A Beginner’s Guide to ExpressionEngine


ExpressionEngine is one of the many content management systems or CMS that are available for web developers today. A highly efficient and powerful CMS, ExpressionEngine is not usually preferred to WordPress or Drupal. But if you are a web developer looking for a CMS with a specific set of features, ExpressionEngine may be the one for you. ExpressionEngine or EE will easily let you manage large amounts of content. Whether you have 20, 200 or even 2000 pages of web content, you can manage it efficiently with EE.

More Than Just a Blogging Application

There is a common perception of EE as a blogging tool/application, but it is more than just that. EE is a powerful CMS that can be used to manage websites of any scale. That said, it is not easy to use EE unless you invest some time and effort to learn it thoroughly. From small business sites to large and complex sites about education, online magazines, blogging sites etc, you can build any type of website using EE, only once you master it. The CMS is highly flexible, which means your options when creating a website are aplenty.

Again, EE is not for creating static or fixed page websites. Like other CMSs, ExpressionEngine saves all your content in a database, which is independent from the web design and the interface that your users will see and interact with.

Getting Started

ExpressionEngine only supports PHP 5.3.10 or above, MySQL 5.0.3 or newer versions of the database, dedicated memory allocation of at least 32 GB for the PHP, and 2 MB of database space. You can also use EE on Apache servers, but only after enabling AcceptPathInfo.

Before you get started, ensure that the host and the browser requirements for installing the CMS are met. Create an empty MySQL database and purchase ExpressionEngine from Ellislab.com website. That is right. Unlike some other CMSs, ExpressionEngine is not a freeware. Set the necessary permissions as mentioned in the user guide and run the installation fine. The theme should be empty. Once the installation is finished, you can get started with content creation and management for your website.

How It Works

As all your data/content that you create through ExpressionEngine is saved in a database, it is important that you remember the password, user id and other details for accessing the data. The content you upload in the database is saved in what are called Channels, which are different from templates or completed web pages that your users see.

The control panel is the tool you will use to add/upload, modify and publish on the site. The channel is where all information you enter, including text, comments etc, is stored. With this CMS tool, you will have complete creative control over the site and can easily modify or add text to the existing pages.

Managing Your Site with EE

The ExpressionEngine control panel is the tool which you should use to manage the content on your website. The control panel, also known as the back end of the EE, is the interface through which you will interact with the CMS for adding, modifying and deleting content on your website.

In EE, content pages are referred to as Entries. With EE, you will be able to create a system that will allow your clients to manage their content, not pages, effectively. The control panel allows you to add entries, create a template or template group and view the site too. Entries created though the control panels are published to your channels, or web pages. The same content can be published across multiple channels.

You can also create readable URLs for each of the channels you create. Every channel can have sub fields that can either be visible, or hidden, in which case the user has to click on the links to be able to read the text.

In addition to the entries, you can also create or add and store templates using the control panel. You can add, modify and group templates using JavaScript or CSS. Naming fields and channels in a unique manner simplifies the process. Make sure you name every channel and the fields under each channel to keep everything as simple, clear and easy as possible. The categories tab allows you to segregate and arrange data according to set parameters.

Ideal for Complex Sites

If you want to create an everyday blogging site, you don’t need ExpressionEngine. One, because it is a highly powerful CMS and two, you have to shell out a couple of hundred dollars to be able to use it. And if you are willing to spend so much for a CMS, then you better know how to make the most of it.

The bottom line is that EE is for those who know what they want and what to do with the CMS to get the desired results. So it also means you should have some experience using any CMS and a fair understanding of how a CMS is used in website development and management.

Even the experienced CMS users will have to deal with issues, for which there is a strong EE community and support team they can fall back on. In addition to the Ellis Lab, there are a number of other websites offering training programs for free and also for a small fee. You can go through the many video tutorials too. Consider EE only if you are willing to spend the time and money for learning how to use the system.

Apt for Web Designers and Developers

ExpressionEngine is clearly not for amateur users. PHP developers and other end users will be better off with WordPress or Drupal, while EE is mainly for web designer and developers who want more than what WP offers. EE gives them extended control right from the word go and enables them to create a highly interactive and complex website and not just a static page or blog. If you want an advanced CMS to build a website, EE is certainly worth the investment it demands. 

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