Armadillo | Nimblehost | $39.97

When Joe Workman’s Tumblr stack looked as though it was nearing the end of its life we were encouraged to explore other, self-hosted blogging options; this led us to Armadillo – a venerable add-on by Rapidweaver standards with a good number of devoted fans on the forums – and we thought we’d take it for a spin. Here’s what happened.

Unlike most stacks you purchase, you can’t just jump in and start using Armadillo. First you have to set it up.

Once you’ve installed the suite of Armadillo stacks and added the main stack to a Stacks page,  you’ll need to log into your hosting account and set up a mySQL database. This sounds scary – and can be, depending on your host and hosting package; some skip over the useful info that you need, others tuck it away in unlikely places, and some of the real cheapies make you pay extra to create a database in the first place. We set Armadillo up on both Chillidog and Littleoak hosting and both times it was painless.

Next, you have to publish the site, then navigate to the page where the main Armadillo stack resides and finish the setup from there – this involves linking it to the mySQL database and then creating an admin account for the blog, complete with password and recovery email address. Finally, you configure your time zone and language and you’ve completed the installation.

Now you need to log in using the details you just set up and create your first blog – Armadillo calls this a ‘page’ – giving it a name and content ID. Once you’ve done that, you flip back to Rapidweaver and start adding the various blog-related stacks to your site. The ones you really need are the Blog stack (which is where your blog posts will appear) the Blog Navigation stack (this displays your tags, categories, RSS feed and so on) and blog Login link stack (which allows you to log into Armadillo online). There are other stacks included in the suite (see below) but those are the crucial ones. After that, you can publish your site, go back online, log into Armadillo and create your first post.

We’ve laboured through the setup process for a reason – compared with most stacks you buy, Armadillo takes time  to set up, but that’s because it’s a complicated product that does a complicated job. Once installed, it allows you to add blog posts to your website from any web browser, using any device. This is pretty cool in itself, but Armadillo has plenty more tricks up its electronic sleeve.

You can have multiple blogs on the same website – just add another one, give it a new ID, add the relevant stacks and off you go. This isn’t something that everyone requires, but if you need the functionality, then it’s baked in. You can also allow multiple users to edit the same blog. There are three types of user – Admin, Editor and Contributor – each with different levels of access; editors for example, can create, edit and delete content for all users while contributors can only work on their own content. It’s a very powerful, easy to use system that opens up all sorts of blogging possibilities for bigger companies or large departments who need to have varying degrees of access to different blogs.

Armadillo gives you plenty of control over how your blog behaves so for example, you can use a plain text, rich text or Markdown editor to create content, add custom CSS to make fine adjustments to the look and feel, limit the number of failed login attempts before lockdown, backup to DropBox and define whether to display the Login link (this is simply a link called ‘Login’) or hide it behind a URL *a la* WordPress. Each blog can be customised to display tags and categories, an RSS feed, hide or display Disqus comments, author name, and how the summary, pagination and archival information is displayed. It’s sophisticated and produces highly professional results. The back end is nice to use as well – it feels solid and well put together.

Along with the stacks described above, Armadillo also includes a Sidebar stack for adding content to the sidebar and a Headlines stack which can display the first few lines of your most recent posts – which makes it ideal for news headlines on the front page of your site. Finally, you get a Solo Content stack which allows you to create individual, editable elements which can be dropped onto different pages so users can add straightforward text and picture elements – it’s like a very simple content management system. Add to that the legacy Page and Menu stacks – mainly required by users of older versions – and you have the complete package.

For us, setting up and using Armadillo was not without issues. While we were able to create a good-looking blog, editable from anywhere, we also came across some problems we couldn’t resolve on our own. The two most obvious were duplicate entries that appeared as soon as our blog grew long enough to need a ‘Display more posts’ button and our inability to create Sidebar content no matter how we tried to set up the provided stack; the duplicate entry issue turned out to be a .js conflict with the theme we were using, but we never did get to the bottom of the sidebar thing. We also found the built-in lightbox confusing and felt that the documentation needed to be clearer on the distinction between an image link and an image referenced remotely using the *img src* HTML tag.

Armadillo has a legion of happy users however, and is a tremendously powerful suite of stacks for providing a sophisticated blog, editable from anywhere by lots of different users for a one-off price that can be used on as many sites as you like. This makes Armadillo a great option for anyone who needs a self-hosted blog that remains completely under their control and doesn’t rely on any external services.

Rob Beattie

Rob Beattie is a freelance copywriter who designs sites using Rapidweaver. He's been reviewing computer hardware, software and web services since 1981. Yes...that long. And he's also the author of 101 Things to Do in a Shed, Fishing: A Very Peculiar History, and The Bluffer's Guide to Fishing.