies who appreciate its developer-centric approach. It now powers over 500,000 websites globally across a range of industries.

Technical Architecture and Technology

Under the hood, Craft leverages PHP as its core language along with the Yii framework for structure and several other modern web development technologies. It uses Twig for templating, giving developers flexible control over frontend markup. MySQL and PostgreSQL are supported as database options. Overall, Craft provides a robust and extensible technical foundation for delivering content-driven sites and applications.

Plugin Ecosystem

One area where Craft shines is its collection of Craft CMS plugins and integrations that extend functionality. There are over 500 paid plugins and many more free ones available in areas like e-commerce, localization, SEO, social media and more. Top plugin categories include form building, overlays, multi-language support, and enhancing the CP with utilities and custom fields. While not as vast as Drupal's module ecosystem, Craft's curated plugin store means plugins meet certain quality and security standards.

Philosophy and Approach

Open Source vs Commercial

One major difference between Drupal and Craft is their underlying business and licensing models. Drupal is open source software released under the GNU GPL license. This allows anyone to use, modify and distribute Drupal for free. The open source community collectively develops and maintains the platform. In contrast, Craft utilizes a commercial model where Pixel & Tonic sells licenses for the CMS. This provides funding for ongoing development and professional support services. While the open source approach has benefits, some prefer Craft's commercial model for greater continuity and accountability.

Community-driven vs Designer-focused

Related to their models, Drupal and Craft have divergent philosophies in other aspects too. Drupal embraces the open source ethos of community-driven development. Anyone can contribute modules, themes and core improvements. Consequently, Drupal offers extreme flexibility but at the cost of a higher learning curve. Craft deliberately set out to create an intuitive, designer-friendly CMS. It focuses on delivering a polished admin UX and front-end experience out-of-the-box. This appeals to agencies and clients who value exceptional design.

Flexibility vs Usability

Drupal prides itself on being versatile and highly configurable. Developers can tap into a myriad of modules to craft custom features and functionality. However, this flexibility comes at the cost of greater complexity for end-users. More complexity means a steeper learning curve for content editors and site administrators. In contrast, Craft emphasizes approachable usability with a user experience that just "makes sense". The control panel and interface aim to be intuitive for content creators right away. For some, Craft's out-of-the-box usability trumps the endless flexibility of Drupal.

Ease of Use

Admin Interface

Drupal's backend admin UI is powerful but complex, with settings spread across various menus and pages. Finding what you need can involve a fair bit of clicking around. While experienced devs come to appreciate it, the learning curve is steep. In contrast, Craft's control panel focuses on clarity and simplicity. Related settings are grouped logically, critical functions are prominently placed, and the interface just feels more intuitive. For CMS beginners especially, Craft's admin wins on usability.

Onboarding Experience

For new users just getting started, Drupal's learning curve is notoriously difficult compared to other CMS options. Making sense of unfamiliar concepts like content types, taxonomy, views and modules can be overwhelming at first. Craft's onboarding experience is smoother, allowing users to manage content right away. The UI conventions will feel familiar to users of other CMSs or even WordPress. While Drupal veterans eventually master it, Craft's gentle learning curve is less intimidating.

Ongoing Ease of Use

Day-to-day, Drupal provides immense flexibility for editors but requires them to know the system inside-out. Craft simplifies things with its content-first approach. Key functions like editing entries are obvious, contextual help provides guidance, and the interface just feels more natural. Users can focus on creating content rather than learning a complex system. Drupal offers greater power for advanced users but for general content creation, Craft's superior UX keeps it straightforward.

Theming and Templating

Drupal's Templating

Drupal uses PHP for its templates to generate frontend markup and output dynamic content. Developers have full access to render arrays and Drupal APIs in templates. For convenience, theming frameworks like Twig can be added via modules to enhance templating capabilities. However, PHP remains the core templating engine. The pros are power and flexibility, but PHP templates can be complex for less technical users.

Craft's Use of Twig

In contrast, Craft CMS utilizes Twig for templating which offers a simpler and more readable syntax. Twig provides things like inheritance, macros, filters and functions out of the box. It enforces separation of concerns between markup and logic. Designers find Twig more intuitive than raw PHP, and it integrates seamlessly with Craft's architecture. However, some developers prefer PHP's capabilities and Twig may seem limiting at times.

Comparing Approaches

In summary, both systems take different approaches to templating. Drupal's core PHP templates offer maximum developer control but also complexity. Craft's Twig support streamlines templating using a simpler, designer-friendly syntax. While Twig may require learning for some devs, overall it makes frontend templating quicker and easier compared to starting from scratch with Drupal's PHP. However, Drupal's flexibility remains valuable for complex applications. It comes down to choosing the right tool for the needs of the project and team.

