22.05.2019

Your Guide To Content Management Systems For Ruby on Rails

Article by
Michał Rejman
7 min read

Why did so many devs fall in love with Ruby on Rails web development? There are the simplicity and great readability of the code, there is the growing community full of both pros as well as amateurs who wish to learn something. There is also the flexibility of allowing you to do so many great things with RoR. Just look at all the awesome websites that are an effect of Ruby web development!

This time, however, we want to focus on one more specific perk of using Ruby on Rails – the huge number of gems and ready-to-use solutions that make launching your new web project way faster. To be even more exact, we would like to talk strictly about the different Content Management Systems (CMS) that one can quickly add to their Rails-based product.

The number of these engines is steadily growing, therefore we decided to pick a few favorites of ours and quickly review them, so you can have a clear understanding of which of these Ruby on Rails CMS will suit your website best.

Refinery – the most popular CMS for Ruby on Rails

It would be a shame not to mention probably the most popular (and – as claimed by some – even the best) CMS for Rails web development. Refinery has been originally written by David Jones back in 2004 but has been published as an open source project five years later, in 2009. Since then, it managed to become the most popular Rails CMS with currently over half a million downloads and more than 3.6k stars on GitHub.

What made Refinery so recognizable in the Ruby web development world?

Firstly, it’s definitely worthy to mention that the CMS is available in 30 languages, including English, Russian, German, Chinese, and many more. This allows you to establish projects for global clients and audiences.

Secondly, Refinery is a relatively general CMS. Thanks to a number of simple extensions, you can quickly add important functions to your websites, such as e-commerce options, blogs, Mailchimp synchronization, and much more.

Finally, Refinery is considered to be incredibly user-friendly, even for not that tech-savvy people. If your aim is to create a website that will be operated also by non-developers, this specific CMS may be a good choice.

However, for some this lack of focus on one specific use and the simplicity of Refinery may be also a flaw of this CMS. Refinery may be a good choice if you are looking to establish a relatively standard website and the project is not that complicated. However, if you are aiming to create a new, revolutionary service, you might want to look somewhere else.

Locomotive – CMS that comes with a great design

Contrary to many other Ruby on Rails CMS, Locomotive is being developed by an actual company and has both free and paid versions. The latter, however, is not necessary to make use of all the possibilities of the CMS. Locomotive is basically an open source and you can download it and install on your server whenever you like.

What does the paid option give you then?

Most importantly, the company behind Locomotive is taking care of your hosting, and you do not need to install the CMS by yourself. As some less tech-savvy users reported having problems with the installation process, you might think of choosing the premium option if you want to set up some small website really quickly. The pricing varies from 19 to 199 dollars per month.

What are some great advantages of Locomotive? For example, the possibility of managing multiple websites using just one CMS. Moreover, it is important to mention that the whole Locomotive system is overall very powerful and allows an advanced user to create basically any website one can think of. A number of various options (e.g. the visual editor) helps in turning every idea into a real thing.

The design of the CMS may be also incredibly important for many – Locomotive looks very professional and intuitive, especially compared to many other available Ruby content management systems.

The drawbacks? Some of the developers may insist on not using Locomotive due to the fact that it works only on NoSQL databases.

Camaleon – an easy-to-use Ruby on Rails CMS

Camaleon is yet another easy-to-use Ruby on Rails CMS. Setting up a blog or simple website with Camaleon is incredibly straightforward and its basic architecture may remind you of WordPress.

Some of the best features of Camaleon include the possibility of creating custom content groups, managing multiple sites within one CMS and a store with some basic plugins and themes to set up your new web project faster. The plugins cover such functions as spam protection, site speed improvement, and more.

Camaleon is not, of course, as popular as big players like Refinery. Currently, there are only 52 contributors on GitHub, which leads to a smaller community and the possibility that solving any unexpected issues may take longer. However, it must be also mentioned that the creators of Camaleon are doing a great job of updating their project. The new releases happen very often, sometimes even a few times in a month, making the CMS up-to-date with the current state of Ruby on Rails.

