15 Flat File CMS’s for Building Fast, Lightweight Sites

Since 2009, we’ve been writing about content management systems (CMS’s), a popular and sometimes controversial topic.

We’ve reviewed the best of them here and over here and also looked at lesser-known but still worthy applications. Over the years we’ve seen how WordPress, once a simple blog platform, came to dominate and entrench itself as the most popular CMS, now powering a fifth of all websites globally.

This year, we look at a rising, plucky breed of CMS that seek to topple the WordPress colossus: flat file and non-database CMS.

What is a Flat File CMS?

A flat file CMS is called as such because it uses “flat” files to store and retrieve a site’s content. Unlike a traditional CMS like WordPress or Joomla, it does not use a relational database. Instead it uses the all-familiar file and folder system. For these reasons, it’s also referred to as a non-database CMS or a file-based CMS.

A flat file is called “flat” because data is stored in a single file, usually plain text, without reference to any kind of structural relationships between them. If you look at a flat file—for example, a CSV (comma-separated values) file listing names, phone numbers and addresses—it’s not easy to see how one record is related to each other. The flat file won’t tell you that two of those names have the same address unless you look closely.

What are the advantages?

While this may seem like a drawback, using an uncomplicated structure makes a flat-file site lightweight, portable and fast loading. There’s no need to query a database after all, which consumes time and additional server resources.

Each content entry is complete by itself and can be stored in an appropriate folder, say, “Posts” or “About”.  Backup and version control is as easy as copying and updating a file or folder in a local hard drive. Developers and fans of this type of CMS say that the absence of a database makes a flat file website secure, because hackers tend to look for database vulnerabilities.

What hosts support flat file CMS?

As you will see further down in this article, most flat file CMS’s are written in languages supported by most web hosts: PHP, Ruby, Python, and others. Given the very small file sizes of these applications, they can be installed even on the most basic server (some can even run from Dropbox). Several of these listed below are paid hosted solutions or offer that option.

What are examples of flat file CMS’s?

There are as many flat-file CMS’s as there are enthusiastic developers who would like to write their own brand of content management solution, using their preferred scripting language. Some of these are mature applications with support, documentation, and a growing user base, while others are simply offshoots of personal projects by the developer.

We’ve included some notable hybrids or near flat-file CMS’s in the mix:

1. Kirby

Kirby is one of the better known names in this list. It is also well-documented and has a solid user base. Kirby is a true file-based CMS that uses Markdown syntax and jQuery-inspired API. It organizes content by folders, and these can be synced with Dropbox. You can run Kirby on any host that has PHP 5.2, Linux and Apache.

License: Paid $39 per website / Free-trial option available 


2. Statamic

Statamic is another of the more established ones. It also runs on PHP and creates static and dynamic websites. It uses YAML for content types, config files, layout and templates. It comes with a WYSIWYG editor, a client-friendly control panel, and built-in caching.

License: Paid $29/site for personal and $99/site for professional use.


3. razorCMS

RazorCMS runs on PHP and angularJS. It loads faster than other systems due to its smaller core. It simplifies admin tasks via in-page WYSIWYG editing plugins or “blades.” It is optimized for SEO, site-crawling, and display on mobile devices.

License: Open source


4. Feindura

Feindura targets small and medium websites. It has an easy-to-use interface for beginner programmers. It includes a MooTools-based interface, a WYSIWYG editor, and URL editing function through mod_rewrite. A multi-language backend and a backup utility are also available.

License: Open source


5. Flatpress

Flatpress is a standards compliant (XHTML valid) flat-file blogging engine. It has a simple and uncluttered interface which makes designing websites easier. It is extensible by enabling widgets and plugins, such as Tiny MCE and Akismet. Its default editor uses BBCode, which is often applied in forums and message boards.

License: Open source


6. Monstra

Monstra is a very lightweight (~150kb) CMS. It reduces HTML, CSS and .js files to payload size and lower HTTP round trips – causing the pages to load faster. Its features include mobile responsiveness, multiple page administrators and multi-level security for websites. It lets you add plugins to enable WYSIWYG editors, videos, RSS and more.

License: Open source


7. Anchor

Another lightweight self-hosted blogging engine is called Anchor. Its core promise is to keep the writing process as simple as possible. It uses Markdown or HTML and is compatible with Ruby I18n (shorthand for internationalization). The post images, Javascript and CSS can be customized using drag-and-drop for easier publishing.

License: Open source  


8. Phile

Phile is another file-based CMS powered by PHP (5.3 and up). The system’s services – such as metadata, parser, cache, and template engine – can be tailor-fit to the users’ needs. The default settings are Markdown and Twig (for templating). Plugins for Youtube, RSS, and analytics are also available.

