Five Reasons Why You Should Use a Git-based CMS (Part 4 of 5)

In our previous posts we looked at Crafter CMS and its Git-based versioning (part 1), distributed repository (part 2) and deployment mechanics along with its decoupled architecture (part 3)  In this post we’ll take a deeper dive into a feature of Crafter’s Git-based CMS that provides unparalleled support and speed for innovation: branching.

Imagine a single train track that stretches from Washington D.C. to New York.  How many trains can run simultaneously on this track?  How fast can the trains go? How much control over the order of arrival do you have?

  • You can run as many trains as you have room for on the track.
  • Anyone train can only go as fast as the train in front of it.
  • The trains always arrive in the order they departed in.
  • If a train breaks down or gets put on hold, it’s nearly impossible to reorder.

With only one track, the railroad’s ability to deliver success is throttled by the amount of volume they can handle and even when capacity is not an issue, they are completely dependent on good luck with respect to order and unplanned changes and breakdowns. With railroads, the solution to this problem is implemented with switches and sidings. Sidings are branches in that single track that allow a train to pull off the main line giving the controller the ability to regulate the order, speed, and quantity of trains on the main line.

The same problems of bandwidth, throughput, and order you see in the railroad example exist with projects that need to go through your traditional CMS.  Traditional CMS platforms have no ability to branch the content and code base. They are just like that single track from DC to New York.  This means you have very little control over the order, speed, and capacity of your development. Your CMS needs branching. Let’s explore this further.

Reason #4: Branching

Nearly every CMS still sits on an architecture and repository that was devised 20 years ago.  Back then innovation was important but the world moved a lot slower.  A single pipeline of features got the job done and the CMS was less of a bottleneck.  Today, in contrast, digital channels are at the core of many organizations’ strategy for serving the customer better and beating the competition.  The organization who moves the fastest often wins.  Agility is key.

Meanwhile, infrastructure costs have gone down while development costs continue to rise.  Balancing costs with volume and speed of innovation is a major challenge of our day.  Today it’s all about great DevOps. To make DevOps really work with CMS you need to be able to branch.

Traditional software development process has included branching for eons. Developers and DevOps have long since figured out that they need to be able to work in teams, isolate work and control the order in which work is merged into the critical path for go-live. The CMS track runs right alongside the traditional development track, and at some point, it merges and the last few steps require the CMS.  It’s only now that the demand for the speed of innovation has increased that the connective tissues between development and the CMS have been put under so much stress that they are completely failing.  The fact is that today, we need that same agility all the way through the CMS and right up to the very last step of production deployment.

Even if the majority of your development is outside the CMS you still need to integrate. Consider the following example:

Because the website needs to integrate with, and ultimately deliver the functionality of the microservice, we need to perform development.  We also need to support daily content edits and continuous publishing. With traditional CMS we have no option but to use multiple CMS environments to support this scenario.  Does this approach give us multiple tracks and control over my releases?  Yes, technically it does.  But practically speaking?  No.  Not at all.

As we learned before, moving content and code between CMS environments with traditional CMS architecture is extremely difficult. The process of spinning up environments and loading code and content into them is so difficult and time consuming for any DevOps team that most won’t even consider it unless absolutely forced to.  Even then the size of the team may not support the need. The rate of innovation crawls to a near stop.

To address this problem, we built Crafter CMS v3 on top of a Git-based repository. As a result, the Crafter CMS platform is built on repository store that not only branches but also is fully distributed.  Not only are you able to easily control the order and rate of work, but it’s a snap to move work from one environment to another.

Moreover, branching not only supports DevOps and but it makes development easier.  Developers and authors can experiment, work on major features and other site enhancements in the safety of branch-based sandboxes that keep them from stepping on each other’s toes.

Conclusion

If you want to quickly innovate with your website, mobile app and other content-rich digital experience apps, you will need multiple teams working on different features at the same time. You need control of who is working on what and the order in which projects will be delivered.  Having the capability to manage these concerns with agility is the key to innovating quickly.  Traditional CMS platforms don’t support the basic feature set that enables this. Moving most of the development outside the CMS only gets you so far. You need a CMS that supports your DevOps process with features like branching and distributed repository if you truly want to be able to move fast.

Stay tuned for our next blog entry to learn another major reason why you should use a Git-based CMS!

Five Reasons Why You Should Use a Git-based CMS (Part 3 of 5)

Most CMS technologies are what we would call a “coupled CMS.”  The content authoring and content delivery environments are usually part of the same stack. The act of “going live” with new content or a feature is essentially based on the act of marking a true/false in a database field. There are a lot of problems with coupled CMS platforms around security, performance, scalability, and flexibility (you can learn more here.)

