Software and Other Stuff

23 Mar 2012

Rails CMS landscape from 10,000ft high

I'm needing a CMS to setup a semi dynamic web site. The features I'm looking for:

I went through each of the options I found really quick, just to have a feel of each one from 10,000 ft high, so I'm sure I might have judged some of them unfairly.


According to the Wikipedia article, the first release of was 5 years ago, and it is still today alive and kicking. Unfortunately, it runs on Rails 2.x. I rather not have to deal with Rails 2.x for a new project if I can avoid it.


The Refinery installation went on pretty well, but I couldn't find any sample themes for it.

Even though Ryan Bates in his screencast makes styling Refinery look easy as he just pastes some magic CSS code on application.css.scss, trying to adapt Refinery to use bootstrap is definitely a lot more involved.

To be clear, I think if I was creating the styles from scratch then Refinery would be great for me. The generated html looks pretty sane. But since I'm constrained to make it work with existing markup (the way bootstrap wants me to work), I find it a bit difficult to customize.


After installing the browsercms gem, the first thing I got with the very first command I run is:

undefined method `load_missing_constant' for module `ActiveSupport::Dependencies' (NameError)

An error so early in the process of installing the app lowered my confidence on the project... I wasn't sure I was going to succeed debugging the problem in just 5 minutes. I may inspect this option further in the future.


Since Locomotive looks pretty cool, I decided to obviate my decision of using a good'ol SQL database as the storage and created a free account on

I spent a couple of minutes setting up the whole thing just to be confronted with this after following the site's instructions:

uninitialized constant CASClient::Tickets::Storage::ActiveRecord (NameError)

The one requirement I did not want to obviate was, again, my 5 minutes deadline. So I skipped to the next option.


Nesta just worked. This is a good thing on my book. Also, it installed only a few gems.

There are a couple of ready made themes. Even a bootstrap one (which did not work too well out of the box, at least with the demo content... oh well).

Anyway, this is a very nice CMS for hackers, I can see myself using it on the future. It is too hardcore to casual users though: you need to create markdown files manually into the project directory to edit the site.


Zena looked promising but again it is based on Rails 2.x and I don't feel like using Rails 2.x for a new project.


I quote the adva-cms2 README:

"adva-cms2 is currently in an early developer sneak-peak preview stage."

Despite the warning I tried it and... I could not make it work. Some problem with gem dependencies I think.


Alchemy installation was almost straightforward. I got a couple of errors but I could correct manually without a lot of hoop-jumping, but once I ran the dashboard I was overwhelmed by the interface.

I just wanted to create a single page and test the result. I have the feeling this must be a pretty powerful CMS, but since it is difficult to use even for a seasoned web applications developer -as I am ;)- I'm guessing not so experienced users will have a hard time with it too.


From the whole list of CMS available the most promising ones for my purposes where Nesta and Refinery. Nesta is a bare-bones, good for static content, made for hackers CMS. I can see myself using it if I ever need something slightly more flexible than jekyll for my blog.

Refinery CMS looks pretty good, works out of the box and is easy to manage, but a little hard to style. Right now I'm not sure if it will work for me, but spending something more than 5 minutes trying to customize it seems worth the effort in order to avoid creating my website form scratch.

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