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Is Craft CMS Open Source?

10 min read
Is Craft CMS Open Source

Wondering whether Craft CMS is open source software? As a flexible, user-friendly CMS that developers love, Craft's licensing has big implications for its usage, customization and community involvement. This article will cover the open source GPL license Craft uses, what that means for developers and users, and the key advantages it provides compared to proprietary systems.

Craft CMS is fully open source software licensed under the GNU GPLv3. This grants users the freedom to use, modify, and share Craft CMS and derived works under the same open source terms. The transparency and flexibility of Craft's open source model fosters community involvement and customizability. Key benefits include enhanced security from crowd-sourced code reviews, deeper integration capabilities via code customization, and a thriving ecosystem of open source Craft CMS plugins/themes.

History of Craft CMS

Origins and Creation

Craft CMS originated from the minds of Pixel & Tonic, a web design agency based in Chula Vista, California. Co-founded by Brandon Kelly, Craft emerged in 2013 as a reaction to the lack of user-friendly content management systems on the market.

The Pixel & Tonic team recognised the need for a CMS that empowered marketers and content creators, without requiring advanced technical skills. Kelly and his cohorts set out to build a platform that was flexible, customisable and intuitive enough for non-developers to utilise.

After months of planning, design and development, the initial version of Craft CMS was launched. The goal was to create a system that delivered the functionality of other elite CMS platforms, while wrapping it up in a simplified interface. This opened up web content management to a whole new cohort of users.

Craft was met with immediate acclaim in the web development community. Professionals loved the blend of power and simplicity. The system enabled clients to manage their own content updates, taking workload off the developers' plates.

Within a year of release, Craft had made a name for itself as an innovative new entry in the crowded CMS space. The Pixel & Tonic team continued working tirelessly to refine and improve the platform.

Major Releases and Developments

The first major milestone came in 2015 with the release of Craft 2, which built upon the successes of the initial version. Craft 2 represented a complete rewrite of the core framework, delivering huge performance improvements.

Other major new additions in Craft 2 included native matrix field support, a reimagined Control Panel, and the inclusion of Swiftmailer for streamlined email functionality.

In 2017, Craft 3 was launched as the biggest upgrade yet. This release saw Craft rebuilt on the cutting-edge Yii 2 framework. The improved modular architecture resulted in massive boosts in speed, security and scalability.

The Craft 3 Control Panel was also completely redesigned for smoother CMS navigation. Pixel & Tonic embraced community feedback by adding long-requested features like multi-site support, a visual site builder and admin user permissions.

Hot on the heels of Craft 3, Pixel & Tonic released Craft 4 in early 2022. This upgrade focused on enhancements like smoother workflows, user-suggested improvements and frontend editing capabilities.

Headless support was also introduced, enabling Craft to output content via APIs. The Craft Kit beta took things further, allowing fully JavaScript-driven sites to be built.

Recent News and Updates

Craft CMS has many features and continues to go from strength to strength in 2022 and beyond. The long-awaited launch of Craft 5 is pencilled in for late 2023, promising even faster performance and exciting new features.

In October 2022, Pixel & Tonic were acquired by Shogun, an eCommerce leader. This move aims to accelerate Craft's growth through increased resources and exposure.

The Craft CMS community itself is thriving. An engaged user base shares tips, tricks and feedback via spaces like Reddit, Discord and Stack Exchange. This helps guide the ongoing evolution of Craft CMS.

Developer Dave McHale summarises the typical view: "The progress and improvement of Craft CMS since launching has been hugely impressive. The developers really listen to user feedback. Craft gets better with every update."

With a motivated team and devoted user base behind it, the future looks bright for this flexible, user-friendly and developer-loved web content management system.

Craft CMS License

About the GPL License

Craft CMS is distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), an open source copyleft license. The GPL grants users extensive freedoms, on the condition that derivative works are released under the same GPL terms.

There are two main versions of the GPL. Craft is licensed under GPLv3, the most current iteration. This updated license includes provisions for software patents and DRM that weren't present in GPLv2.

At its core, the GPL guarantees end users the freedom to use, study, modify and redistribute open source software. However, developers must make source code available and license derivatives under GPL.

The free usage permissions come with important responsibilities. Compliance is required to benefit from the full rights granted by the GNU GPL open source license.

Implications of the License

By using the GNU GPL, Pixel & Tonic must publish the full Craft CMS source code on GitHub under the same open license. This allows developers to freely customise and enhance Craft for their projects.

The open source nature facilitates plugin and module development. Developers can tweak Craft's core code to create integrations tailored to specific sites and applications.

For commercial users, paid licenses are available if the obligations of GPL don't fit their needs. This provides exemptions from requirements like publishing proprietary code modifications.

Overall, the open source GPL license has hugely benefitted Craft's widespread adoption. The transparent development process builds trust and community engagement in the CMS platform.

Licensing Plugins and Themes

Due to Craft's GPL license, all 3rd party plugins and themes for Craft must also be released under the GPL. This keeps the entire open source ecosystem synchronized.

Some developers do dual licensing, offering paid commercial licenses alongside the required GPL open source version. This allows monetization while still complying with the terms.

Exceptions are occasionally made for proprietary plugins that provide external services or assets. But in most cases, the GPL obligations extend to all add-ons and extensions.

