ExpressionEngine Developer’s Toolbox


While open-source CMS options like WordPress get a lot of attention from bloggers and designers, ExpressionEngine1 is a powerful, robust choice that many designers and clients would find more suitable to their needs. And as with the other CMS options, there are plenty of online resources for designers and developers who are working with ExpressionEngine. In this article you’ll find a helpful collection of resources to aid you in your work with EE.

For more CMS Toolboxes, see:

1. Tutorials

The EE community provides lots of tutorials for learning how to do just about anything in EE. Whether you’re brand new and don’t know where to start, or experienced and looking for some advanced techniques, there are existing resources to show you new things. Here is a look at a sampling of the tutorials that are available.

1.1 Beginner Tutorials

Installation Instructions4
Install EE in six steps.

An Introduction to ExpressionEngine5
A solid starting point that gives you all the basics of building a website with EE.

Intro to EE6

First Steps in ExpressionEngine7
A good beginner’s guide, with explanations on the basics of EE.

Categories and Paths in ExpressionEngine8
A look at the URL structure created by EE by default.

URL structure in EE9

Quick Start Tutorial10
A beginner’s tutorial from EE that is intended to help new users get up and running quickly.

1.2 Building Websites

Building a Small Business Website11
A 17-part tutorial series that takes you through the entire process of building a website with EE from start to finish (also available in book format).

Building a small site with EE12

Building a Church Site13
A 27-part tutorial series on building a church website with a blog, an events calendar, photos and more.

Building a church site with EE14

Creating Custom Listings with ExpressionEngine15
Darren Hoyt looks at some problems with creating manageable websites for clients and shows how EE can help, as compared to WordPress (see parts 116 and 217).

Creating custom listings18

1.3 Working with Audio

Powering an Audio Archive with ExpressionEngine19
A tutorial on using custom fields to power an audio archive.

ExpressionEngine Podcasting20
This tutorial shows the process of publishing a podcast with EE with the help of a plug-in.

1.4 Image Galleries and Slideshows

Monoslideshow and EE Gallery21
This tutorial will help you set up a Flash slideshow on your EE website.

EE gallery22

Member Photo Gallery in ExpressionEngine23
Display a gallery of photos uploaded by members of your website.

EE gallery24

1.5 Working with Blogs

The ExpressionEngine Phase of My New Blog25
Veerle takes us through three features of her blog: the header, the related links and the archives.

EE blogs26

Add FeedBurner to ExpressionEngine27
A fairly simple tutorial for EE users who want to use FeedBurner to publish their feed.

FeedBurner for EE28

AJAX Archives in ExpressionEngine29
Add some JavaScript to the standard archives.

AJAX archives30

How was Converted to EE31
This post provides the details on and tons of code examples for Khoi Vinh’s Subtraction.com32.

Subtraction to EE33

1.6 Navigation

Dynamic CSS Navigation Highlighting with ExpressionEngine34
A quick tutorial on making the category menu auto-highlight.

Highlight menu35

ExpressionEngine and Suckerfish Menu36
A tutorial on adding a vertical drop-down menu.

Suckerfish menu37

Auto Navigation Highlighting in ExpressionEngine38
Another look at the subject of highlighting the current navigation item.

Highlight navigation39

1.7 Other Tutorials

These tutorials don’t fit into one of the main categories.

No-Module-Required Static Content in ExpressionEngine40
Looking to build a website with static content? Some popular modules are options but are not necessary.

Static EE content41

PayPal Options and ExpressionEngine’s Simple Commerce Module42
A tutorial on building a more flexible shopping cart than is possible with just the Simple Commerce Module.

PayPal and EE43

Easy Contact Form Validation in ExpressionEngine44
A tutorial on improving the standard validation of forms in EE.

Valid EE forms45

Secure Downloads in ExpressionEngine46
Learn how to create a secure area of your website where you can share files with users.

Secures sites with EE47

Build an iPhone Template for ExpressionEngine48
Create a template specifically for iPhone users.

EE and the iPhone49

A Simple ExpressionEngine Search Page50
A tutorial on setting up a search function on your EE website.

A blog with a lot of short posts that answer questions from EE users and developers.

1.8 General Tutorials/Articles

These articles should help you improve the results of your work with EE. If you’re new to EE, they’ll serve as a good foundation for your work, and if you’re experienced, they serve as a helpful refresher.

