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Move Over WordPress, Wagtail Is The New Kid On The Block

By Kieran Brown

Forget about WordPress, it’s too far gone!

Bold statement I know, but bare with me on this one (espeically the WP fans). I shall explain why we at VIX have embraced the likes of Wagtail over a system such as WordPress.

Ima Chill

Firstly, let’s discuss the behemoth of a content management system, WordPress. It seems that every man and his dog who knows a thing or two about blogging has a WordPress site. To be fair, there is good reason for this. WP are famous for their ‘5 minute installation’ and the general ease at which you can navigate around the system to write a blog post and put the world to rights in your very own, creative and unique way.

It started back in 2003 as a free, open source project that was formed from ‘a single bit of code to enhance the typography of everyday writing’ with it having ‘fewer users than you can count on your fingers and toes’. Over the years the project has become absolutely massive with WordPress leading the way with regards to websites using their content management system.

To illustrate the sheer numbers associated with WordPress, according to Built With, it now has a 28% market share of users operating their software. In relation to number of websites, WordPress is reportedly supporting more than 60 million websites.

Shocked cat

The benefits of WP include factors such as it being easy to navigate, search engine friendly, blog functionality ready straight off the bat and a wide range of available plugins to extend its initial offering.

However, once you start to realise its drawbacks and explore different options, they can and will start to make more sense. So what are the main cons? The main flaw can be attributed to one of its main advantages. Because of its large community of developers and the sheer number of users it becomes an easier target for hackers. Via wordpress, hackers can target millions of users and exploit them and their websites with ease as opposed the minority of Wagtail users. Just type WordPress security issues and you’re welcomed with a plethora of articles. I’ll let you explore these.

Another one of the main criticisms of WordPress is that it’s being used in circumstances which it may not be serving as the best possible solution to a problem. Put simply, it is trying to be everything for everyman. For example, it’s used for large, content heavy sites or complex eCommerce websites with the addition of the WooCommerce plugin.

A few other disadvantages, that may force you to explore other options are:

  • Inflexibility to adjust the theme - Other platforms do not interfere with the markup and design allowing much more flexibility.

  • Bloated code - Ever viewed the page source or done a network test in Developer Tools on a WP site? The amount of requests, usually because of the amount of plugins and subsequently scripts that are loaded into the page, can be close to 100. The bad part about this is that the more plugins there are, more scripts are being loaded which will ultimately result in a slower site. I will add that with HTTP2, multiple requests should have less of an affect as they can be allowed at the same time on the same connection. Currently though, HTTP1 means that each request follows one another, resulting in a longer wait time.

Lots and lots of scripts on the Times website

496 requests! I counted 90 scripts. The page then reloaded because of an ad and I got bored. Basically there's loads.

  • Automatic & one click theme/plugins upgrades - This may seem like a blessing but in actual fact in can be a nightmare to a web developer looking after a site. For someone that doesn’t know how to update a site and its plugins locally in a development environment, they may just press the button and hope everything is fine. However, plugins are open source, not verified and may not be updated regularly which can can introduce breaking changes to a site.

  • Free themes - It may be good if you are on a limited budget however some theme developers may include code that links out to different places for their benefit. It’s always worth looking out for this one!

  • Security - as discussed earlier, because of the sheer volume of users and attacks, it is key to keep your site and its plugins updated regularly (as fixes will be released following intrusions/hacks). However, this is not always given the priority it needs and therefore hackers find an exploit of an older WordPress/plugin version and can hack those still using those versions.

Enter Wagtail

Enough about WP, let’s discuss the ‘new kid on the block’. Wagtail is relatively new within the CMS scene, however it’s responsible for powering sites such as NASA (Open NASA), Royal College of Art, NHS.UK Content Store, Children's Investment Fund Foundation among many more. So straight off the bat, there’s an exciting buzz about the product and the big names who are ultimately embracing it. Click here for a look at the many other sites using Wagtail.

Just like WP, it’s an open source project, this time written in Python and built on the Django framework. It’s built by the innovative people over at Torchbox, as they wanted something that was structured how they wanted after years of experience with other CMS’s. So basically, it’s been developed with an abundance of knowledge and thought about the end user, the content editor. This rings true as soon as you look over the demo site. You’ll see first hand how snappy the site is to load, the list of features available straight out the box and a handful of illustrations/videos of the clean and beautiful back end UI.

wagtail interface

A few more benefits of Wagtail include:

  • Easy to set up ‘Snippets’ - Configure a snippet for reusable content and this will update across the site.

  • The UI is beautiful and very easy to use.

  • Its quick to load each page and very easy to use.

  • Easy to install plugins with pip install.

  • It’s received over 4500 start on GitHub and has just under 1000 forks which shows an active amount of users and contributors with TorchBox regularly arranging sprint sessions to update and improve the core functionality of the product.

  • Due to it being shiny and new it’s going to be less of a target for hackers. As discussed earlier, why waste time trying to hack a smaller number of sites when you can exploit millions.

  • Easily able to extend models to add custom features. This is great for clients as if they want a new field adding it’s quick and easy to react and implement it straight away.

  • Ability to link seamlessly with the respected Django framework.

As it’s quite a new CMS, a few of the expected features that you have in other CMS’s such as WP aren’t there. Not to worry though, there are plugins available and due to its open source nature they can always be built if not. Below is a list of cool plugins that are super easy to install (via pip install).

  • Written in Python and based on Django. It is seen as a higher level language so simple changes may not be as easy to manage yourself unless you are quite technical.

  • Have to know how to run in a local environment to try it out.

The flaws discussed here however seem less relevant when thinking about the end goal for a website. If it’s not just a small blog it’s most likely that it’s a job for a developer, as they can produce a custom website that fits the bill.

The reason why we have embraced Wagtail is due to its scalability, it’s ease of use and the endless possibility to extend and add to the core product. It’s a CMS that doesn’t come with anything more than what it needs therefore it is lightning quick. No unnecessary plugins are needed to help with caching and countless hours are not needed trying to fix it after awry plugin has failed to be updated resulting in a breaking change.

Cool Wagtail Plugins

- https://github.com/springload/awesome-wagtail

Conclusion

If you’re after a quick, easy and simple blog maybe WordPress may still be for you. However, for larger projects and applications it most likely isn't the best option any more. When exploring other CMS’s on the market, especially Wagtail, it starts to open the mind as to what else is possible. A CMS such as WP can seem restrictive, slow & bloated and the underlying worries about security are reasons which may ultimately push clients to a product such as Wagtail.

The flexibility and speed of development that Wagtail offers is second to none. This is why we (and many other big name early adopters) have embraced it and are loving using it in production today.

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