It can be very difficult and expensive to change your CMS once you've set up shop and filled it with content, so doing research before launching your website or web app is essential. In this guide, you'll learn the key differences between the CMSes, so you can make an informed decision about which to choose. We will review key areas, including performance, security, extensibility, third-party support, API integrations, and more.
A Quick Rundown
WordPress and Joomla! are highly mature PHP/SQL based open-source content management systems. They've both been around for about 20 years and have excellent documentation, support, and extension availability. The software is open source and free, but many extensions and custom designs are paid-only features offered by a strong market of third-party developers. Both are relatively lightweight in regard to hosting requirements. You can find modestly reliable WordPress and Joomla hosts from as little as $5/mo.
Foremost, WordPress was built to be a blogging platform. It's since evolved to do nearly anything under the sun, but at its core it still behaves like a simple blog system. A big key to WordPress's success is its relative simplicity. With WordPress, you can get a site up and running with very little effort. Just install it, give your site a title, select a theme, and start writing blog entries. If you're looking for a simple way to check it out, visit https://wordpress.com/ and register for a free account.
Joomla was built from the ground up to be a content management system rather than just a blog platform. Where WordPress was originally best suited to personal blogs and small portfolios, Joomla has advanced content and user management paradigms that enable it to power large websites with dozens of different people working on it at once. Rather than a simple blog, Joomla has everything you might need to operate an entire online news magazine with dozens of writers and editors. These doesn't mean Joomla cannot be used for personal blogs - it can do them just fine - but it might be overkill. All these additional features come at the cost of simplicity. The learning curve for using Joomla is significantly higher than WordPress, but you get more granular control over things out of the box. This may be why Joomla operates approximately 2 million websites compared to WordPress's approximate 800 million websites. You can launch a quick test site with Joomla for free at https://launch.joomla.org/
What makes WordPress and Joomla so powerful is ultimately their extensibility. There are thousands of paid and free extensions and themes or templates available for both platforms. With extensions, Joomla can be modified to work more like a simple blog and WordPress can be modified to work more like a fully featured CMS. Extensions exist for everything from Ecommerce to marketing, scheduling, SEO, and social networks. Nearly any type of website you could imagine, from something like Facebook to eBay could be recreated to an extent using WordPress or Joomla.
Since extensions play such a large role in the development of a Joomla or WordPress powered website, it's also highly important that you consider what extensions you plan on using. For example, if you plan on creating an online store, and you're trying to decide between Joomla and WordPress, you really should look at the top Ecommerce extensions for each CMS and compare those, since that's what your sites focus would be on. Your decisions might become more based on the extensions you plan on using rather than the CMS itself.
Joomla and WordPress organize their content and users a bit differently.
WordPress organizes its content by posts and pages.
- Different custom post types may be enabled with various extensions.
- Each post or page is basically an HTML document that is wrapped in whatever theme you select.
- Posts may further be assigned tags and categories for categorization.
- Pages are basically stand-alone posts that function as a single page, and aren't placed into categories. Think something like an "about us" page instead of a blog post update.
Joomla organizes its content with articles.
- An article can be a post, a page, or any other HTML document you'd like.
- Articles are wrapped in a template you select.
- Articles are sorted under hierarchical categories. Tags may also be used to group similar articles together.
- There are no "Pages" in Joomla but any article can be turned into what's basically a page by adding a menu link.
WordPress has a basic user management and registration system.
- WordPress has a basic permissions system, where different user "roles" are given different privileges. For example, authors can write posts and editors can edit them.
- Beyond the default roles, out of the box, WordPress does not offer advanced customization of user roles.
Joomla has an advanced user management system.
- Users can be assigned to different "User Groups" with different "Access Levels"
- An advanced permissions system gives administrators granular control over what user groups can do what actions
- Numerous authentication plugins are provided out of the box, including well written 2FA plugins
- Support for user profiles and advanced privacy request handling is built in
WordPress has two key extension types - Plugins and Themes.
- Plugins - Add additional features to the site, such as a shopping cart system, forums, user profiles, etc.
- Themes - Style the website. However, they often include countless additional features that may blur the line between themes and plugins.
Joomla has four key extension types - Plugins, Templates, Modules, and Components.
- Plugins - Usually do something behind the scenes. They are not usually full-fledged extensions like a new shopping cart system or something. They might handle a single operation or be included as part of another extension that does more.
- Templates - Style the website. They're the rough equivalent of WordPress themes. However, templates in Joomla are normally ONLY to style the site. They don't include a million other features like some WordPress themes do.
- Modules - Are displayed in assigned positions on selected pages. For example, a menu is placed in a menu module and the search box is part of the search module. You get granular control over what modules appear where and when.