ExpressionEngine Top Ten Tips52
Simon Collison presents a two-part series with his tips on getting the most out of EE (see parts 153 and 254).

Working Smarter with ExpressionEngine55
Another helpful article from Simon Collison on improving your experience with EE.

Work smarter with EE56

2. Advanced Training

For those who are serious about learning how to build websites with EE, these two resources will provide added learning, if you’re willing to pay for the content. You may be able to find some of this information elsewhere for free, but these courses could save you some time.

Train-ee offers screencasts and books for purchase and some free tutorials (several were featured earlier in this article).


Building a Dynamic Website with ExpressionEngine59
A 12-part video tutorial series (each part costs $5) that includes sections on adding a membership website, preparing a website for clients and more.

Video series for EE60

3. Modules/Plug-ins/Extensions

Much like WordPress, Drupal and other CMS platforms, EE’s out-of-the-box functionality can be adapted and expanded by developers. There is a wide variety of available modules, plug-ins and extensions for EE users.

10 ExpressionEngine Production Add-Ons61
A list of 10 add-ons to improve productivity with EE.

10 add-ons for EE62

Tome (Static Pages)63
This module gives you the ability to create WordPress-style static pages.


Pages Module65
Another option for using static pages with EE.

Pages module66

Repeet is a plug-in that allows users to simulate repeating events in a template.

A module for integrating your Flickr photo stream in your website.

File Manager Module69
Improves file handling and the uploading process and functionality.

Allows you to automatically log website visitors in from any template without having to collect details from them.


Loop Plug-in72
Perform loops in any template without enabling or using PHP.

Loop Plugin73

LG Twitter74
Post tweets from your EE control panel.

The popular WordPress anti-spam plug-in can be used for EE as well.

Simple Pagination Plug-in76
Improve the core functionality of pagination by separating content into multiple pages without requiring the use of multiple fields.

Simple pagination77

LG TinyMCE78
Add a TinyMCE WYSIWYG editor to EE.

LG Social Bookmarks79
There are a lot of WordPress plug-ins that enable you to add social media icons to posts. This is a similar extension for EE.

Multi Dropdown List80
An extension for creating drop-down lists.

Dropdown lists81

An add-on for redirecting users from old URLs to new ones.


Fight comment spam with a CAPTCHA for comments.


First Timer86
Gives you control over the page that members are directed to following their log-in.

TextMate ExpressionEngine Bundle87
If you use TextMate and EE together, this can help you distinguish the EE markup. Not really a plug-in or module but a helpful download that can improve your development with EE and that doesn’t have a place anywhere else on this list.

TextMate and EE bundle88

4. Official Resources

The ExpressionEngine website89 contains many resources for designers and developers. These resources may be a good starting point for you, or you could bookmark them to return in future when you’re looking for a solution to a problem.

ExpressionEngine Blog90
Stay up to date on EE through the official blog.

EE blog91

Knowledge Base92
The Knowledge Base has a wealth of information that is well categorized for ease of use.


ExpressionEngine User Guide94
All of the official documentation for EE.

ExpressionEngine Wiki95
Learn from others or contribute your own knowledge to the official wiki.

ExpressionEngine Forums96
Get help on your problems from other EE developers, or give back by answering questions of others.

Dissecting the Default Templates97
If you’re new to EE, you’ll need to learn how the template system works.

Template system98

5. Galleries and Showcases

EE can be used to power just about any type of website or blog, large or small, and any design can be used on the EE platform. Still, it’s nice to see what others are doing with websites powered by EE.

Showcase from ExpressionEngine99
The official website of EE includes a categorized showcase of plenty of great EE websites. The gallery even includes interviews with some of the designers and developers.

EE Showcase100

CMS Showcase101
The EE category here has plenty of EE inspiration.

CSS Glance102
The EE category here currently has 25 websites on display.

6. Compared to Other CMS Options

Wondering how EE stacks up against other CMS platforms? Here are some links to opinions of other users and articles that analyze the platforms’ strengths and weaknesses.

ExpressionEngine vs. TextPattern103
An article from HicksDesign weighing the pros and cons.

Switching Mindsets: From WordPress to ExpressionEngine104
A comparison from an experienced WordPress developer.

