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Improve your Craft CMS skills

Understanding The Craft CMS Backend

10 min read
Shape April 2022 HR 189

Struggling to navigate the ins and outs of the Craft CMS control panel? As a flexible and customizable CMS, Craft enables immense backend functionality, but that can also mean complexity for the uninitiated. This article will provide you with an in-depth overview of Craft's backend interface, settings, and tools. Gain the knowledge you need to master core administrative concepts, streamline your workflow, and start feeling right at home within the powerful Craft CMS backend.

The Craft CMS backend enables managing content, configuring settings and users, installing plugins, working with assets, structuring sections and entries, authoring content, enabling workflows, localization, optimising performance, and customising system behaviour through its intuitive control panel interface and extensive configuration options.

Accessing and Logging into the Craft CMS Control Panel

User Accounts and Credentials

To access the Craft CMS control panel, you'll need a user account with the proper permissions. By default, Craft creates an admin account when installing the Craft CMS. Additional user accounts can be created and managed from the control panel's Users section.

When creating new user accounts, you'll be asked to set a username, email address, and password. Craft requires passwords to be at least 8 characters long. For best security practices, use a strong, unique password for each user account and find out how Craft CMS saves passwords.

If you forget your password, you can reset it by clicking the "Forgot your password?" link on the login page. An email will be sent with a secure link to create a new password.

User permissions are set by assigning user groups. The default Admin group has full control over the CMS, while other groups like Editor or Author can be restricted. This allows providing front-end teams access without compromising the backend.

Navigating to the Control Panel Login Page

The default URL for accessing the Craft CMS control panel is yourwebsite.com/admin. This /admin route can be changed in the config settings to use a different URL if desired.

Some common ways to navigate to the control panel from your website include:

  • Clicking a "Login" link in the header or footer navigation menus. This is often styled to stand out for easy access.

  • Visiting a specific page like /login or /dashboard and including a link there to the admin.

  • If you have a front-end user account system, provide a way for those users to access a special "user dashboard" that links to the CMS login.

  • Set Up a keyboard shortcut that automatically directs to the admin URL for fast access during development.

Regardless of which method you use, make sure the login page is easy to find from the front-end. For content editors who will access it regularly, convenience is key.

Logging into the Control Panel

To log into the Craft CMS control panel, visit the /admin URL and enter your username and password credentials. Click the "Login" button or hit Enter to authenticate.

Upon successful login, you'll be redirected to the user dashboard page. This displays useful metrics like recent entries and updates. The main navigation menu runs vertically along the left side, providing access to all back-end sections and settings.

Your user avatar and name appear in the top-right corner. Click on your avatar to manage account details, view activity logs, or log out. Logging out is recommended when leaving your workstation unattended.

The control panel uses permissions and user groups to provide access to relevant sections. Non-admin users may see a more limited set of menu options tailored to their roles and needs.

With the proper credentials, the Craft CMS control panel provides a convenient way to manage backend content and functionality. Smart user groups and permissions allow granting back-end access without exposing sensitive areas or settings.

Sections, Structures and Entries in Craft CMS

Sections and Section Types

In Craft CMS, sections define the different content types and channels on your site. For example, you may have a "Blog" section for blog posts, an "Events" section for event listings, and a "Pages" section for static pages.

When creating a new section, you can configure settings like:

  • Title - The name used in the CMS

  • Handle - How the section is referenced in templates

  • Type - Channel, Structure or Single

  • Entry URL Format - The URL structure for entries

The Section Type determines how content is created and classified.

Channel sections contain multiple similar entries like blog posts. Authors can create new entries in a channel via the control panel.

Structure sections group repeatable content blocks for flexible layouts. Structures don't have their own URLs.

Single sections contain one unique entry, like the homepage.

Sections provide the framework for managing all content in Craft CMS. Configuring sections correctly allows content creators to effectively author and structure entries.


Channel vs structures – While Channel sections hold collections of entries, Structures group blocks of repeatable content. For example, you may have a "Features" structure for highlighting product features on various pages.

Structures are useful when you want to reuse modular content in different layouts. The ability to drag-and-drop blocks makes it easy to manage flexible content designs.