Craft theme developers face a similar situation. To legally distribute Craft CMS themes, they must be licensed under the GNU GPL as well.

This ensures end users retain the core freedoms to customize the themes and redistribute that modified code. Some theme authors use dual licensing to enable sales of premium themes.

By fostering an ecosystem of open source plugins and themes, Craft CMS facilitates endless customizability. Developers should fully understand licensing considerations before distributing add-ons and themes for Craft CMS.

Benefits of Open Source

Community Involvement

One of the biggest advantages of Craft CMS being open source is the engaged community involvement it fosters. The transparent development environment encourages user contributions and feedback.

With the code accessible to everyone, users can spot bugs and suggest fixes. The open communication channels make it easy to report issues directly to Pixel & Tonic.

This crowdsourced testing and troubleshooting ensures problems get addressed promptly. Bugs that might have gone undetected are caught quickly thanks to community diligence.

Enthusiastic developers also help build new features and enhancements. They can directly submit pull requests to the GitHub repository through forks and branches.

The Craft CMS user community has grown into a knowledgeable support network. Forums like Stack Exchange are filled with users helping each other solve problems and share tips.

This grassroots assistance reduces reliance on official support routes. The goodwill and camaraderie benefits the entire Craft ecosystem.

Transparency and Security

Releasing the source code publicly rather than keeping it hidden provides major transparency and security advantages.

With the code visible, many expert eyes can review it for potential weaknesses and flaws. This crowd scrutiny makes it far harder for vulnerabilities to remain undetected.

If any security issues do arise, the expedited reporting enables rapid response and resolution. Full disclosure means problems get fixed before exploits can occur.

There is simply no way proprietary software can match this level of oversight. The transparency instills trust and confidence in the safety of the CMS platform.

Users can also verify the platform works as advertised, with no hidden malware or unwanted extras. The publicly visible development process keeps Pixel & Tonic accountable.

For site owners handling sensitive data, the open source transparency brings significant peace of mind regarding the integrity of the foundation.

Flexibility and Customization

The open source GPL license grants users extensive freedoms to modify and adapt Craft CMS to suit their specific needs. Developers are not limited to just using it out of the box.

The open code base allows deep customization and white-labeling of the admin interface, functionality and output. Everything from branding to workflows can be tailored.

Systems integrators appreciate being able to tweak Craft's core code to create tighter integration with other platforms. The flexibility enables the creation of highly specialized publishing solutions.

Agencies can utilize the modification capabilities to turn Craft into a proprietary CMS. Features and branding can be adjusted to create a custom-branded system.

For users wanting to take total control of their technology stack, the open source license empowers complete molding of Craft CMS to their vision. No aspect has to remain fixed or rigid.

This pliable adaptability creates limitless possibilities for using Craft CMS in unique ways across diverse industries and applications.

Craft CMS Support

Official Resources

Pixel & Tonic provide excellent official support resources to help Craft CMS users and developers. Comprehensive documentation lays out everything from installation to developing custom modules.

The user guides cover typical use cases in detail, with actionable instructions and visual references. They demonstrate best practices for structuring content, designing frontends, and managing workflows.

Instructional video tutorials are another great resource, walking through common tasks step-by-step. Short and practical, these videos get users up to speed quickly.

For troubleshooting specific issues, the Stack Exchange site is invaluable. Browsing existing questions or posting new ones will typically yield solutions from the knowledgeable community.

The Craft CMS blog also delivers regular educational articles and release notes. Users can stay updated on the latest features, tips and add-ons via this channel.

For personalized assistance, low-cost support packages are available. These provide direct email access to the Craft support team for advice tailored to individual projects.

Community Support

Beyond official channels, Craft CMS enjoys fantastic community support. The platform's popularity has spawned a thriving ecosystem of engaged developers and agencies.

Top web design firms share tutorials and case studies demonstrating innovative uses of Craft CMS. Their technical know-how provides a great knowledge base.

Independent developers contribute plugins, modules and helper tools that expand Craft's capabilities. Sharing these openly encapsulates the spirit of open source collaboration.

Craft-focused blogs deliver tips, opinions and commentary from various perspectives.

Enthusiasts even organize conferences like Craft Include where the community meets face-to-face.

Sites like Stack Exchange and Reddit enable peer support with thousands of active users. Chances are any Craft CMS issue already has an existing thread with actionable solutions.

This grassroots foundation provides diverse support channels beyond official resources. The goodwill of the community is a huge asset benefiting all Craft users.

Commercial Support Options

For companies demanding premium support, Pixel & Tonic offer paid plans with tailored assistance. These provide a more hands-on approach for complex or business-critical needs.

The Team plan is ideal for small studios, with email support during business hours. Quick responses from Craft's team help resolve blocking issues.

The Business package takes support to the next level with 24/7 coverage. System monitoring, infrastructure reviews and onboarding training provide complete peace of mind.

The Enterprise plan adds high-touch personalized support like priority issue escalation and screen-sharing debug sessions. It's suited for large or high-traffic sites.

For all paid support plans, the team strives for incredible response times well under an hour. Pricing scales affordably based on site traffic and unique needs.

While free community resources may be sufficient for many, paid support delivers an unparalleled VIP experience for those needing round-the-clock, dedicated assistance.

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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