For these reasons and many others, Crafter CMS is built as a decoupled CMS. With a decoupled CMS you author content in one system and publish to another separate system. For platforms like Crafter CMS that are decoupled, when correctly implemented, the architecture provides great solutions for the issues mentioned above. That said, nothing is without its challenges. Decoupled systems, by their nature, are typically very scalable and can have many instances all over the world. Security, scalability, and distribution are no longer issues that only concern the Internet’s biggest players like Google and Amazon.  Security and distribution impact customer experience, safety and help reduce operating costs.  Every brand-conscious and customer-forward organization in the world is focused on these tactical issues.

Once you have a decoupled, distributable deployment model, the challenge becomes making certain that the content on the servers all over the world is the same — everywhere. Every decoupled solution has an approach for this. Some better than others. That said, few if any of the approaches offered out of the box by today’s traditional CMS platforms “mathematically” ensure every remote instance is 100% up to date and in sync with every other instance. If there are bugs in the deployment code or there is trouble in the environment you may get out of sync.

In our previous posts, we looked at Crafter CMS and its Git-based versioning (part 1) and distributed repository (part 2).  In this post, we’ll take a deeper dive into how Crafter CMS leverages Git mechanics to provide a better, more consistent distributed publishing mechanism.

Reason #3: Distributed, scalable, consistent publishing

Crafter CMS uses Git mechanics to publish content to its decoupled delivery space. When Git reports that its repository is set at a specific version that means that every file is guaranteed to be present and in the proper state for that version, it is. Fact. It’s provable.

The reason it’s provable is due to the fact that the Git mechanics that underlie Crafter CMS’ content repository are based on Git’s purely functional data structures. “The main difference between an arbitrary data structure and a purely functional one is that the latter is (strongly) immutable” (Wikipedia).  What this means is that as commits happen within the repository an entirely new immutable data structure is created containing the changes for the commit. No action is taking on the previous data structure(s.)  Nothing you ever change can be lost or corrupted by an operation once the change has been committed.  Moreover, in Git, the ID for the commit is essentially a SHA1-hash of metadata and the content in the directory tree. By definition, if a single bit changes anywhere in the tree a new SHA1-hash must be generated.

 

While this explanation is an oversimplification of Git’s algorithm, it is essentially the model of how it works. The point is that two repositories on two different machines with the same commit ID are mathematically guaranteed to be the same. That’s an extremely useful mechanism for versioning but it also is a very large helping hand in publishing. Crafter CMS publishes (replicates) content based on Git commits. If you want to know if an endpoint on the other side of the world is the same as what you expect, you only have to compare the commit ID(s).

In today’s elastically scalable, globally distributed world you can have any number of servers.  You need a means to make sure they are all in sync. As you can see above, Git’s internal mechanics give us just that.  Crafter CMS is the first decoupled CMS with the capacity to scale geographically across an elastic cloud and at the same time make 100% certain that remote instances are consistently running the same version of content and code.

CONCLUSION

Decoupled CMS platforms provide push-based publishing, offer greater architectural flexibility and are much easier to scale elastically and distribute globally.  Along with this increased power and flexibility comes a need to ensure that all remote endpoints are in sync with one another and are up to date.  While this problem is solvable, few of today’s decoupled CMS platforms provide a solution for this that is 100% guaranteed and mathematically verifiable.  Crafter CMS and its Git-based repository leverage Git mechanics for publishing and replication to remote nodes.  Calculating changesets and verifying that an endpoint is in a particular state is based on the proven algorithms and data structures that back Git, the world’s most powerful and popular distributed source repository.
Stay tuned for our next blog entry to learn another major reason why you should use a Git-based CMS!

Five Reasons Why You Should Use a Git-based CMS (Part 2 of 5)

Since the birth of content management system (CMS) technology, well over 20 years ago, platforms have been leveraging “obvious backends” like SQL databases as a store for the content. Not because it’s the best or right store for the job, but because SQL databases are a commonly available, simple to use technology that (kinda) gets the job done. By the early 2000s, it was clear with many implementations that directly leveraged SQL and similar database stores do not provide the full range of features like versioning that a CMS requires. They can’t. They were not built to do it. The Java Content Repository (JCR) and other similar technologies entered the scene. The implementations of these technologies sit on top of the same old database stores and add a layer of capability to fill the gaps. This is good but not good enough. Ultimately, the fact that they sit on top of a database comes back to haunt them.

