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What Are Channels In Craft CMS?

10 min read
What Are Channels In Craft CMS

Struggling to organize your content in Craft CMS? Channels are the answer. This guide explains everything you need to know about channels - how they categorize content, improve structure, and provide vital organization. Get clarity on exactly what channels are, how they work, best practices, and potential limitations. With channels, take control of your Craft CMS content once and for all.

Channels in Craft CMS act as organizers that group together related sections and their entries. This provides structure and consistency by separating different content types into their own categories. Channels don't hold content directly, but provide organization by bundling associated sections and defining the overall content type.

How Channels Work in Craft CMS

Channels Group and Organize Sections

Channels in Craft CMS act as the overarching organizers that help categorise and group together similar sections. You can think of channels like folders that contain a bunch of related files. The sections within a channel are like those files, containing the actual entries and content.

Without channels, all of your site's sections and entries would just be jumbled together in one massive heap. Channels allow you to neatly separate things into logical groups. For example, you may have a "Blog" channel that contains sections for "Articles," "Authors," and "Categories." This keeps all your blog content and related info nicely bundled.

Sections hold the entries, while channels hold the sections. This division of labour creates clean organization. Sections define the structure and content types for entries, like title, body, post date, etc. Channels don't actually hold any content directly. They simply provide overall organization by wrangling all the related sections together in one place.

Separating Content Types with Channels

One of the big benefits of channels is that they let you easily separate different content types into their own silos. You can use channels to cleanly differentiate between all the various content on your site.

For example, your site may contain blog posts, case studies, team member bios, podcast episodes, and job listings. Instead of tossing them all into one mixed up bucket, you can create separate channels like "Blog," "Case Studies," "Team," "Podcast," and "Careers." This keeps similar entries neatly grouped while still allowing them to share data if needed.

The main advantage of splitting content into different channels is the improved organization it provides. You and your content editors can more easily navigate and manage the site knowing that blog posts live in the Blog channel, case studies are in the Case Studies channel, etc. It creates logical separation that makes managing a complex site with diverse content much simpler.

Sections Hold Entry Content

Sections are where the actual content lives. Within a channel, sections define the structure, fields, and templates for entries. For example, in the Blog channel you may have sections called "Posts," "Categories," and "Authors." Each would contain different types of entries and fields.

The Posts section may define title, body, postDate, etc fields for each blog post entry. The Categories section could have a title and description field for all the blog categories. Authors may contain name, bio, and headshot for each author entry.

Sections hold the content while channels hold the sections. This allows related sections to stay organized within a channel, while still separating the actual content by type and structure using sections.

So in summary:

  • Channels are the high-level categories that group related sections

  • Sections define the entry types and contain the fields

  • Entries are the actual content created based on the section rules

It's a cascading structure: Channels > Sections > Entries. This provides both separation by content type via sections and organization by associating related sections within channels. For example, blog posts, authors and categories remain connected through the Blog channel but separated in their respective sections.

The benefit of this model is flexibility plus structure. You can add, remove, and customize sections without impacting other content types. And organize them within any channel you choose. This combinability provides great freedom balanced with order.

In contrast, simpler CMSs may lump all entries together under one roof. Craft's channel/section/entry hierarchy adds the categorization often missing in those basic systems. It enables both large-scale order through grouping by channels plus detailed separation via individual sections. The result is a finely-tunable organization system capable of accommodating diverse and complex content.

Creating and Managing Channels in Craft CMS

Adding New Channels

It's easy to create new channels in Craft CMS directly from the control panel dashboard. Just navigate to Settings → Channels and click the “New channel” button.

You'll be prompted to enter some basic settings for the new channel:

  • Name - The public facing name for the channel. This will appear in the Craft CP.

  • Handle - The template-facing handle for the channel. Used for coding things like {% for entries in 'blog' %}

  • Language - The language the channel is for. You can have multiple channels per site in different languages.

  • Site - The site(s) the channel should be available on. You can share or limit channels between sites.

  • Order - Where the channel should appear in relation to other channels. Channels are ordered by this number.

That's all you need to get a basic channel created. The key settings are name and handle as those dictate how the channel is identified publicly and in templates.

