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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 Link

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 Link

Installation Instructions4
Install EE in six steps.

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

Intro to EE

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

Categories and Paths in ExpressionEngine5
A look at the URL structure created by EE by default.

URL structure in EE6

Quick Start Tutorial7
A beginner’s tutorial from EE that is intended to help new users get up and running quickly.

1.2 Building Websites Link

Building a Small Business Website8
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 EE9

Building a Church Site10
A 27-part tutorial series on building a church website with a blog, an events calendar, photos and more.

Building a church site with EE11

Creating Custom Listings with ExpressionEngine
Darren Hoyt looks at some problems with creating manageable websites for clients and shows how EE can help, as compared to WordPress (see parts 1 and 2).

Creating custom listings

1.3 Working with Audio Link

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

ExpressionEngine Podcasting12
This tutorial shows the process of publishing a podcast with EE with the help of a plug-in.

1.4 Image Galleries and Slideshows Link

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

EE gallery

Member Photo Gallery in ExpressionEngine13
Display a gallery of photos uploaded by members of your website.

EE gallery14

1.5 Working with Blogs Link

The ExpressionEngine Phase of My New Blog15
Veerle takes us through three features of her blog: the header, the related links and the archives.

EE blogs16

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

FeedBurner for EE

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

AJAX archives

How was Converted to EE17
This post provides the details on and tons of code examples for Khoi Vinh’s Subtraction.com18.

Subtraction to EE19

1.6 Navigation Link

Dynamic CSS Navigation Highlighting with ExpressionEngine20
A quick tutorial on making the category menu auto-highlight.

Highlight menu21

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

Suckerfish menu

Auto Navigation Highlighting in ExpressionEngine22
Another look at the subject of highlighting the current navigation item.

Highlight navigation23

1.7 Other Tutorials Link

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

No-Module-Required Static Content in ExpressionEngine24
Looking to build a website with static content? Some popular modules are options but are not necessary.

Static EE content25

PayPal Options and ExpressionEngine’s Simple Commerce Module26
A tutorial on building a more flexible shopping cart than is possible with just the Simple Commerce Module.

PayPal and EE27

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

Valid EE forms

Secure Downloads in ExpressionEngine28
Learn how to create a secure area of your website where you can share files with users.

Secures sites with EE29

Build an iPhone Template for ExpressionEngine30
Create a template specifically for iPhone users.

EE and the iPhone31

A Simple ExpressionEngine Search Page32
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 Link

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 Tips34
Simon Collison presents a two-part series with his tips on getting the most out of EE (see parts 135 and 236).

Working Smarter with ExpressionEngine37
Another helpful article from Simon Collison on improving your experience with EE.

Work smarter with EE38

2. Advanced Training Link

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 ExpressionEngine41
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 EE42

3. Modules/Plug-ins/Extensions Link

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-Ons
A list of 10 add-ons to improve productivity with EE.

10 add-ons for EE

Tome (Static Pages)43
This module gives you the ability to create WordPress-style static pages.


Pages Module45
Another option for using static pages with EE.

Pages module46

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 Module
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-in50
Perform loops in any template without enabling or using PHP.

Loop Plugin51

LG Twitter52
Post tweets from your EE control panel.

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

Simple Pagination Plug-in54
Improve the core functionality of pagination by separating content into multiple pages without requiring the use of multiple fields.

Simple pagination55

LG TinyMCE56
Add a TinyMCE WYSIWYG editor to EE.

LG Social Bookmarks57
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 List58
An extension for creating drop-down lists.

Dropdown lists59

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


Fight comment spam with a CAPTCHA for comments.


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

TextMate ExpressionEngine Bundle60
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 bundle61

4. Official Resources Link

The ExpressionEngine website62 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 Blog63
Stay up to date on EE through the official blog.

EE blog64

Knowledge Base65
The Knowledge Base has a wealth of information that is well categorized for ease of use.


ExpressionEngine User Guide67
All of the official documentation for EE.

ExpressionEngine Wiki68
Learn from others or contribute your own knowledge to the official wiki.