EE vs. WP105

WordPress vs. Drupal vs. ExpressionEngine: Which Blog Software Should I Use?106
This post examines some of the pros and cons of each, more from a blogger’s perspective.

Better than MovableType? ExpressionEngine Launches the Challenge107
A detailed look at EE from a new user.

7. Themes

If you’re used to working with WordPress, the EE theme system is a bit different. You won’t find as many themes available, but really any HTML/CSS design can be used with EE. Many users find a free CSS-based template or buy a premium one, and then have it converted to include the EE tags. Although there aren’t as many resources for themes, there are some, including control panel themes. Here are a few popular resources:

ExpressionEngine Theme Gallery108
The official EE website has a gallery that currently includes more than 25 themes to download.

Fresh Theme for EE109
A popular theme based on the old theme of Bartelme Design.

Fresh theme110

Control Panel Themes111
The EE website also includes six different themes you can use to adjust the look of your control panel.

Green n Blue112
A control panel theme from Mark Boulton.

Green n Blue theme113

ExpressionEngine Control Panel Theme114
Another control panel theme, this one from Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain.

EE control panel theme115



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Steven Snell is a Web designer and blogger. In addition to maintaining his own blog and writing for a number of other top design blogs, he also manages an online shop that offers premium graphic design resources.

  1. 1

    This is a very helpful toolbox. Full of very helpful info. Thank you :)

  2. 52

    Awesome list. Lots of nice stuff. Hope to see more for this wonderful CMS.

    Free 3 column layout based on the default templates

    Free 2 column layout in gray

    Slide Show Pro Integration

  3. 103

    Thanks to everyone who added some helpful links in the comments. Sorry if anything was left out that really should have been included.

  4. 154

    I posted a short writeup on how to create a one page photoblog using the free ExpressionEngine Core: Hopefully someone can use it somehow.

  5. 205

    Yeah!!! EE :) Love it

  6. 256

    WordPress fine, Joomla great, other CMSs whatever flips your boat…EE isn’t quite open source, but neither is my Mac. I wouldn’t be nearly as productive without them both. This list shows much of the community energy that has gathered around EE the past couple of years, and it’s a tremendous resource for those of us who use it. Thanks Smashing!

  7. 307

    I can’t believe some readers here are comparing EE to WordPress. They are not even close. EE is far superior, and worth every penny.

  8. 358

    Mark @ Alchemy United

    October 31, 2008 3:09 am

    @atxanne “I guess I just don’t see how this product is even comparable to WordPress since its corporate software.”

    You’re correct – they really don’t compare. EE is a true CMS in that it separates the content from page. WP, etc have their place but creating a page and being able to edit it isn’t really “content management”. That said, I’ve used both and like both, but for different reasons.

  9. 409

    @mike I dont see an evangelist! And I don´t know who want to sell you a license.
    Had you never been so impressed by an Product that you just love it? Anything? Any many people with a little bit KnowHow just like ExpressionEngine and prefer it.

    @comparing: surly you can compare both systems, because with both you achive the same goal: creating a website with many features. But as I said – Systems like Joomla and WordPress are a bit like LEGO. You put one LEGO over the next and build out your Site. With EE you can go much more into Detail. Sure you can take the word as it is written “Content Managment”, and say that WP isn´t really a System to manage Content. But that doens´t matter at all, as long you can manage your Website. It´s just a different approach.

    I think the best way is to think first what you want to create: Just a Blog? Or a Company Website? A Community, or maybe a Photo/Video Gallery. Is it for a Client? Which sort of Client?
    And after you have all this Info you can decide which system will be used as best.

  10. 460

    Expression Engine offers a great flexibility when it comes to layout and design. If you know HTML (CSS), you just need to dedicate a day or two to learn EE and you’ll be able to create a dynamic website with virtually any layout you can imagine – the templating system is very flexible.

    Anyway I have to say – it’s too flexible, and it lets you too much choice in my opinion. I did 3 projects with EE, and I started a new one with Drupal. Drupal is free, has a lot of extensions, you might spend 3 days instead of 2 to learn it, but the clue is – drupal gives you much much more functionality than EE. As I see it, it gives you the same options in terms of configurable content types (i.e. custom fields in EE). The difference is that Drupal additionally gives you a Views module which let’s you “click’n’save” what you want to display on page. In EE, you need to hardcode everything into templates. If you need to customize the look and feel, with Drupal you get pretty much the same flexibility as with EE by using modules like Contemplate and others.

