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What is ExpressionEngine?

ExpressionEngine is a premium content management system (CMS) developed and distributed by EllisLab of Bend, OR. ExpressionEngine is written in PHP and uses a MySQL database. This means that nearly all hosting providers can support its deployment.

ExpressionEngine is designed around the idea that a CMS shouldn’t make assumptions about the type of site you want to build. This makes ExpressionEngine ideal for out-of-the-box sites that aren’t as easily rendered in mainstream content management systems.

What is unique about ExpressionEngine?

ExpressionEngine is incredibly feature rich. From publishing tools and typography flexibility, to spam deterrents and security features, ExpressionEngine is packed with features that will enable you to create a secure and polished site that does exactly what you want it to do, and to do it all without having to get your hands too dirty digging through loads of code.

ExpressionEngine includes all of the tools and features you would expect out of a content management system, and then some. Some of the most noteworthy ExpressionEngine features include:

  • A powerful templating and modeling engine. ExpressionEngine doesn’t predefine the type of content you’ll have on your site (such as WordPress’ posts, pages, and comments). You define the type of content your site will have, and then create the templates you want to display it.
  • A flexible and powerful email management platform. Send out email newsletters right from your ExpressionEngine admin panel without the need for a dedicated mail server.

  • Complete control of commenting systems including membership, moderation, expiration, and pagination (long lists of comments split between multiple pages).
  • Sophisticated typography tools including automatic conversion of copied-and-pasted MS Word content into HTML syntax.
  • Robust site statistics so you can respond to the way users are navigating to and through your site.
  • A built in database manager including a database backup utility.
  • Extensive security features such as captcha, secure form processing, IP/Email banning, and word censoring.
  • Website membership registration and management functions for complete control and moderation of member activity.
  • 22 add-ons and over 100 available plugins (including some eCommerce plugins) to extend the functionality of your ExpressionEngine site.

What does ExpressionEngine cost?

ExpressionEngine is offered in a free “Core” version. This version of ExpressionEngine cannot be used for commercial sites, and must include a “powered by ExpressionEngine” credit. ExpressionEngine Core also includes significantly limited features, making it an ok option for personal sites, but not a viable option for much else.

If you want all that ExpressionEngine has to offer the cost for the full version is $299. There are some premium add ons to consider as well. A Discussion Forum add on is available for the reasonable fee of $99, and you can turn ExpressionEngine into a multi-site manager for an additional $199. All pricing mentioned here is current as of June 2015.

Support for all ExpressionEngine installations is provided through a free user community. In addition, 3 months of premium support by the developer, EllisLab, is included with your purchase of ExpressionEngine. If you want premium support on an ongoing basis from EllisLab you can purchase support for between $49 and $1,999 per month depending on your support needs.

What are some alternatives to ExpressionEngine?

ExpressionEngine is a premium content management system that makes a lot of sense for certain types of commercial websites. However, it isn’t for everyone. If you don’t have the financial resources to pay for ExpressionEngine there are many free content management systems you can consider.

If you’re looking for something a bit more mainstream you should check out the three content management systems that own the vast majority of CMS market share:

  • Wordpress: WP powers more of the internet than any other platform. It is considered to be easy to get the hang of quickly, and it offers more plugins and themes than you could ever exhaust.
  • Drupal: Drupal is a more-secure solution than WordPress. However, it is better suited to more advanced users. Drupal is considered to be a superior choice for powering large, complex websites.
  • Joomla: Joomla is particularly good as creating websites with a strong social component such as forums and social networks.

Server Requirements

ExpressionEngine is powered by some of the most common languages and technologies of the web. In order to host an ExpressionEngine deployment you will need access to a web server running PHP 5.3.10 or newer and MySQL 5.0.3 or newer. Most modern Linux and Windows servers will support both of these technologies. However, if you aren’t sure that your hosting provider is up to the task, ExpressionEngine offers a useful server compatibility wizard to take the guess work out of checking server compatibility.

Since ExpressionEngine uses a web-based admin interface you’ll need to access the admin portion of the site using a supported browser. Recent versions of all major browsers are supported by the admin side of ExpressionEngine, so as long as your browser is up to date, and fairly mainstream, you should be in good shape.

Installing ExpressionEngine

Installation of ExpressionEngine is about as easy as installation of a CMS can be. It’s a simple four-step process which is laid out in detail in the ExpressionEngine documentation. The installation process includes:

  • Creating a database for the site.
  • Uploading the ExpressionEngine files to your account using an FTP client.
  • Setting file permissions as indicated in the installation documentation.
  • Running the installation wizard by pointing your browser at the admin.php file you previously uploaded to the server.

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