License: Open source


9. CMSimple

Despite its name, CMSimple is not very simple or plain. CMSimple is packed with many services, even without the database. It saves time by automatically backing up files upon log out. It also includes secure “wwwaut” log in, multiple language sub-sites for user and site maintenance, templating themes, and integrated plugin managers.

License: Open source


10. Stacey

Like the other flat-file CMS applications, Stacey also runs on PHP (5 or newer). The HTML files are edited in the same language (HTML vanilla with variable system) and templates are customizable with HTML or CSS.

License: Open source


11. Pulse

Pulse is designed for small websites. It has a user-friendly interface and can be turned over to other users who have no technical experience. It comes with form-builders, a WYSIWYG editor, traffic stats and one-click backup process.

License: Paid. Pricing options are $29 per website and $75 for five domains. / Trial version is available.


12. Pico

Like many in this list, Pico uses Markdown formatting. It has Twig as its templating processor, as well as a built-in plugin system. Its available plugins include authentication, OpenGraph, Sitemap, and RSS. It needs PHP 5.2.4+ to run.

License: Open source


13. WonderCMS

Dubbed as the smallest CMS, a zipped WonderCMS file is only 10kb. This makes the pages load ultra-fast. But for its tiny size, it has features other CMS have in this category, such as SEO-optimized settings, editing-from-mobile function, a WYSIWYG editor, easy theming, clean URLs option, and protected login access. No wonder it’s called WonderCMS.

License: Open source


14. Jekyll

Jekyll is not a flat-file CMS per se, but a static site generator. It converts raw text files (Markdown, Textile or Liquid) into a ready-to-publish website, removing unnecessary time and effort from cross-scripting. It includes a built-in development server to preview sites locally. It can run on Ruby, RubyGems, Linux, Unix or Mac OSX. Jekyll powers GitHub Pages, a free hosting service by the GitHub repository.

License: Open source


15. Ghost

Ghost is, strictly speaking, not flat-file but a CMS powered by SQLite database and Node.js. However, it’s often mentioned together with the true flat file CMS’s because it uses flat files to store data. Aside from a brilliant two-panel Markdown + live preview editor, Ghost offers a very simple blogging Markdown interface, beautiful themes, and a widget system reminiscent of the early versions of WordPress. It’s not surprising, since Ghost grew out of the WordPress project. It may yet become the closest challenger to WordPress.

License: Paid. Pricing is based on the number of blogs and page views. The plans are $5 per month, $14 per month, and $36 per month. / 30-day free-trial is available. The self-hosted version requires VPS, cloud hosting, or a shared host that supports Node.js.


In Summary: Should you ditch your existing CMS for a flat file CMS?

The answer is it depends. In a nutshell:

  • NO if you have a big site. A database CMS, which can handle large amounts of information, is more suitable.
  • YES if you just want to blog or run a simple static site.
  • YES if you have some tech skills because while these CMS’s are simple, they’re not necessarily easy to install.
  • YES if you know or want to learn Markdown, the writing format that most of these CMS’s use.
  • YES if you’re a developer or a designer, because most of these flat file CMS’s are meant for you.
  • Conversely, NO if you’re a regular user who just wants to publish and can’t be bothered with installing, working with files and folders, and other technical backend.


While it may be exciting to try out these new alternatives, take note that many of these flat file CMS’s was intended for simple, personal blogging and not for full-blown CMS duties. Even developers do not agree on whether these flat file applications can be truly called CMS’s.

Indeed, when we look at our own criteria for what makes a real CMS, we find some of those listed to be lacking in key CMS features. But considering that WordPress began as a humble blogging platform, perhaps time is all these up-and-coming flat file CMS’s need to reach their full potential?

Written 2014-06-20 (Updated 2016-10-12)
david for reviews7

Written by David Walsh

David Walsh is the editor in chief here at Web Hosting Search. Having been in the industry for many years now he knows pretty much everything about everything. At least that's what he keeps telling everyone at the office. So, don't hesitate to drop him a line  if you've got a question - david(a)webhostingsearch.com.

Share your thoughts

Michael,  31 December, 2015

Thanks for mentioning Pulse CMS here!

malgrange,  23 December, 2015

Gets very good results in SEO.

Ian Macdonald,  5 December, 2015

Possibly take a look at http://maracms.com - Answers your points about being difficult to install - Unzip and run on the majority of hosts, and about markdown - Uses HTML5.