In Part 1, we looked at what kind versioning model is needed to support modern digital experiences. Today we focus on another critical capability that is missing in traditional CMS solutions: a distributed repository. More specifically, distributed versioning and workflow.

Reason #2: Distributed repository

Most databases are not easily distributable from a geographic sense, and more importantly, they are not distributable from a versioning and workflow sense.

I could spend a lot of time talking about how scaling and distributing a database geographically matters in the context of CMS and why it’s so difficult. I don’t have to. If you have the need for a CMS with high availability and global distribution you already know why it matters. If you have tried to make this work with a CMS based on a traditional database or a JCR repository, you already know it’s a difficult and sometimes impossible errand.

What is distributed versioning and workflow? The easiest way to get at this is by example. In the software development space, we’ve had Source Code Management (SCM) systems for a long time. These SCM systems allow teams of developers to work on a single code base as a team without stepping on each other’s toes by checking out work locally, working on it and then checking back in edits. Hint: This is not much different from what a CMS provides to content authors behind its UI.

Back to developers: In the past, we had CVS, SVN along with many others. These SCM systems provided basic version management as well as branching and tagging but fundamentally the system was a centralized model. With such solutions, there is a single central store and source of truth for the code base.

This SCM model worked well for smaller teams and smaller code bases but for large projects like the Linux operating system, it failed completely. Linux has so many developers spread out all over the world, working on many separate but related projects. A single, centralized system simply does not scale (in several ways) to meet this need. To make a long story short (collapsing a lot of history and detail), Linus Torvalds created Git as a lightning fast, open source solution to solve this problem. Git allows developers to have their own local and intermediary repositories that are all born from a parent repository. This makes distributing developers easy, it makes concurrency simple and most importantly to us, it distributes the versioning and workflow which makes “flowing” code to and from these independent repositories possible, fast and easy. Yes!

In the CMS space, for more than 20 years all the way up to this day, we’ve had repository solutions of various capabilities and quality. All of these solutions have no real, workable solutions for moving content back from production to lower environments like Staging, QA, Development, Load Testing and local developer machines. Yes, you can do it. But it’s a nightmare. You end up doing an export/import process and it’s not easy. Some systems are easier than others but they all stink. CMS consumers rig up all kinds of replication and publishing workarounds to try and deal with this problem. It’s all a hack. There’s no technical solution in the CMS space that was built to handle the problem specifically. For this reason and many others, development, and operations teams HATE the CMS options available today. They do nothing to help the team work — worse, they fight them in almost every way. The technical members of the team put up with CMS technology because their business counterparts need content creation and editing capabilities. That’s all.

Moreover, today we understand that to some degree, in the digital experience space, “code is content.” Just as we need to be able to move content back to environments, we also must be able to move code (templates, javascript, CSS, etc.) forward through the environments. Developers have processes that they use to ensure quality and performance. With traditional CMS, moving code forward through environments is even harder than moving content back. Wholesale export/import doesn’t work!

Because Crafter CMS is Git-based and because we’ve specifically built capability in Crafter CMS to handle these needs, the world finally has a CMS that solves this problem. The same approach developers use to make and promote source code changes with Git is used by Crafter CMS to move code forward and content back.

Every organization that uses a CMS for more than simple edits and blog posts know exactly what I am talking about. Today, it’s understood that customer experience is one of the biggest competitive advantages an organization can have. Further, beyond the human element, digital enablement and innovation is the most important component of delivering great customer experience. Because content and code are inseparable from customer experience, the CMS is a mission-critical component of any and all customer experience solutions. Here’s the kicker: nearly the entire world is using a CMS technology that not only fails to enable the organization to innovate faster — it actually fights them!

The Git-based distributed capabilities in Crafter CMS allow your organization to have many environments that are all related to one another — syncing and moving objects between them is natural and part and parcel to the technology itself. This means it’s easy to move content back and code forward.

Because the system is distributed and Git-based, developers can work locally and still be part of the CMS. That means they can use the tools they know and like, and they are not working on an island. The best way to make a developer love the CMS is to let them work with the CMS without having to work _in_ the CMS. Organizations that want to win, need to innovate without impedance.

Conclusion

Today’s CMS systems are rooted in 20-year-old architectures and technologies. As the demand for greater amounts of innovation and digital experience has grown and organizations are under pressure to deliver more at ever increasing rates CMS platforms have become more of a hindrance than a help. Crafter CMS, with its Git-based approach, not only solves these fundamental problems but also integrates very well with developer process and tools that innovation moves even faster. Finally, a CMS approach that accelerates development instead of blocking it.

Stay tuned for our next blog entry to learn another major reason why you should use a Git-based CMS!