Unfortunately, Camaleon offers dashboard only in two languages: English and Spanish. If you are planning more global Rails web development projects, it might be better to invest in other, more multilanguage CMS.

Alchemy – the full power of Ruby on Rails CMS

A powerful Ruby on Rails content management system allowing you to control a vast number of functionalities of the website. Thanks to this, Alchemy is a good choice even if you are thinking of a very unique Ruby web development project.

The features of the CMS include:

1. Multisite management

2. Image processor allowing to crop and resize the pictures in the browser

3. Possibility of assigning tags to virtually all the content uploaded

However, power comes here with responsibility. Alchemy is considered hard to operate by non-developers, therefore you should choose it only if the people using it have adequate programming knowledge. Interestingly, at the same time, the CMS offers an option of splitting responsibilities between developers and other users – only the first groups are able to edit the template, the others can only update the content side of the website.

Nonetheless, if you have in mind an extensive projects that some more basic content management systems may not be enough to handle, you should still consider Alchemy, especially if you have some great Ruby on Rails developers in your team.

Radiant – when you are thinking small

In contrary to Alchemy, Radiant is perfect for a smaller project, such as a one-page website or a blog. Of course, you can still do much more with this CMS, but it is not necessarily as tailored to such uses as other, more advanced systems.

However, similarly to Alchemy, Radiant is also not the easiest to use. The CMS has an old-school-like minimal design, with only four main tabs to operate everything: Content, Assets, Design, and Settings. Although a non-developer may also learn how to use this system, it is definitely more developer-friendly.

What you should consider, though, is the fact that Radiant has been on the market for years. The first version was released back in 2006. For a long time, Radiant was the most popular Ruby on Rails CMS, and tons of websites have been developed using it since its early years.

Unfortunately, the development of the CMS stopped a while back – the release of the last version of Radiant (1.1.4) happened 5 years ago. This means that the system may not be exactly up to date with the modern Ruby standards. Although some fans are trying to bring the CMS back and still contribute to its development on GitHub, this activity is still too low to make Radiant great again. Because of this, even though we love the story and long-lasting success of Radiant, we recommend focussing on other Ruby content management systems.

ComfortableMexicanSofa – a great pick for more experienced devs

This CMS is not only about the funny name – it’s also a true system from developers to developers. There have been many Rails projects like this during recent years, but not many of them ended up with any significant success.

ComfortableMexicanSofa, however, is doing really great. Without a shiny website (they only have a GitHub page), with a quite rough-looking UI, this CMS still managed to get over 2.5k stars on GitHub and ended up so far with already over 160 releases. It happened mainly thanks to all the great features this Rails CMS offers, including multiple site management, extensive multilanguage support (i18n), history of template edits, and more.

You can make great use of ComfortableMexicanSofa especially if you are an experienced developer. The CMS supports CodeMirror code editor (HTML) and the popular WYSIWYG editor Redactor.

If you are working independently or have a small team of flexible developers, ComfortableMexicanSofa may be also good to consider while choosing the right Rails web development CMS. It may take a while for you to adapt to the system, but after you do so, it gives you a lot of great opportunities and makes your job easier.

Our top picks

As a professional Ruby on Rails web development company, we don’t really use CMS in our projects, as we create custom solutions from scratch. But if we were to recommend any CMS we’d go with either Refinery or Locomotive.

Yes, they are popular, which means it is also easy to solve any problem thanks to the support of a helpful community. But it is not only about the numbers. It is also about how straightforward and user-friendly are those two systems. They are easily understandable for both experienced devs as well as someone who doesn’t code on a daily basis.

Finally, both Refinery and Locomotive can be used for websites with various purposes: from simple company blogs to bigger e-commerce projects. This makes them a great fit for your project.


Michał Rejman

Digital marketing specialist with a growth hacking mindset and 10+ years of experience. Michał’s goal is building high-quality technological content, with particular emphasis on React and RoR. Traveler, climber, remote work advocate.

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