    Just an example: Multilingual site is a quite a problem for EE – Drupal copes with that easily. Or try to implement user-submitted locations visualized in Google maps with Drupal and EE. I can’t imagine doing it in EE without programming skills and using some third party framework. In Drupal, you just install Mapedelic modules, configure Views to display the content just the way you need it. See example here:

    What I think is most challenging with drupal is the steep learning curve. In order to have the same flexibility as with EE, you’ll need to install CCK module, Views module, Content templates module, possibly others. But the point is still there – EE is basic, Drupal is complex, but still SEO friendly, configurable, perfectly user-driven etc.

  11. 511

    You know you’re becoming more successful when the haters start showing up. Folks, if you don’t like EE, do you really have to go out of your way to announce it? It seems petty and immature. I’m sure you realize that people are going to make up their own minds regardless of what you have to say.

    To try to bring these comments back on track – Steven, it looks like a lot of work went into this, thank you for compiling this set of links! It’s incredibly helpful. Also, thank you Smashing Magazine for publishing this.

  12. 562

    Thanks a lot for this post, it’s highly appreciated.

  13. 613

    @James Springer – I didn’t say I don’t like EE, I think it’s a great software. No doubt it’s better than WordPress or Joomla for many tasks. I just wrote what my experience is, and I believe it may be helpful for others as well. So no, James, I’m not petty nor immature, I’m just posting my opinion :-)

  14. 664

    I have published over 20 ExpressionEngine extensions over on my site. Check them out!

  15. 715
  16. 766

    @Martin i don’t think @James Springer was referring to your post. All valid opinions are welcome, and after reading your post, I’m gonna play with Drupal to see if I can understand it. I’m not a php guy so it make take a while :)

  17. 817

    This is fantastic! Absolutely fantastic!

  18. 868

    I’ve always wanted to try ExpressionEngine – just to see how it fares with WordPress or Drupal. I know a couple of excellent sites that use it (like Veerle’s Blog). Anyone got any experience with EE?

  19. 919

    Thanks for posting this article, I’m on the process of developing my own expression engine based blog

  20. 970

    Thanks … its very very great EE resource

  21. 1021

    Great as always thanks.

  22. 1072

    @Martin – Actually, I really enjoyed your comment. No harm, no foul. :)

  23. 1123

    A very very useful resource.
    Thank you for taking the time to put it together.

  24. 1174

    Howdy Y’all! ExpressionEngine is awesome. I got started by going to Mike Boyink’s Trainee course in Holland, MI. I highly recommend it to get over the initial hump in the learning curve.

  25. 1225

    From traffic to (thanks for including it here), I see that people are still visiting this page. But it’s now over a year old, and section 3, Modules/Plug-ins/Extensions, is quite outdated.

    The first link in that section should be, I think, Second, the extension adds an important new layer to EE and will be part of v2.

    Also, since you listed the TextMate ExpressionEngine bundle: to work with remote EE sites as TextMate projects, try the combination of and

  26. 1276

    I agree with your impression of EE on first glance…I started with WP, but found it to limited and always had to force clients design, and functionality needs into the WP model. I like EE more now because I can design everything then add in the CMS around my design and I have to admit the support is awesome. It really depends what kind of solutions you want to offer. I have to admit, I can still spot a WP site the first 5 seconds I land on it. I wanted to have CMS work around me instead of the other way around. Just my 2.

  27. 1327

    I couldn’t resist…after checking-out your link…It says it all…

  28. 1378

    What is the seo advantages of expression engine over wordpress of which matts cutts from google said wordpress is 90% seo optimized before you start building a website

  29. 1429

    I’d have to give carte blanche with you on this. Which is not something I typically do! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to speak my mind!

  30. 1480

    We’ve seen growing interest in pairing ExpressionEngine with Rackspace’s Cloud Servers hosting. This is really quite good for a staging or development environment. I wrote an article on installing ExpressionEngine on the Rackspace Cloud if anyone is looking into it.

  31. 1531

    Hello, Neat post. There’s a problem with your website in web explorer, might check this? IE nonetheless is the marketplace leader and a big part of people will miss your excellent writing because of this problem.

  32. 1582


    Could you please explain with an example of using a simple contact form validations using expression engine… I am in need of urgent about solution thanks in advance


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