Middleman vs. Refinery CMS: A Comprehensive Comparison for Your Content Management Needs

Middleman vs. Refinery CMS: A Comprehensive Comparison for Your Content Management Needs


Welcome to our in-depth comparison guide between Middleman and Refinery CMS! If you're a digital leader or decision-maker looking for a powerful and flexible Content Management System (CMS), you've come to the right place. In this guide, we'll explore the key features and capabilities of both Middleman and Refinery CMS to help you make an informed decision based on your organization's needs and requirements. Let's dive in and compare these popular CMS options.

Foundations of CMS

Both Middleman and Refinery CMS are efficient and reliable content management systems that can handle complex website projects. However, they differ in their foundation and technology stack.

Middleman is a static site generator that focuses on simplicity and speed. It leverages technologies like Ruby and Markdown to transform your content into static HTML pages. This makes Middleman ideal for small to medium-sized websites that don't require frequent content updates. It excels in performance, security, and scalability.

On the other hand, Refinery CMS is a Ruby on Rails-based system that provides a more traditional CMS experience. It offers a dynamic and database-driven approach, making it suitable for larger websites and applications that require real-time content management and frequent updates. Refinery CMS is known for its intuitive admin interface and extensibility.

So, when considering the foundations of both CMS options, Middleman shines in performance and security, while Refinery CMS offers more flexibility and real-time content management capabilities.

Design & User Experience

The design and user experience are crucial aspects of any CMS, as they directly impact how content is presented and managed on the website. Middleman and Refinery CMS offer different approaches in this area.

Middleman provides complete flexibility when it comes to design and user experience. As a static site generator, it allows you to use any front-end framework or templating language of your choice. You have full control over the design, layout, and interactions of your website. This makes Middleman an excellent choice for designers and developers who seek creative freedom.

Refinery CMS, being a more traditional CMS, offers a user-friendly admin interface for content management tasks. The interface is intuitive and straightforward, making it accessible for non-technical users. There are pre-built templates and themes available, allowing quick customization without diving into code. Refinery CMS strikes a balance between customization and ease of use.

Ultimately, the choice between Middleman and Refinery CMS in terms of design and user experience will depend on the specific needs and preferences of your team and organization.

Content Management

When it comes to content management, both Middleman and Refinery CMS offer powerful and flexible capabilities. However, they differ in their approach and target audience.

Middleman excels at managing static content. It allows you to create and organize your content using Markdown or other markup languages. You have control over the structure and hierarchy of your content, making it straightforward to build complex sites. However, content updates require rebuilding the entire site, which may not be suitable for websites that require frequent changes.

Refinery CMS, on the other hand, provides a dynamic content management experience. You can create and update content in real-time using a user-friendly admin interface. It offers features like versioning, multi-language support, and media management, making it a suitable choice for content-heavy websites or organizations that rely on real-time content updates. Refinery CMS streamlines the content management process for non-technical users.

Ultimately, the choice between Middleman and Refinery CMS for content management will depend on the nature of your website or application. If you prioritize real-time content updates, Refinery CMS is a solid choice. If you have a smaller site with less frequent content updates, Middleman provides simplicity and performance benefits.

Collaboration & User Management

Collaboration and user management play a crucial role in ensuring smooth workflows and efficient content creation. Both Middleman and Refinery CMS have features to facilitate collaboration and user management.

Middleman, being a static site generator, does not have built-in user management capabilities. It is primarily focused on generating static HTML pages based on your content. However, you can integrate Middleman with other systems, such as authentication providers or CMS platforms, to handle user management and collaboration needs.

Refinery CMS, on the other hand, provides robust user management and collaboration features out of the box. It allows you to create user accounts with different roles and permissions, ensuring that each team member has access to the necessary features and content areas. This makes it easier to collaborate on content creation, review, and publication workflows.

With Refinery CMS, you can define user roles and assign specific permissions to control who can create, edit, or publish content. This helps maintain content integrity and ensures that only authorized individuals can make changes. Additionally, Refinery CMS offers versioning and revision history features, making it easy to track changes and roll back if necessary.

When it comes to collaboration and user management, Refinery CMS provides a comprehensive solution, especially for larger teams and organizations. However, if you only require basic user management and plan to integrate Middleman with other systems, it can still be a viable option.

Performance, Scalability, & Hosting

Performance, scalability, and hosting are critical considerations for any CMS, as they directly impact the user experience and the ability to handle increased website traffic and content demands. Let's compare Middleman and Refinery CMS in these areas.

Middleman, as a static site generator, offers excellent performance due to its ability to generate static HTML pages. These pages can be delivered quickly to users without the need for processing or database queries. This makes Middleman highly performant, especially under heavy traffic loads.

However, Middleman's static nature may pose scalability challenges for websites with frequent content updates or large content volumes. As the entire site needs to be rebuilt with each content change, it may not be the most efficient solution when it comes to scaling a content-intensive website.

Refinery CMS, being a dynamic CMS, can handle larger content volumes and frequent updates more efficiently. It leverages a database to store and retrieve content, allowing real-time updates without the need to regenerate the entire site. This makes Refinery CMS better suited for websites that require frequent content changes or have extensive content databases.

In terms of hosting, Middleman can be hosted on any static hosting provider or even deployed to a content delivery network (CDN) for optimized performance and global availability. Refinery CMS, being a Rails-based CMS, requires a host that supports Ruby on Rails applications.

When considering performance, scalability, and hosting options, Middleman excels in performance but may require additional considerations for scalability. Refinery CMS, on the other hand, provides better scalability and is suitable for content-intensive websites but may require specific hosting requirements.

Customization, Extensions, & Ecosystem

SEO, Marketing, & Monetization

Security & Compliance

Migration, Support, & Maintenance


After a detailed comparison between Middleman and Refinery CMS, it's clear that both CMS options have distinct advantages and use cases. Middleman excels in performance, simplicity, and security, making it ideal for smaller websites with less frequent content updates. On the other hand, Refinery CMS provides a more traditional CMS experience with real-time content management capabilities, making it suitable for larger websites and organizations that require frequent content changes and collaborative workflows.

Consider your organization's specific needs, budget, and technical capabilities when choosing between Middleman and Refinery CMS. If you value performance, simplicity, and control over design, Middleman may be the way to go. If real-time content management, collaboration, and user-friendly interfaces are key requirements, Refinery CMS offers a comprehensive solution. Both CMS options have thriving communities and support ecosystems, ensuring ongoing development and maintenance.

Ultimately, the right CMS choice for your organization will depend on your unique requirements and goals. We hope this comparison guide has provided valuable insights to help you make an informed decision. Good luck with your CMS selection process!


Martin Dejnicki
Martin Dejnicki

Martin is a digital product innovator and pioneer who built and optimized his first website back in 1996 when he was 16 years old. Since then, he has helped many companies win in the digital space, including Walmart, IBM, Rogers, Canada Post, TMX Group and TD Securities. Recently, he worked with the Deploi team to build an elegant publishing platform for creative writers and a novel algorithmic trading platform.