ExpressionEngine Forums69
Get help on your problems from other EE developers, or give back by answering questions of others.

Dissecting the Default Templates70
If you’re new to EE, you’ll need to learn how the template system works.

Template system71

5. Galleries and Showcases Link

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 ExpressionEngine72
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 Showcase73

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

CSS Glance74
The EE category here currently has 25 websites on display.

6. Compared to Other CMS Options Link

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. TextPattern75
An article from HicksDesign weighing the pros and cons.

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

EE vs. WP

WordPress vs. Drupal vs. ExpressionEngine: Which Blog Software Should I Use?76
This post examines some of the pros and cons of each, more from a blogger’s perspective.

Better than MovableType? ExpressionEngine Launches the Challenge77
A detailed look at EE from a new user.

7. Themes Link

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 Gallery78
The official EE website has a gallery that currently includes more than 25 themes to download.

Fresh Theme for EE79
A popular theme based on the old theme of Bartelme Design.

Fresh theme80

Control Panel Themes81
The EE website also includes six different themes you can use to adjust the look of your control panel.

Green n Blue
A control panel theme from Mark Boulton.

Green n Blue theme

ExpressionEngine Control Panel Theme82
Another control panel theme, this one from Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain.

EE control panel theme83


Footnotes Link

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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

    thanks a million ^^

  2. 2

    very nice

  3. 3

    Steve Jamesson

    October 29, 2008 4:02 pm

    Thanks for this! I have a new client interested in EE, and I’ve yet to dig into it too deeply. I’m sure this will be a valuable resource!

  4. 4

    Great and thanks

  5. 5


    October 29, 2008 4:29 pm

    great post… hopefully this will get me back in the mood to learn EE.

  6. 6

    Deron Sizemore

    October 29, 2008 4:41 pm

    Wonderful! Wish this would have been available a few years ago when I started using EE.

    Thanks for publishing my Form validation tutorial. ;)

  7. 7
  8. 8

    Holy moly! Now there’s a list. I think this will open a lot of people’s eyes to the awesomeness of ExpressionEngine and give those who haven’t gotten around to trying it some motivation.

  9. 9

    Tristan Bailey

    October 29, 2008 5:19 pm

    great list, and some new to me.

  10. 10

    Wow! realy nice.

  11. 11

    Hopefully this will entice more people away from their current CMS and towards ExpressionEngine!

  12. 12

    how about for CodeIgniter? EE is built on CI, and CI is open source…

    A reference like this for CI would be great – but thanks for this useful list!

  13. 13

    I used to use EE for my blog, but every time they released a newer version, the only way I was able to upgrade was to completely uninstall the current version from the server, and do a fresh installation. Whenever I tried their upgrade instructions, it never worked.

    Other than that I liked it just fine.

  14. 14

    Nice. Pay a bundle for all the things you get for free with WordPress. I’ll pass.

  15. 15

    Thanks for the big uber collection. I’ve been using EE for sometime now and still found useful links in this list.

  16. 16

    … you guys got paid for this right?

  17. 17

    This is awesome, I need to use this…..

  18. 18

    Thanks for sharing this list.

  19. 19

    CCNA Training Videos

    October 29, 2008 10:50 pm

    We tried expression engine on our blog ( and although I really like the concept, and I’m sure it’s powerful, the learning curve was just too great compared to WordPress. I was able to get things up and running in WP much faster than I was able to in EE, and there are so many, better, plugins (more than EE, at least ones I found useful).

    Best of all, WordPress is free and getting better all the time. With each new version it gets closer and closer to a true CMS. I really don’t see any reason to go with anything else, unless I had need for multiple blogs on a single site..

    Great post though, what an extensive list! If I had that starting out, perhaps I’d have a better overall opinion of EE.. (Not saying it’s not great, just wasn’t for me at the time).

  20. 20

    every time i learn a new thing.. in SM…
    thanks.. now i have to try this

  21. 21

    Some very cool stuff. Thanx a lot.

  22. 22


    October 30, 2008 12:23 am

    Jus loved this post with tonnes of resource and detailing.

