Blog Post

Perch: An Ultra-Lightweight CMS

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

perchThis weekend saw the launch of Perch, an easy-to-use lightweight CMS put together by British web development agency Perch is perfect for those situations where you would like to be able to set up a web site with some editable content regions for a client, but don’t want to have to install a full-blown CMS or try to hack a blogging system in order to do the job.

Installation is straightforward, although you do need to be a little tech-savvy to get it up and running. You’ll need a server running PHP5 or later. (Check if you’re using a shared host — I found mine was still running PHP4, but could flip to PHP5 easily.) Download the zip from the Perch web site, unzip, and FTP the Perch folder to your host. Run the setup script, insert your license key, and fill out your database login details. Most of the installation legwork is done for you, although you’ll need to FTP a generated configuration file back to the server.

To start using Perch to manage the content on your site, you first need to add some editable content regions into your pages using Perch tags. Once you’ve set up the regions, log in to your Perch control panel.


Perch’s interface is very clean and simple. There are just two tabs at the top of the page, “Content” and “Users”. Under “Content” you’ll find the regions that you added to your pages. Click on a region to initialize it by selecting a content template to use. Perch has templates for many types of content included out of the box (file, image, contact, text block, article and text), but you can create your own templates using simple markup.

If you’re building a site for a client, it’s now just a case of setting up user accounts for your client under the “Users” tab. (There are only two levels of access: “Admin” and “Editor”.)  They’ll then be able to log into the control panel and edit the content as required.

Because Perch has a simple, clean and easy-to-use interface, it shouldn’t be too hard to train clients to use it, which makes it a good choice for web sites that have some changeable content but don’t require a full-blown CMS. Perch should also be a great choice if you want to retrofit some editable regions into an existing static web site. However, it is very stripped-down, so if you require, say, an inbuilt WYSIWYG editor, you’re going to need a more heavyweight solution like ExpressionEngine.

Perch costs £35 ($57) per domain (you can switch between domains as required), with no ongoing fees. Unfortunately, there’s no free trial available, but you can download a Compatibility Test Suite to check that it will work on your setup before purchasing.

Have you tried Perch? Let us know what you think in the comments.

25 Responses to “Perch: An Ultra-Lightweight CMS”

  1. Anonymous

    I would advise everyone to steer clear of Perch unless they want to get involved in loads of coding.

    It is not a true CMS (like Joomla for instance), but a way of dynamically managing static content on a pre-existing site … so, pretty pointless for many people, and not as “simple” as they describe it.

    Pretty useless from my point of view, but probably good if you want to develop a site from scratch that can be dynamically updated later. It doesn’t really make light work of anything.(

    There are far better options out there. Oh, and customer support is terrible – I certainly won’t recommend them to anyone.

    • You’re probably not working as a web developer with “dumb” clients. Joomla or Drupal are just big no-goes for most clients.

      You create the website for them, they use the “CMS” to update or change a few things (so they’re not annoying you with trivial work) and if they require bigger changes, they come back to you.

  2. I’ll be using Perch for some of my clients who have small sites and want to edit limited content.

    Things I like: I love the fact that there is no WYSIWYG interface, so many clients make a hash of their site by using horrible typography or colour clashes.
    Love the fact you host it on your own server and can easily be rebranded. Also very happy with the price.

    How the heck can someone grumble at £35!? If you can’t implement this into your clients site and make a mark-up on the price, you’re in the wrong game.

  3. @abberdab (and others asking) we’ve just put up the ability to try out Perch as an online demo.

    If you sign up you’ll get a unique instance of Perch created set up with a few templates already selected and a few new regions that you can choose any template for. I hope this helps you to see how Perch works.

    Perch demo

  4. What Tony M sez.

    Perch sounds awesome to me precisely *because* it doesn’t rely on a WYSIWYG editor, or enable changes to the page structure of a site, and I can host it myself.

    I’m a big fan of Concrete 5 and WordPress. I have created many sites with both and would recommend both. But, in some situations they are overkill.

    Sometimes you have a small, otherwise static, site. The client only needs to keep one or two areas of content up to date. Implementing a full-blown CMS is not only overkill but also opens up the can-of-worms that many a designer/developer has experienced when they give the client more control than they want/need/are able to handle. Perch would seem to fill this CMS need, perfectly.

    I would also, however, really love a demo so I can see if this is true or not!

  5. Check out Concrete5. Same concept. Used to be commercial but now it is free. Been around and tested – solid simple CMS. WYSIWYG included. Did I mention it’s free?

  6. Perch is Cushy CMS but without the insecure handling and bottleneck login… as for Cushy being better, well it would be if you didn’t have to wait 5 minutes to login to any page you want to edit so, it actually costs me as a professional designer money to use a free service. Aas a independent designer the one thing you can’t solve is lack of time… and CUSHY costs me much more than Perch would cost, especially as I tack this cost on easily to any job without it impacting on much.

    As for adding a WTFISWACK interface… one of the strong points is that your client can’t ruin a great looking website by placing comic sans rainbow text next to the linked image on their desktop, one of the reasons I used a similarly simple CMS called WebYep. really most website owners just want to update text. Contribute did exactly the same thing and was $100 a pop… but that was Macromedia so it was cool.

    To we wrap up, it’s got it’s place on the market… a with a few minor additions will find a strong niche in my opinion.

  7. nscipione

    “…hack a blogging system in order to do the job.”

    I suppose the best example of “hack” job would be WordPress, which is pretty light-weight compared to some of the other bulky CMS alternatives like Joomla. But is it really a “hack” job if you just take advantage of WP “pages” instead of using “posts”? Not to mention the ease of integrating a blog (which many clients prefer to have).

