Working on a web project

You need a website. You may have done some searches, and come back overwhelmed and empty-handed, having found hosting providers offering services that may have sounded familiar (“WordPress”) and ones that may have sounded like a foreign language (“cPanel”). You may have considered hiring someone to build your website, and gotten conflicting answers about what you need and what it would cost. You may have also heard about Django, but you're not sure how it it fits into the picture and whether or not it's the right fit for your project. This is common, because there are many different types of websites out there. To help answer the question of whether Django is the right fit for your project, let’s take a look at the landscape.

Figuring out your needs

Most websites fall into one of three categories: Static, Dynamic, or Interactive. Static sites are ones which don’t change much at all; these are typically websites for small, local businesses, listing things such as address, hours, and phone number. Dynamic websites, which are more common, have a static structure but changing content such as a news feed, blog, or pricing which needs to be updated often. A dynamic website may even have a store embedded, where users can make online purchases. At its core, though, the business generates the updates to a dynamic website; visitors simply use what is there. An interactive website, on the other hand, provides many more opportunities for user interaction. Social media websites are interactive, with users creating content (posts) and interacting with others’ content. Dynamic and interactive websites need a content management system (like WordPress or Drupal), or a more custom solution (like Django).

What is a Content Management System?

If you’ve looked into creating a website, you may have heard the term “Content Management System” or “CMS” thrown around. I’ll explain how this fits in by using the analogy of getting a house ready to move in. A static website would be analogous to a furnished apartment, where all the resident needs to do is show up. A CMS, on the other hand, is a fully-built house, but there’s no paint on the walls yet, and there’s no furniture. You’ll need to provide these niceties before you can move in, but you don’t need the expertise of a builder in order to get it ready. Maybe you’ll hire a designer to take care of some of it, or help with some of the decisions, but most people can manage this and do an acceptable job.

That’s pretty much what a CMS is: a website that’s pre-built, but needs that coat of paint, furniture, and some pictures on the walls. A web designer might help you with this, or even do some of that work, but many people can manage this on their own in a pinch. Once set up, a non-technical website owner can add and manage their content there. You may have heard of some common CMS options; WordPress and Drupal are some of the more popular ones. Lots of dynamic websites built today use one type of CMS or another. Even many static websites are now being built using a CMS; the website content may not need to change more than once every year or two, but it’s still nice not to need a developer to change the code directly.

How Django compares to a typical CMS system

While WordPress and Drupal are established platforms that can be used to create solid dynamic websites, they are all built around being a CMS first. The result of this is that building in interactive content can be a headache, since the frameworks weren’t really built for users to do much more than browse.

To return to our analogy, if a CMS is a pre-built house that’s missing the paint and furniture, Django is instead the pile of lumber, nails, tools, and other supplies needed to assemble that house. Building a house from those components is certainly not the sort of task that the average homeowner is comfortable taking on, but it has a distinct advantage if the homeowner needs something particularly custom, and that’s exactly where Django shines: in custom website creation.

While Django can be used to create a seamless dynamic website, its flexibility really pays off when building sites that are interactive, or which straddle the boundary between dynamic and interactive. The advantages of Django are numerous, from the vast diversity of Python libraries available (since Django is a Python framework), to the flexibility written into Django itself. If you’re curious to dig into the details of this, we’ve written in much more depth about why we use Django.

Conclusion

If you know that you’ll only ever need a CMS, and the most complex bit of interactivity you’ll need is an online store, then you can probably meet your needs using something like WordPress or Drupal. But if you want the ability to be flexible and add a lot of user interaction like posts, forums, or account management to your website, you’ll probably be better off with a Django solution.

Caktus has been building custom Django websites and apps since 2007. We’ve developed a success model for developing websites the right way and are always happy to chat about your project if you’re still not sure that Django is the right fit for you.

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