Once created, you can begin adding sections to the channel to hold content, which we'll cover more in the next section.

Managing Existing Channels

In addition to creating new channels, you'll also spend time managing existing ones. Channel settings and details can be modified at any time from the control panel.

To update channel settings, go back to Settings → Channels, select the channel you want to edit, and adjust any values like the name, handle, order, etc. This allows you to easily tweak channel properties on the fly.

You can also manage the sections within a channel. Sections hold and organize the actual content. Adding, removing or reordering sections is done from the channel's edit screen. Sections belong to only one channel.

To delete a channel entirely, just use the "Delete" button on the channel edit page. This will remove the channel and all its sections and content. So use caution when deleting channels!

Reordering and Organizing Channels

Channels have a specific order that dictates how they’re sorted within the control panel and any channel navigation/menus on the front end.

By default, channels are ordered by the "order" number set when creating them. You can easily reorder channels by going to Settings → Channels and dragging and dropping them into the desired position. The order numbers will update automatically.

When organizing channels, it helps to group related channels near each other. For example, keep all your marketing channels together, website channels together, etc.

Think about creating logical groupings and order based on how you and your content team will navigate and manage the channels. More broadly-focused channels like "Content" and "Marketing" near the top, then more niche channels later.

Ensure there's a clear IA (information architecture) to the channels that makes sense. Don't just randomly order them. Think about creating a hierarchy based on the content relationships.

Within a channel, also carefully consider section order. Sort sections in a way that makes sense for content entry and fits user expectations. For example, blog posts before categories.

Overall, take channel and section order seriously, as it impacts the content management experience. Group related channels, order channels/sections logically, and ensure a clear IA. This will help your Craft CMS stay well organized as it scales.

Using Channels for Content Modeling and Structure

Content Organization with Channels

One of the key benefits of channels in Craft CMS is how they allow you to organize and separate content into logical groups and types.

Channels provide buckets for wrangling together related content. All your blog posts can go in a "Blog" channel, products in a "Shop" channel, case studies in a "Resources" channel, and so on. This keeps similar entries bundled together in their own dedicated spaces.

Without channels, all content sections and entries would just be mixed together with no overarching organization. Finding what you need in that jumble becomes difficult. Channels add order by creating clear homes for certain content types.

For example, if you just had one "Blog Posts" section, there'd be no way to separate blog content from other page types. But with channels, you can group the "Blog Posts" and "Blog Categories" sections together within a "Blog" channel, separate from other content.

This segmentation by channels allows both large-scale organization of content as well as more granular separation by section. Overall, it provides much cleaner content structure compared to throwing everything into one bucket.

Consistent Content Structure

In addition to organization, channels also encourage consistent structure and templates across content types.

Within a channel, entries share the same general template and theme. For example, blog posts in the Blog channel may all have a title, image, summary, and body. Case studies in the Resources channel contain a client logo, title, problem, solution, and benefits.

This consistency improves usability by setting user expectations. Visitors know blog posts or case studies will all follow a similar format across a channel, making them easy to parse and consume.

Consistency is also beneficial for content editors. They can rely on established structures for entry types rather than reinventing the wheel each time. Product pages get the same fields. Blog posts use the same template. It speeds up entry creation and provides familiarity.

So channels allow applying both organization and structure across content types for a sensible approach to content modeling.

Context for Content

An additional channel benefit is providing context for entries. Seeing all blog content bundled together in a Blog channel gives it meaning. Grouped case studies make more sense than standalone ones.

By associating related content in dedicated channels, you give each entry context. A blog post in the sea of other posts has more significance than a lone post without a home.

This context aids discovery and understanding by showing how content relates. Visitors can browse blog archives knowing all posts reside in the Blog channel. Or easily find case studies grouped in Resources rather than spread across the site.

Relationships become clearer with content organized into channels. Separate channels also reduce clutter on categories and tags since similar entries aren't fighting for attention. For example, "Design" could be a blog category or case study tag without conflict.

Overall, channels add both large-scale organization and contextual meaning to content. They keep related content connected while still cleanly separating it from other unrelated types. This balance of structure and segmentation takes content modeling to the next level.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Channels

Benefits of Using Channels

There are several key benefits to using channels in Craft CMS:

Improved Organization - Channels allow categorizing related sections and content together for much cleaner organization. All blog content can go in a "Blog" channel, ecommerce in "Shop" etc.

