Joomla vs. Drupal — A Comprehensive Comparison

By Justin Kerr
March 15, 2014

Table of Contents

Drupal (www.drupal.org) and Joomla!™ (www.joomla.org) are two of the most popular and capable open-source content management systems powering dynamic websites. They share many similarities, including open licenses, strong developer communities, growing market share and a predisposition for LAMP-based (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) hosting environments. Both systems are also market-proven and flexible, able to deliver content management functionality with ease and support other types of features at varying levels of expense.

These two systems’ value, efficiency and capabilities often make them top choices for organizations seeking a content management system to power a website, as well as service providers looking to standardize on a platform to deliver web solutions to clients. However, despite the similarities between Drupal and Joomla, significant differences in their implementation processes, development methods, support requirements and specific feature implementation costs may make one or the other more suited to a specific set of needs.

This article provides comprehensive information about the differences between Drupal and Joomla for common website development processes and costs. This information is meant for system implementers, IT department heads, creative agency owners, multimedia department leads and website stakeholders who are faced with a choice between Drupal and Joomla. Reading this article should result in better understanding of the differences between these two content management systems and provide the ability to make an informed decision on which to use to best meet specific project scenarios.

Methods of Comparing Content Management Systems

One of the biggest challenges in comparing two full-featured content management systems is the number of internal and outside variables which can affect project costs and implementation processes, ranging from special project requirements to the expertise of the practitioner to the business and technical environments into which the CMS is deployed. In addition, one system may be innately better suited than the other to handle a particular site requirement, even though both may be capable of supporting it.

Establishing a means of comparing two content management systems requires a deep familiarity with both platforms, experience with multiple deployments across a range of project needs and special requirements, and established expertise in the general processes of developing and deploying websites and web applications. In addition, common metrics must be employed for both systems, and innate differences between the two CMSs may result in skewed results for some projects with special requirements. Finally, understanding how a particular CMS can fit into the context of a project can go a long ways toward effectively managing integration costs, support and ongoing maintenance.

Existing Drupal-Joomla Comparisons

This article is not the first effort to compare Drupal and Joomla. A number of other resources, articles and an event have explored the differences between the two CMS platforms (as well as the WordPress blogging platform). Some of the more notable comparisons include the following:

Many other examples of Drupal/Joomla comparisons can be found online through reference and search sites.

Our Method of Comparing Drupal and Joomla

Many existing Drupal/Joomla comparisons work from a novice’s perspective and end up misrepresenting the real costs of CMS development due to a lack of experience in the best practices for a particular platform. For this article, we leverage our deep exposure to both Drupal and Joomla to mitigate inaccurate conclusions caused by a lack of understanding of platform development processes, poor choices in “plug-in” software to extend CMS capabilities, and similar novice mistakes. Throughout this text, we assume an expert level of literacy for both Drupal and Joomla, which allows for more accurate conclusions when making comparisons between the two.

Another challenge in making Drupal/Joomla comparisons is the vast variety of needs found across different types of website projects: Making apples-to-apples comparisons is very difficult in light of realistic project and deployment environments. For this article, we break down the web development process into common project processes, and conduct our comparisons within these areas, helping readers to understand the benefits and costs of each CMS platform for a particular task or project phase.

For all metrics presented in this article, we use estimated “person hours” to provide a relative scale for measuring costs between processes and tasks. An hourly metric makes more sense than a cash amount, since different organizations will use different rates for evaluating project costs. As mentioned before, all estimates assume an expert level of knowledge and experience with both content management systems, with no time dedicated to discovering platform capabilities, learning best practices or training.

Both Drupal and Joomla have developed through several major versions over the course of many years. Unless otherwise noted, references to CMS capabilities and details relate to the most recent, stable, long-term-support releases of this software: Drupal 7 and Joomla 2.5, respectively.

Comparing Common Website Development Processes and Costs

This comparison of website development processes and costs between Drupal and Joomla breaks down the site built-out process into a number of tasks or project phases. Some of these will be integral to every site buildout; some are applicable only to specific types of websites.