Here are some example use cases for structures:

  • Repeatable content modules on pages

  • Groups of team member profiles

  • Sets of testimonials

  • Listings of product features

  • Photo galleries

  • Panels of FAQs

With structures, marketers can maintain reusable content blocks without needing to manage a collection of entries and URLs. The modular approach lends itself well to crafting flexible page layouts.


Entries are the core building blocks for content in Craft CMS. All entry content is created and stored within sections.

For example, to create a new blog post you would create a new entry within the "Blog" section. This entry would include fields like title, post content, image, SEO metadata, etc.

Within each section, you can create and manage any number of entries. Sections define the content type while entries contain the actual content.

The control panel displays all entries organised within their respective sections. From here you can:

  • Create, edit, and delete entries

  • View and search existing entries

  • Manage drafts and revisions

  • Organise entries into hierarchical structures

Entries can be related to categories, tags, author accounts, and more. Robust management capabilities empower content creators to keep entries highly organised.

Sections and entries form the backbone of the CMS. Sections define the channels while entries contain the content that drives the site. Craft CMS provides powerful tools for structuring content across different section types and managing entries at scale.

Fields and Field Types in Craft CMS

Common Field Types

Craft CMS comes equipped with an extensive set of commonly used field types to handle nearly any content structure needs right out of the box. Plain text fields allow for basic text strings and labels while rich text fields enable robust WYSIWYG editing with full HTML support for crafting long-form content. For media, the Assets field provides the ability to upload images, videos, and documents directly to Craft's built-in asset manager.

Tags make it easy to organise content with keywords and categories. Number fields handle numeric data like scores, counts, and other values. Checkboxes provide boolean toggles and multiple choice options. Dropdown menus allow selecting from a predefined list of choices.

Multi-select fields take this a step further by letting you choose multiple options from a list.

Table fields are perfect for managing tabular datasets. And finally, Craft's versatile date and time pickers handle timestamps with timezone support.

With these commonly used field types covering a wide range of standard content models like blog posts, articles, events listings, and more, Craft CMS provides a flexible canvas for crafting customised content structures out of the box. And for more complex needs, additional field types are available via plugins.

Third-Party Fields

One of the strengths of Craft CMS is its modular plugin architecture which makes extending the built-in fields seamless. There are dozens of popular third-party field plugins that provide advanced field types like interactive charts and graphs, complex nested tables, customizable matrices, and more. For example, Chart fields allow embedding dynamic, interactive charts and graphs directly into content entries for data visualisation. Advanced Table fields build highly customizable tables with nested columns, field types within cells, and complex relationships.

The incredibly flexible Matrix field enables creating modular, nested layouts of different block types within entries. For managing large, structured datasets, Super Table fields add spreadsheet-like interfaces with rows, columns and deep relationships. And for ultimate customization, several plugins provide custom-defined field types allowing you to build completely unique fields tailored to specialised needs.

With robust support for third-party field types, Craft enables fully customizable content modelling capabilities limited only by your imagination. Developers can also build custom PHP-based field types to handle any use case.

Field Settings and Configuration

To optimise fields for content creators, Craft provides powerful control over field configurations. Each field type comes loaded with extensive settings to tweak its behaviour, validation, interface and more. Some of the key settings include:

The Field Type itself defines the data being stored such as text, media, or numbers. The Name configures the friendly label displayed in the control panel for that field. The Handle is used to reference the field in templates and code. Instruction text can provide helpful usage guidance and tips right within the field interface.

Requirements make certain fields mandatory. Enabling Translation settings allows localising the field's content into multiple languages. Default Values pre-populate new entries with common data. Formatting rules let you customise how data displays, like proper date formatting, title casing strings, prefixing/suffixing values, and more.

With Craft's deep field configuration options, admins can customise fields to build flexible, user-friendly content structures tailored perfectly to any project. The wide range of field types coupled with robust settings empower building fully customised editing experiences for content creators.

Users and Permissions in Craft CMS

User Accounts

Craft CMS supports two main types of user accounts - admin users who manage the backend, and front-end users for public account functionality.

Admin users access the control panel to manage the site content, configuration, and settings. The initial admin account is created during installation. Additional admins can be added later as needed.

Front-end user accounts enable functionality like user logins, profiles, commenting, orders, etc on the public side. These restricted accounts are managed separately from admin users.

