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How Aloia CMS has made me more productive

Aloia CMS is a content management system I'm actively developing, so I see this post is a milestone in my development process. Before I explain how Aloia CMS has made me more productive, let's get into the points that I see as "being productive". I love writing blog posts, that's why you see one here every single week. What I don't like about most content management systems I've used before is that you need to have a certain workflow to be able to work with it. I love writing, but not the effort it takes to start writing a simple post. I want to avoid hurdles and just write.

Taking control of my own workflow

Avoiding hurdles at all costs is one of the reasons I've developed Aloia CMS. In the beginning, it was just a headless CMS with markdown/JSON files as a "database". This was great because writing in Markdown is something I enjoy doing. But, when I didn't have a laptop and wanted to write a blog post, I wasn't able to. I needed a laptop to write my markdown files, publish them to GitHub and publish the changes on my server. Hurdles like this will make me lose my motivation to write something. As I mentioned, I don't want to go through hurdles, so I created a dashboard that's accessible on my phone. This allowed me to write and publish on my phone. Problem solved! Right?

Making extensions possible

As often happens, the wishes and requirements of websites change. So did mine. From a simple blog with some recent work, I wanted a website that I could easily extend with extra content types, new pages, and custom content. The old version of Aloia CMS (version 0.x) was not flexible and took a lot of effort to set something like this up. The available content types were baked into the CMS because this was completely fine prior to these required changes. I needed a way to make this flexible, so I looked at how Laravel solves this.

Laravel makes uses of a "Model". If you want different content types, you can simply extend that model and add custom behavior to it. This was exactly the kind of flexibility I needed from a CMS, so that's what I built for Aloia CMS. This feature was released in version 1.0.0 in February of 2020 and served its purpose well. The CMS became leaner because of this.

Simplifying the upgrade path

I hate hurdles and I didn't want to ruin anyone else's day by publishing a breaking change to the CMS without defining a very clear upgrade path. I provided a simple command that migrates all content that was managed by the CMS to the new format. Running this command took a few milliseconds. That's a lot quicker than manually migrating any content that was previously supported. Providing this helper helped me to migrate my entire website from version 0.x to 1.x.

With the release of version 1.0.0, I deprecated most of the old code but kept it in place. This old code had one purpose left: migrate the old content to the new format. These deprecated scripts would make it more inviting to upgrade from 0.x to 1.x because theoretically, you didn't "have to" migrate your content. The old code still worked. If you want a new version with some new shiny features, but don't want to migrate, you're still able to use the system. As with all deprecations, I removed all legacy code in the next major version (2.0.0).

Simplifying the file structure

In the old version of Aloia CMS, the file structure was all over the place. It needed multiple files to manage content and metadata. When I started to post on dev.to and created a documentation website for Aloia CMS, I was introduced to the concept of front matter. This was a huge revelation because this allowed me to keep the content and metadata in a structured manner in a single file. For me, this was the way forward. Starting with Aloia CMS 1.0.0, front matter was the way to embed metadata into your content files. All content types have some metadata, which meant that I could put this functionality into the base Model. Any model that extends the base model can now easily save metadata and content to a file without having to worry about the underlying code. The CMS was once again working for me, not the other way around.

Conclusion

Throughout this entire process I've gone through iterations of "How can I annoy myself less". If I find something that seems weird or looks like a hurdle, it's something that most likely gets changed in the next version. Since Aloia CMS at the core is still a headless CMS, it has no specific workflow. By consciously separating the dashboard and underlying CMS, I was able to create a dashboard that does exactly what I want it to. If you have different needs for a dashboard, you can very easily build something yourself and interact with the content that way. Workflows are just a highly individual thing and really shouldn't be something forced upon you by the creators. The creators should give you the core functionality and allow you to shape your own workflow.

If you have a Laravel project that you'd like to add basic CMS functionalities to, you should have a look at Aloia CMS. Even though I'm highly biased because I built it, it's actually a really nice way to add a content management system to your Laravel application without needing a database or any other external dependencies.

Posted on: March 25th, 2020

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