- Components - Are pieces of software that usually add significant amounts of features to the site. Often used in conjunction with modules and plugins. An Ecommerce / web store, a new commenting or forums system, or a full site backup tool could all be different "components."
Overall, WordPress uses much more general extension types, and Joomla has feature specific extension categories. As a developer, I think Joomla's system makes more sense. Though all the different pieces can make it harder to manage.
In summary with regards to overall management, as I mentioned before, Joomla has complex, granular control, and WordPress offers simpler, generalized control. If you're a large organization that needs to catalogue hundreds of articles with dozens of writers, Joomla's offerings are arguably better. If you're trying to operate a simple small business or blog style website with just one or a few writers, WordPress is likely the better option.
Since WordPress has a larger user base by several orders of magnitude, there are naturally many more extensions and themes available for WordPress than there are for Joomla. Joomla has maybe a few thousand extensions and templates, of which perhaps only a hundred are actually significant and well maintained. WordPress has tens of thousands of extensions.
Still, it's difficult to objectively compare the quality of the extensions, as they vary from developer to developer. Joomla has some very impressive extensions backed by dedicated development companies, and so does WordPress.
Although I can't quantify the exact advantages of every extension, I can mention some of the most popular extensions on each platform. If you believe one or more of these extensions are especially useful, it may help sway your decision.
Top WordPress Extensions
Elementor is an S-tier WordPress extension that enables you to quickly develop professional websites with a simple drag and drop style interface. You can customize nearly every aspect of the site without even needing to know how to code. Many web design companies specializing in brochure-style small business websites use this to quickly produce flashy online marketing material.
Joomla has a couple similar, respectable visual page builders but they're not quite on this level.
WooCommerce is the most popular of WordPress's Ecommerce extensions. It's relatively easy to use. Also, with 5 million + users, there are a ton of extensions for this extension. It's almost as easy to use as Shopify, with more control.
Joomla also has several ECommerce extensions to choose from, but I don't think they remotely measure up to this in terms of ease-of-use, a modern appearance, and extension availability.
WordPress now includes a built-in site builder / block style editor known as Gutenberg. It's kind of like a super dumbed down version of Elementor. While the idea is nice, and it isn't entirely without merit, it's kind of clunky and annoying to use, especially if you're trying to do advanced customizations on an Elementor-like level.
This is more of a hinderance than a useful extension for the time being. I believe it could be good once it's more mature, but we're several years into it and it's still one of the most hated aspects of modern WordPress. Thankfully, it can be disabled or functionally replaced by other editors. You don't have to use it.
Top Joomla Extensions
Community Builder is an advanced user profile tool. Basically, it grants your site social-network-like powers. You can greatly extend the fields of a user's profile, allow them to upload pictures, post on each others profiles, etc. It also integrates well with many other Joomla extensions that focus on online social interactions.
This would be ideal for internal corporate networking, universities, and niche online communities.
VirtueMart is Joomla's closest thing to a WordPress WooCommerce competitor. While it allows you to set up a fairly complex online store, the overall appearance is dated and the backend tools are harder to figure out. That said, there are plenty of paid themes available to make it look better and it supports dozens of different plugins with added functionality. If you're more technically inclined, this may be a better option than WooCommerce.
Kunena is a fully featured community forum component. It can be useful for growing communities, encouraging engagement, and Q&As. You can add categories and moderate users with relative ease.
Although forums are generally somewhat of a dying trend, they still have their place in many specialized communities. This also integrates with Community Builder and may be used for article comments. I use this extension on this website!
Joomla and WordPress have both been rewritten several times over throughout the years. Joomla is on its 4th major revision with 5 coming in the near future, and WordPress is on its 6th major version. In other words, both CMSes receive a steady stream of feature updates, bug fixes, and performance enhancements.
Additionally, the PHP language WP and J4 are based on is constantly improving with new updates. PHP used to get a bad rap but work in recent years has led the language itself to become faster and arguably better.
The performance you get out of your site will vary depending on the hosting provider you're using, the extensions you have installed, and any other performance services or optimizations you have working for you. Broadly speaking, Joomla has more features and added complexity, which results in slightly poorer performance. With performance plugins, CDNs, and services like Cloudflare, a properly optimized Joomla site could be faster than a standard WordPress site, or vice versa.
One distinct advantage WordPress has over Joomla with regards to performance has to deal with extensions. Since WordPress is much more widely used, it's pretty common for web hosts and performance optimization services to have plugins available for WordPress that improve the overall speed of the site through caching and other means. While many of these same optimizations can be done for Joomla, extra steps may be involved if the web host, CDN, or other service doesn't create a dedicated Joomla plugin.
While performance is extremely important for any site, I don't think going with Joomla or WordPress will make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things for most websites. Unless you're operating an extremely large site with massive amounts of traffic, I'd decide based more on the features than the raw performance of the CMS.