    I use WordPress for just about all my projects, even if the client doesn’t specifically ask for a CMS. It’s extremely easy to build a theme around, there’s thousands of web 2.0 add-ons, and there is A LOT of support.

    I’m not fully against using an alternative, but I’d really need some convincing not to use WordPress which is free.

    @rachelandrew – Have you considered making Perch open source? It could prove to be more lucrative and help gain popularity.

  8. Evaluating options (whether Drupal or a lightweight CMS would work for any particular project) seems like it is exactly why a demo is needed. How else can one evaluate to make the decision without a very clear idea of what is possible and what is not? I like and use Drupal, however it is just such a huge task to configure properly. I would love to see something else pop-up in this lightweight CMS category that is quick to configure or retrofit to an existing site. I have tried a number of lightweight CMS offerings, including; CMS from scratch, Zimplit, NanoCMS, Cushy, CuteNews, etc. and they all had a number of drawbacks or shortcomings. Without the ability for clients to add new pages on some level, to me at least, there seems to already be offerings out there doing this for free – CMS from scratch comes to mind.

  9. Thanks for all the feedback – it’s really helpful. I’ll try and answer some of the questions.

    WYSIWYG – we’ve had a few suggestions. What is likely is that we’ll add some kind of mark-up editor into the regions that use Textile/Markdown etc. To make it easy for people to do bold, links and so on. I think that will come in a dot release (free of charge and with a simple upgrade for existing customers of course)

    We’ve been very keen not to create a reliance on JavaScript in the admin side – any kind of editor will require JavaScript which is fine but at a base level we want to make sure that the whole thing works well even if the editor doesn’t have JavaScript for some reason. So a mark-up editor would be an option not a requirement.

    Images – at the moment we don’t do resizing but this is definitely scheduled for a dot release pretty soon. It is something we want to do. One of the issues with this is to resize images requires GD or ImageMagick installed on the server, most shared hosts have one or the other though so it shouldn’t be an issue but it’s a decent chunk of work to make sure we can get this working really well on almost every server.

    New pages – we don’t have page creation. Perch isn’t that kind of tool. A lot of the complexity in a big CMS comes from managing new pages, navigation structures and so on. Perch is for those times you want to build a simple site but let the client edit some of the content. There are things like ExpressionEngine as Simon mentioned that are better suited to bigger content managing needs.

    We put up a bit more info about some of the more interesting Perch features such as Multiple item content regions and sharing content regions that may be of interest.

  10. @Troy Peterson – It might not be that technically difficult to implement a basic from of WYSIWYG for bolding, italics, etc. I kind of like the way it’s constrained at the moment, though – that way the client is less likely to break the design by doing something silly :) @Rachel – maybe you could look at adding basic WYSIWYG as an optional extra?

  11. @Darrin – Agreed that an online demo at would be a good idea. However, if you need that sort of functionality I think you’ll need to look at a more heavyweight CMS solution. Perch is good for those sites where you want to make a few areas editable by the client so they can make updates themselves without having to come back to you all the time. If you want them to be able to add new pages, resize images, etc, I would look at ExpressionEngine, Drupal, W etc..

  12. I too would like some sort of demo. The screenshots are not answering all the questions for me – is how hard is it for clients to new pages? can images be uploaded and added to posts? do they need to be sized? etc.

  13. I recently wrote an article about a much better alternative, Cushy CMS…with pretty much the same features, as well as lower upgrade fees to receive the little advantage Perch offers.

    Also, one of the comments on my blog told me of SurrealCMS, which is much cleaner, as well as fixed some minor bugs in Cushy CMS.

  14. I really like Cushy CMS but have been eagerly awaiting the release of Perch! Perch looks superb for those smaller client sites that only need a few parts to be editable. I can’t wait to try it out when a suitable client site comes up.

    Another big plus point for Perch is that it is brandable as part of the one off £35 payment which Cushy CMS charge a monthly fee for I believe.

    Because of this I can see Perch becoming very popular amongst web designers looking to give their clients a degree of control over sites without the need for a full blown CMS system.

    Well done Drew & Rachel!

  15. @rachel…
    Great idea! I’ve been waiting for someone to create something like CushyCMS but hosted… however I’m probably not going to be buy it right now… here’s why:

    1. There’s no WYSIWYG editor. A lot of clients want the ability to change simple things like text bolding, links, etc… not just the text. Most clients that need a lightweight product like this have little-to-no budget, so they want to do as much as possible.

    You may have an option for this, but see question #2…

    2. There’s no Demo or 30 Day Trial. As a solo designer, $50 is a little too steep to pay to “try something out” to see if it’s going to work or not.

    But, Great idea and keep it up! Us little guys need something like this.


  16. Perch sounds great – I initially thought “but this sounds like CushyCMS” so thanks Rachel for clarifying the nature of Perch.

    A hosted solution would make a lot of sense for some of my clients.

  17. Thanks for the review Simon – it’s great to see people starting to use Perch and to get feedback.

    @Craig Cushy CMS does the same sort of job however it’s a hosted product. The idea for Perch really came to us an an in-house need. We wanted something simple that was quick to set up yet didn’t mean making compromises with the quality of the site. One thing that is important to a lot of our clients is that software is on their server – rather than hosted elsewhere and that they don’t need to give away FTP details to a third party.

    Obviously having something you install on your server does mean you have to do some setup but we have put a lot of work into making it as easy as possible.

    @Ryan Detzel we’ve thought a lot about the trial/demo issue. We may well put a demo online of the admin however the admin is really what you can see on the screenshots, it’s very, very simple. The power of Perch is in the templating and the speed in which you can take a site from static to editable. You can only really see that by downloading and playing with the software yourself.

    We are trying to think up better ways of demonstrating Perch though. We’re web developers and usually sell services, so marketing a product is a new territory for us.