Benny pillar,  3 December, 2015

Hello, http://www.htmly.com is free and light weight

jacques,  27 November, 2015

For Powerfull single page website, CMSUno. An open source solution with CKEditor and ELFinder. Available on GitHub.


Try the demo ;-)

Kyle Chinnock,  15 November, 2015

I'd like to draw everyone's attention back to security. The big one's are usually pretty good, but these small projects are getting away with things they shouldn't. WonderCMS, for example, is using MD5 encryption. Their "security fix" was to restrict access to the password with .htaccess. Sweet Jesus. Hope everyone's really scrutinizing their source code for silly lapses like that. And I REALLY hope everyone even cares, considering your CMS is probably for your clients, no?

John_Betong,  12 October, 2015

Check out my blog which describes how only two .htaccess lines are required to utilise aPhp Framework to implement a Flat File System


It is used here


If you see {memory_usage} in the footer the page is cached.

Please excuse any CSS errors, the site is being transferred to a new server.

Jimmy,  29 September, 2015

Sitemagic CMS is a great alternative. It's probably the most capable Flat File CMS on the market. Its unique Designer and enhanced Page Editor lets you build awesome designs in literally minutes. Just watch these videos:

Creating a new design in 3 minutes:

Cards dsign in 2 minutes:

For more information, check out:

sandro,  14 September, 2015

Blozilla cms is a Open Source flat file cms written in php. It not use a database but a simple .txt files.

CMSan,  2 September, 2015

Help me to find CMS without PHP and without database. PHP is a server side technology.
Only cms requires client side code, such as HTML, CSS and Javascript.
Basically anything you can run in a web browser on your desktop.
No PHP hosting. No apache or no server

maka,  12 August, 2015

Anchor CMS needs a MySQL-Database, so it is in fact no "flat file" CMS.
There are plans to support sqlite in version 1.0, but its not clear when this will released.

Michael,  15 June, 2015

Not a flat file - but a lightweight CMS with a very small DB footprint - and very fast:
Dropkick CMS: http://yuzoolthemes.com/dropkickcms/

Michael,  15 June, 2015

Not a flat file - but a lightweight CMS with a very small DB footprint - and very fast:
Dropkick CMS: http://yuzoolthemes.com/dropkickcms/

Jefry Dewangga,  20 April, 2015

Hei David, try this out http://mecha-cms.com. I think that's great FFCMS. The size is only 317kb. :)

Kyle Gadd,  4 February, 2015

Hello David, I agree with everything you just said, but I have been hard at work on the solution. I created http://bootpress.org/ -- BootPress - A Flat File CMS that bridges the gap between Flat File and Database Backed by being both essentially. Everything is flat files, but we automatically tie it all together with SQLite (which are still only flat-files), and so now YES you can have a big site, and YES regular users can just publish and not have a "technical" backend to deal with.

BootPress also offers all of the key features in a CMS that you linked to:

Ease content creation for users of all skill levels
WYT(ype)IWYG editing, media support, and ability to edit anything on the entire page
Multiple user access for different ability / security levels
Customizable in every way, shape, and form
Interactive-ability via plugins, and any 3rd party service out there

Mat,  26 January, 2015

"learn Markdown" - what for?

Herbie,  15 December, 2014

There's another flat file CMS called Herbie. Have a look at the website http://www.getherbie.org

Wouter,  11 November, 2014

In my experience flat-file cms's are actually easyer to install becouse they don't need you to create a database as a seperate action. I think most of your sumary points are actually the complete oposite.
In you list there are also a couple of file-based cms's. I think you shouldn't just group them together with regular ones, the admin usually works different, or they don't have one. This also makes them harder for non-coders. Also, some of them are just blogging-platforms, not cms's at all.
Some other flat-file cms's I found: GetSimple cms, Grav and Automad.

Paul,  22 August, 2014

Glad to see http://razorcms.co.uk, the latest v3 is aimed to make things even simpler as well as giving auto installations and one click installs. If you get your host through the website you even get a complete auto install. The latest version is more in tune with today's tech (angularJS, requireJS, Bootstrap 3) and is even simpler to use.

ChrisR,  19 August, 2014

It's a shame how few of these tools have a Showcase to show off what can be done with it. Statamic seems to be the only one to do that. Others seem to be more like Drupal, where you go to a page of text written for developers.

Roman,  14 July, 2014

Try this one vestibulum.omdesign.cz/

David Walsh,  23 June, 2014

No worries Robert, Wonder is a great platform.

Rob,  23 June, 2014

I'd like to personally thank you for including WonderCMS in your list.

Robert Isoski

Show all related articles..

Best Value Hosting 2016

Why wait? Get today's best deals now!