Plugins and Modules

Drupal Modules

One of Drupal's most powerful features is its extensive library of modules. The Drupal.org repository houses over 45,000 free, open source modules that extend Drupal in virtually every way imaginable. From basic functionality like forms and layouts to advanced add-ons like e-commerce, multi-language and more - modules enable highly customized Drupal sites. There's a module for just about any need, though sorting through the sheer volume can be challenging at times.

Craft CMS Plugins

Craft also boasts a collection of plugins that add functionality, albeit smaller than Drupal's ecosystem. The official Plugin Store offers over 500 paid plugins covering areas like SEO, social media, user management and more. Developers can also find free plugins posted on GitHub and elsewhere. While not as vast as Drupal's options, Craft's curated model focuses on quality and support. Top plugins enhance e-commerce, integrations, field types and workflows.

Comparison of Capabilities

When it comes to extendability, Drupal's gigantic module library provides endless possibilities though at the cost of complexity. Craft's carefully selected official plugins, while not as numerous, offer quality integrations for common needs. For niche custom capabilities, developers can build on Craft's flexible architecture or tap community offerings. While Drupal wins on sheer volume, Craft's plugins frequently provide an easier solution. However, Drupal remains unrivalled for sites requiring vast customization.

Use Cases


With its flexibility and extensibility, Drupal excels at complex, content-heavy sites. Its modular architecture makes it ideal for customized digital experiences like community portals, social networks, intranets, and membership sites. Drupal's enterprise-readiness also lends itself well to large corporate sites and applications requiring advanced functionality. Government, higher education, and non-profit organizations benefit from robust features like workflow, access control and multi-site management.

Craft CMS

Craft shines for marketing sites like creative agency portfolios where its polished UX and designer-friendliness matter. Small business websites are also a sweet spot, leveraging Craft's out-of-the-box SEO, forms and e-commerce. Craft enables rapid development of modern web designs, custom content models, and headless implementations. Its intuitive approach helps organizations big and small publish content efficiently while providing a stellar authoring experience.


In summary, Drupal's unrivalled flexibility makes it the superior choice for large, complex sites like intranets and communities. Craft's stellar UX and shorter learning curve give it an edge for marketing sites, small business sites and design-forward use cases where usability is paramount. For enterprise-scale projects or sites requiring extreme customization, Drupal has the upper hand. But Craft's sensibilities make it ideal for organizations focused on accessible content creation and management.

Popularity and Market Share

Drupal Usage

With over 20 years of development, Drupal has an expansive global user base of over 1 million sites. It powers 2.7% of the web and has name recognition even beyond the CMS sphere. High profile sites from Tesla to PBS to the Australian government use Drupal. Its open source model and contributions from thousands of developers have fueled this widespread adoption. Drupal excels in certain sectors like education, government and non-profits.

Craft CMS Traction

As a newer system launched in 2013, Craft CMS has quickly grown to power over 500,000 sites. It has found a niche among digital agencies who appreciate its focus on UX. Big names like Chipotle, Virgin and Grammarly use Craft for its frontend flexibility. While Craft has a smaller market share overall, it is on an impressive growth trajectory particularly among designers and developers.

Market Share Comparison

When comparing adoption rates, Drupal clearly dominates with its 20+ year head start and broad use cases. However, Craft has carved out a passionate fan base thanks to its modern design sensibilities. While Drupal commands a majority enterprise and community site market share, Craft leads among agencies and marketing sites. Ultimately both hold strong positions in the PHP CMS sphere with very different philosophies and audiences.

Pricing and Licensing

Drupal Pricing

As open source software, Drupal core is free to download and use without any licensing fees. However, there are costs associated with hosting, development, maintenance, security, etc. Many organizations leverage Drupal's flexibility by having developers build custom modules and functionality. Large Drupal projects often require substantial development hours, so external developer costs can add up. Hosting and server expenses may also be higher for complex Drupal sites.

Craft CMS Pricing

In contrast to open source Drupal, Craft utilizes a paid subscription model for full use of its CMS. Craft CMS pricing starts at $299/year for the Solo plan, up to $2,999/year for Craft Business which supports unlimited sites. The Pro plan at $999/year is popular for small teams and agencies. Subscriptions provide access to all system updates, the plugin store, and professional support forums. Some find this commercial approach provides more structure.

TCO Considerations

When evaluating the total cost of ownership, Drupal incurs developer costs for customization, while Craft requires annual licensing fees. Craft's superior UX means potential savings on training and authoring. Drupal's complexity sometimes results in more tricky upgrades and maintenance. Ultimately pricing reflects the philosophies of each CMS, but TCO depends largely on project scope, team makeup, and other specifics.

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. 

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