All user accounts can be managed from the Users section in the control panel. Here you can view, edit, activate/deactivate, and delete existing users. New users can also be registered right from the CMS.

User management provides control over who can access and edit your Craft site on both the front and backend. Granular permissions provide deep authorization control.

User Roles and Permissions

Craft comes with several default user roles including Admin, Editor, Author, and Viewer. Each role maps to a set of granular permissions.

For example, the Editor role may have permissions for managing blog posts and assets, but not configuring settings or users. The Author role may be further restricted to just creating and editing content.

In addition to the default roles, completely custom user roles can be created by selecting from 200+ individual permissions covering every aspect of Craft.

These granular permissions enable assigning only the access needed. For example, an ecommerce role may have permissions for managing products but not content.

User roles and permissions provide a powerful system for controlling access and authorizations for both backend and front-end user accounts.

User Groups

User groups in Craft CMS allow managing permissions and settings across multiple user accounts. Accounts can belong to any number of groups.

For example, you may have a "Blog Authors" group that grants permissions for managing blog posts. Any users added to this group would inherit its permissions.

Some common examples of user groups include:

  • Client Access - For providing client users backend access to manage their own content.

  • Internal Teams - Groups for editors, authors, etc to streamline permissions.

  • Ecommerce - Custom roles and groups for shop managers, customers, etc.

  • Member Accounts - Public front-end groups like premium vs free members.

With user groups, user account permissions can be managed collectively rather than individually. They allow creating permission sets that can be inherited across any number of users.

Craft CMS provides a robust and granular user, role, permission, and group system for controlling access to both the Control Panel and front-end of your site.

Working with Assets in Craft CMS

Assets and Asset Volumes

The built-in Assets tool provides a centralised media manager in Craft CMS for handling file uploads. All uploaded images, documents, videos, and other files are stored as assets.

Assets live within asset volumes. Each volume configures where the files are stored physically including local folders, remote sources like Amazon S3, or cloud services like Google Cloud.

Craft provides automatic image transforms, so you can have a single source file and dynamically crop/resize on the fly. There are also helpful tools for organising, editing, and managing assets globally or per volume.

Some key points about assets and volumes:

  • Volumes define allowed file types and size limits.

  • You can have any number of volumes including local, cloud, and remote.

  • Assets are globally available across all volumes to use in content.

  • Automatic image transforms crop/resize images on the fly.

  • Files are stored on the server or remotely depending on volume settings.

With robust asset management built right into the CMS, Craft provides a flexible and controlled way to handle all website media.

Images and Image Transforms

Images are one of the most common asset types in Craft CMS. The built-in image transforms provide powerful on-the-fly image manipulation.

Rather than manually cropping and exporting multiple sizes, developers define reusable transforms. You can optimize images using Craft CMS. You upload a single high-res image, and Craft handles the rest. 

For example, common transforms include:

  • thumbnails - Small 150x150 images

  • hero - Large banner images

  • retina - 2x resolution for high-DPI devices

The transforms can crop, scale, format, and adjust images automatically. Just call the transform by name in your templates.

Craft imaging supports advanced options like:

  • Smart cropping based on focal points

  • Automatic compression and optimization

  • WebP format conversion for smaller sizes

  • Responsive image generation

Robust imaging without the hassle of manually exporting sizes. With its native image transforms, Craft simplifies working with images in your content.

Managing Assets

The Assets tool in the Craft control panel provides powerful management capabilities:

  • View all asset volumes in a single area.

  • Filter and search for assets across all volumes.

  • Create folders to organise assets.

  • View image EXIF data like camera settings.

  • Replace existing assets by uploading new files.

  • Move assets between volumes or folders.

  • Delete assets when no longer needed.

From the handy volume viewer, you can rearrange folders, view subfolders, and drag-and-drop assets for intuitive organisation.

Advanced users can manipulate assets directly on the server's file system or via FTP. Changes sync back to the CMS automatically.

With its unified asset workspace and power user features, Craft offers complete flexibility for managing website media. Scaling to enterprise-level volumes is easy.

Navigating The Control Panel Interface

Header and Menus

The control panel header appears at the top of every page. It contains essential navigation elements to help you move between key areas.