Information security is very important for your business, clients, and site users. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for hackers or scammers to take advantage of vulnerable websites using automated scripts and exploits. Smaller low-budget websites can be prime targets for ransomeware if the CMS and third-party extensions are not well maintained and up to date.
While the Joomla and WordPress teams work fast to regularly patch known exploits, the same cannot always be said of third-party developers. There have been several major exploits of extensions used on millions of WordPress websites this year alone including to Elementor Pro and WooCommerce. If you aren't careful, your site could be taken down, your users data could be stolen, or a hacker could demand you pay them money to restore access to your website. Some attackers run automated scripts that will take down parts of your website simply because they're sociopathic asshats.
According to CVE details, Joomla had 13 published security vulnerabilities last year and WordPress had 9. In both cases, none of the vulnerabilities were extremely severe, and they were all patched. However, if you look at the vulnerability publish dates and the patch dates, you'll see that Joomla appears significantly more responsive to patching these security issues. All published issues were patched within a week, and sometimes as little as a single day. WordPress, on the other hand, took upwards of several months to patch its issues.
WordPress's high market share works against it in the security category. Since there are so many sites running WordPress, it's targeted much more frequently by attackers. If the goal is to attack as many sites as possible, they're naturally going to go for the bigger target.
Security extensions exist for both Joomla and WordPress, some of which are quite good. I was able to resolve major issues with a hacked WordPress site using Wordfence just a few months ago. On the other hand, I've been using Joomla for nearly two decades and I've never had to install a security plugin or experienced a significant hack or security event.
Regardless of the CMS you select, make sure you backup your site regularly and keep both the CMS and your installed extensions up to date, or you risk having major issues. Many web hosts have automated update systems available for WordPress.
The decision of using WordPress or Joomla ultimately comes down to your needs, personal preferences, and extension availability.
- Is usually better for smaller sites, but can scale well using platforms like Kinsta
- Easier to get started, one-click install on virtually every web host provider
- Can have virtually every feature Joomla has, after you find and install extensions
- Much more theme and extension selection
- More high profile security risks, pushes security updates a little slower
- Usually better suited to sites with a ton of content, that require advanced user management and permissions systems
- Has nearly all the same types of extensions WordPress does, though not as much overall selection
- Significantly smaller pool of developers and paid support
- Good for large organizations with many users
- Quickly responds to security issues
This section mainly pertains to people who code templates, themes, or extensions using HTML, CSS, PHP, and JS.
Learning the Framework
Developer documentation for WordPress is readily available. There are thousands of guides, videos, and paid lessons available for WordPress. That said, I still find it odd cramming random features into themes that I think would better belong in a plugin. It's a relatively common practice to hardcode custom post types, search extensions, and other features into themes for an individual site rather than as a separate plugin. Of course, how you code is up to you, but it's something you'll likely run into if you view others' work.
WordPress has the powerful REST api which makes developing JS applications that tie into WordPress significantly easier than Joomla. There are some third-party extenions for Joomla which provide similar features, but in general WordPress is better for this sort of integration.
On the other hand, Joomla's developer documentation is rather limited. While some aspects are fairly well documented, other aspects can be confusing or difficult to figure out. There are countless times when I've been creating Joomla extensions where I got lost in the API and couldn't figure out seemingly basic things. There is an online API doc, but it's difficult to navigate and not particularly useful. Learning to code Joomla extensions may take a considerable amount of extra work since you may spend a lot of time locating functions and figuring out how all the different pieces fit together. Often I find myself looking at other individual's extensions to see how they did things because I can't find any relevant documentation online. I've also seen an incredible amount of variance in code style conventions when reviewing work of other developers. I believe if the development processes were better documented, Joomla development in general would be more standardized and easy to follow.
For Template Development
If you're more of a web designer than a developer, creating basic templates of themes for WordPress and Joomla are about equal in complexity, in my opinion.
Despite its flaws, I prefer developing extensions for Joomla over WordPress. Once you figure out how all the different extensions fit together, how to set up the config files, fields, and other details, Joomla has a lot to offer developers.
It's not difficult to tie your extensions into Joomla's advanced user management systems, permissions systems, etc.
I like Joomla's easy to use standardized fields system, which in a way is similar to WordPress's ACF without the backend GUI. You simply define your config options or forms with xml and Joomla takes care of saving and retreiving the info for you. WordPress has similar features for creating basic settings pages and forms, but the steps are slightly more involved.
Finally, overall I prefer the way Joomla organizes its extensions into many different categories based on their general function. Rather than creating a single plugin that does a ton of different things, or integrating a bunch of random functionality into a WordPress theme, I can more easily separate my extension into different reusable pieces. Joomla also has powerful layout systems and a well designed MVC pattern.