  23. 23

    there are so many, better, plugins (more than EE, at least ones I found useful).

    Ah, the raw plugin count argument… Yes, there are more plugins for WP. That said, their quality varies wildly, and many, perhaps most of the things that you need a plugin for with WP come out of the box with EE. But, yes, EE is commercial software, and you get what you pay for. In the case of EE that’s high quality, secure code, very active development and (if I may toot my own horn here for a moment) world class support.

    I really don’t see any reason to go with anything else, unless I had need for multiple blogs on a single site..

    Or unlimited custom fields. Or a templating system that blows the competition out of the water. Or an integrated forum module. Or …. But whatever works for you, EE is certainly not the right tool for every job.

    Full disclosure: I am an EllisLab employee, but have used EE for years before, and these opinions are entirely my own.

  24. 24

    Curt Simon Harlinghausen

    October 30, 2008 12:33 am

    WOW. What a post. Now I know what
    I will read tonight . . .

    Thanks you are doing a great job.
    Keep the fire burning.

  25. 25

    This post is full of WIN

    I wish there was this much good stuff around when I was learning EE!

    Roll on V2.0

  26. 26

    Wow, that has to be the best list of links on EE ever ! Thanks !

  27. 27

    Great collection of EE resources! Thanks a lot!

  28. 28

    Very good! Could you guys do one of this articles for Joomla??

  29. 29

    thanks for all the usefull stuff ee is a must it doesn’t compared to wp or anything other for a complex site…
    does anybody knows when are they going to release the new version? ee 2.0

  30. 30

    Thanks for the great collection of links. Been wanting to get into EE for a while now, instead of hacking WP for everything. Just can’t bring myself to drop that much cash for something I may not like (yes I know there is a limited free version, but “limited” is the operative word).

  31. 31

    For everyone thinking that EE is so great and that you won’t have to do any additional work to get it to do things, test it first. A lot of features that you buy (e.g. newsletters) only do a small portion of what you’d want. Yes, there are plugins for most of this short comings – but then you might as well stay with WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc. Just my two sense.

  32. 32

    but “limited” is the operative word

    Actually the free version isn’t really missing that much. I use it often for non-profit websites.

  33. 33

    @Jeremy I would say that not being able to create and edit “pages” from the admin interface is a rather large omission.

    Anyway, my point was that I was able to learn all about WP by downloading unlimited copies to my HD and pulling it apart to understand exactly how it worked and how to make it do what I wanted. Then, armed with that knowledge I was able to offer it to prospective clients. I don’t see that possibility with EE without shelling out a substantial amount of cash.

  34. 34

    So if I want to use EE for personal use, I need to buy it for $100. Then if I decide I want to use it for a client, I’ll have to have them purchase it for $250. I guess I just don’t see how this product is even comparable to WordPress since its corporate software.

  35. 35

    @Mike: The Core version of EE is free and features nearly everything the personal and commercial versions offer – save for the “pages” module and I think a few other things.

    So, you could download it and play with it as much as you wanted.

  36. 36

    I’m creating my first EE website for my client at this very moment. Timing was perfect, thank you. I must say that I’m very happy with this product so far. It might take a while to understand the basics but I’d say it’s worth of every penny.

  37. 37


    October 30, 2008 6:42 am

    It’s worth every penny.

  38. 38

    So, you could download it and play with it as much as you wanted.

    save for the “pages” module and I think a few other things.

    My point exactly.

  39. 39

    Very cool article. I actually did a search recently on Smashing for some EE resources and couldn’t find any. So big thanks for putting these together!!

  40. 40

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

    I use both WordPress and ExpressionEngine and they both have their strong points, but WP is no way remotely as powerful or flexible of a CMS as EE.

    If you read some of the resources linked to in this post or experiment with the free version, you’ll see that in a lot of situations, it’s WordPress that doesn’t compare with EE. Custom Fields for example. If you’ve used WP’s custom fields, then you’re tapping into about 1% of what EE’s custom fields can do. WP is an extremely limited CMS, if you know what other CMS’s are capable of.


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