On the far left is the Craft CMS logo and site name. Clicking this will return you to the My Dashboard starting page.

Next to the logo are the main navigation menus for Content, Commerce, Utilities, and Settings. These menus contain items like Entries, Products, Fields, Users, etc. They provide access to all back-end sections and tools.

On the right side you'll find the current user's avatar and username. Clicking this opens a menu for managing your user account, recent entries, language preferences, and logging out.

A handy global search input makes finding anything quick and easy. You can search across entries, products, categories, and more all at once.

The responsive header condenses and adds a hamburger menu on mobile. But the key elements remain accessible from any device size.

Sidebar and Tree

The left sidebar provides the main navigation tree as well as dashboard widgets, shortcuts, and status icons.

At the top are dashboard widgets for essential info like recent entries, drafts, pending users, and more. These shortcuts help you quickly jump into key workflows.

Below this is the navigation tree containing all the content and structure elements like sections, categories, products, etc. Browsing the tree is one way to navigate between areas of the CMS.

Context icons provide status indicators wherever you are in the CP. For example, editing an entry displays the current revision number and link to history.

The collapsible sidebar switches to vertical nav on mobile. Expanding an item shows its children, and contracted navigation fits more tree items in view.

Icons and Keyboard Shortcuts

Handy icons throughout the interface provide one-click access to common actions. For example, the edit icon (pencil) takes you directly into editing whatever item it appears on.

The trash icon deletes items immediately with confirmation. The chevron offers quick access to additional options like enabling, duplicating, or moving items.

Other icons like toolbox, globe, person, lock, etc. indicate the type of item or available actions. Familiarising yourself with these icons helps boost efficiency.

For power users, Craft CMS also supports handy keyboard shortcuts for common tasks:

  • Ctrl/Cmd + S = Save

  • Ctrl/Cmd + Z = Undo

  • Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + Z = Redo

  • Esc = Cancel

  • Ctrl/Cmd + E = Expand Sidebar

  • ? = Open keyboard shortcut help

Learning shortcuts like save and undo can really speed up content editing and site building. Enable shortcuts under My Account to start using them.

With its intuitive icon system and keyboard shortcut support, the Craft CMS control panel aims to maximise usability and efficiency for content managers and administrators alike.

Authoring and Editing Content

Creating Entries

Creating new content in Craft CMS starts by adding a new entry within the appropriate section. Each section provides a content type and related fields.

For example, a "Blog" section contains fields for the article title, post content, featured image, tags, etc. A "Products" section includes pricing, descriptions, images and product options.

To create a new entry, navigate to the desired section and click the "New entry" button. A form will appear containing all the field inputs defined for that content type.

As you fill in the fields, the new entry is saved as a draft. You can come back and continue editing later prior to publishing. All required fields must be completed before an entry can be published live.

The intuitive, form-like interface makes it easy for content teams to create new entries in Craft without needing prior technical expertise. Sections and fields handle structuring the content for you.

Editing Entries

All existing entries provide options for editing and managing revisions. To edit any entry, click the pencil "Edit" icon from any entry list or detail view.

This will bring up the same editable fields used when creating new entries. Make any changes required to the content, images, etc. As you edit, a new draft revision is automatically created in the history.

The revision history stores every change made over time. You can view previous revisions, restore old versions, and compare changes between revisions.

Once edits are complete, submit the changes for approval if required. Published changes immediately go live on the front-end.

Craft's revision tracking and workflow features enable safely drafting, approving and publishing updates to existing content.

Moderation and Workflow

For managing a smooth publishing workflow, Craft provides powerful moderation tools.

By default all changes get published immediately, but you can enable draft/pending states along with permissions for approving changes before they go live.

With drafts enabled, all edits save as a pending revision. Other authors or editors can review changes and reject or approve them. Emails and control panel alerts notify when actions are required.

You can also schedule publishing dates/times to plan content rollouts in advance. Changes won't go live until the specified datetime.

Advanced workflow systems can even be created using Craft's flexible user permissions and customizable plugins.

With its built-in moderation and revision features, Craft CMS supports fully customised editorial workflows from solo creators to large multi-author teams. Smooth content updates are ensured by controlling drafts, approvals and publishing schedules.