Separation of Concerns - Channels neatly separate different content types into their own silos. Blog posts don't get mixed with pages or other entries.

Consistency Within Content Types - Entries in a channel share templates and structure for a consistent experience across that content type.

Simplified Content Modeling - Channels make modeling content easier by creating clear homes for specific types of entries based on sections.

Context and Relationships - Seeing all blog or ecommerce content in one place provides context and relationships between entries.

Overall, channels enable properly structuring, categorizing and giving meaning to content.

Potential Drawbacks of Channels

However, there are some potential drawbacks to consider with channels:

Added Complexity - Having multiple channels means more to manage versus a single unified content structure. It also adds development overhead.

Content Fragmentation - Excessive channels can lead to fragmented content and make accessing related content across channels difficult.

Lack of Flexibility - Changes to channels later on can be difficult if content depends on the existing structure.

Over-Segmentation - Too many niche channels with minimal content can reduce findability and cause repetitive categories across channels.

In general, excessive or poorly planned channels introduce complexity, hinder flexibility, and may cause fragmentation issues.

Finding the Right Balance

The key is finding the right balance with channels. Don't create tons of single-use channels, but also don't avoid channels altogether.

Try to identify the major content types and groupings first. For example, a medium-sized site may need channels for Blog, Resources, Products, About Us, and Careers to start.

Resist making niche channels unless there's a clear need. And don't prematurely over-architect channels. Let them emerge naturally based on the content and site needs.

Remember, simplicity and flexibility is key. Only introduce channels where they truly provide organizational benefit. Use sections and categories for segmentation within channels.

Aim for obvious, logical channel groupings that make content modeling easier. Avoid fragmenting content across too many channels, but don't lump everything together either. Strike the right balance for your project.

Channels are a powerful construct when used judiciously. Just take care to find the right fit for your content structure versus defaulting to excessive channels. Channel vs structure –with balance and restraint, channels can greatly enhance your content workflow in Craft CMS.

Channel Limitations in Craft CMS

Channels Fixed per Entry

One key channel limitation in Craft is that channels can't be changed dynamically per entry - they are fixed based on the section.

For example, you can't have a single "Blog Posts" section with entries assigned to different channels like News, Reviews, Guides etc. The channel is dictated by the section, not each entry.

The reason for this restriction is data modeling. Craft CMS uses channels to organize sections, so entries inherit their channel from their section. Allowing custom channels per entry would break the content structure.

The workaround is creating separate sections/channels for each content type, like "News Posts", "Review Posts", "Guide Posts" rather than one mixed "Blog Posts". It takes more setup but maintains clean organization.

In summary, channels define the content type and structure. Sections hold the actual content. Entries follow the section blueprint, including its assigned channel. So channels remain fixed per entry based on the section.

Channel Limits in Solo vs Pro

Craft also enforces hard limits on the number of channels allowed based on the Craft CMS edition:

  • Craft Solo - 18 max channels

  • Craft Pro - Unlimited channels

With Solo only allowing 18 channels, you need to be selective about creating new ones. It's easy to hit that limit on larger sites with diverse content.

Some tips for minimizing channels in Craft Solo:

  • Audit existing channels and remove any unnecessary ones

  • Combine related channels where possible

  • Use sections and categories for segmentation rather than channels

  • Only create essential new channels when needed

If you do outgrow the 18 channel limit, upgrading to Craft Pro removes the restriction entirely, allowing unlimited channels. The Pro edition is better suited for large or complex sites requiring advanced content modeling. Craft CMS pricing differs depending on the selected edition. 

So in summary, Craft Solo allows 18 channels maximum due to the edition limitations. Craft Pro lifts those restrictions for unlimited channels. If you need more advanced channel structures, Pro is likely the better fit to avoid hitting the Solo caps.

Overall, be strategic if working in the Solo edition. Audit, combine, and create channels judiciously. For advanced content modeling with numerous channels, Craft Pro makes more sense for larger enterprises and mature sites.

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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