Plugins and Add-Ons

Discovering Plugins

Craft CMS plugins allow extending Craft CMS functionality beyond the core by adding new features, integrations, custom field types, widgets, and more.

The official Craft Plugin Store contains over 500+ vetted plugins to discover. Browse by category or search for plugins by name, feature, or developer.

Reviews, ratings, documentation links, and details like last updated date help evaluate plugin quality and legitimacy before installing.

Outside the official store, dozens of other third-party developers offer Craft plugins. GitHub, developer websites, and the Straight Up Craft directory are great resources to find these add-ons.

Vet any third-party plugins carefully before installing. Look for active long-term support and recent updates as signs of a maintained project. Newer unproven plugins often carry more risk.

With the first-party store and lively ecosystem of third-party options, it's easy to find Craft plugins for nearly any functionality needed.

Installing and Updating

Craft offers a few different ways to add and update plugins:

The web-based Plugin Store provides one-click install and updates directly within the CMS control panel. Download the zip, add the licence key, and Craft handles the rest.

For developers, Composer is the recommended method. Hosting services like Deploybot support automatic composer install and deployments on git push.

Plugins can also be installed and updated via SSH, SFTP, or manual zip uploads. This may be required if the Craft environment doesn't support Composer or web access.

Updating plugins regularly helps apply bug fixes, security patches, and access new features. Some updates require taking the site down briefly for changes to apply.

Uninstalling plugins can be done from the main Plugin page. Uninstalling removes all associated plugin data and custom tables as well.

Managing Plugins

From the Plugin page in the Craft control panel, admins can manage all installed plugins.

You can enable or disable plugins without fully uninstalling them. Temporarily disabling plugins allows debugging issues and testing functionality.

Most plugins come with custom settings and configuration values to control behaviour. Adjust these to tailor the integration or feature to specific needs.

For example, a form plugin may include settings for which forms to show, default values, spam filtering, email notifications, and many more.

With robust discovery options, installation methods, and management tools, Craft CMS makes it easy to tap into hundreds of plugins and add-ons for customising a site build.

Settings and Configuration

General Settings

Craft CMS provides a robust set of general settings for defining site-wide preferences and defaults ranging from the site name and default language to enabling registration verification for new user accounts. Configuration options are grouped logically into related subsets like Site Identity, Email Settings, and Users.

The Site Identity settings allow customising the CMS from the moment of installation by setting a site name, url, default language, timezone, date and time formats, and more. Email settings configure notifications, the sender name and address, and email transport methods. User settings control front-end user account preferences like requiring email verification upon registration and setting password complexity rules.

Additional general settings handle enabling SFTP and defining file system permissions, customising PHP date and time format outputs, configuring friendly system status checks and notifications, and many other common configuration needs. With its comprehensive general settings, Craft allows tailoring the core platform to match each project's preferences.

Routes and Localization Settings

For multilingual sites, Craft CMS provides powerful controls over site languages, URLs, and translations. The main Routes settings determine URL formats, structures, and behaviour site-wide based on custom patterns, entry IDs, slugs, dates, and more. Localization settings enable managing translated content across multiple languages and even sites.

Available languages can be set at a system level. Per-field translation configuration then allows controlling which fields should be translatable for multilingual content modelling. Craft can generate language-specific URLs for translated versions of entries and pages based on custom patterns. Settings for language redirects and fallbacks ensure a consistent experience.

For larger global sites, Craft's multi-site capabilities allow running multiple sites with shared users, assets, plugins, and more while defining unique content on a per-site basis. The flexible localization settings empower building complex internationalised sites.

System Settings

Craft exposes extensive controls over core system behaviour in areas like performance, security, logging, debugging, maintenance modes, and more. Enabling Dev Mode provides access to additional tools for development and staging environments. Options for logging PHP errors and database queries help debug issues.

Performance tuning settings allow optimising caching, assets, and jobs. Maintenance mode provides an easy way to take the whole system offline. The control panel duration sets the backend session length. Settings for error handling and 404 pages enable customising system messages.

For developers and headless implementations, Craft offers integration with content delivery networks (CDNs) for static asset delivery optimization. The robust system settings empower deeply customising CMS behaviour at an application level.

With its tunable general preferences, localization options, and system-level configurations, Craft provides nearly endless flexibility for tailoring the platform.

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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