Core Concepts

If you are still new to Contao, the Contao manual is the best place to start in order to familiarize yourself with the possibilities of managing a web site using the Contao Content Management System.

The following section provides an overview on the possibilities of customizing & extending Contao in various ways for your web application.

Data Container Arrays & Models

Data Container Arrays (DCA for short) are a key concept of the Contao framework. The management of any record within the Contao CMS is usually described via so called Data Container Arrays. It is possible to create custom DCAs as well as extending or altering existing ones.

Models are object representations of any DCA record, while Collections are object representations of a collection of such Models. Models can be used to create, load and change these records. They usually also provide convenient functions for loading records according to a specific set of parameters.

Front End Modules

Front end modules are used for any type of complex functionality on specific pages or specific places on a page of your website managed by Contao. Simple examples are login forms, displaying news entries, showing a navigation etc.

Content Elements

While any data record can hold information for content to be displayed in the front end, another key concept of Contao is the usage of Content elements for arbitrary and more complex content. The content of regular static pages of Contao’s site structure is managed via individual content elements, as well as the detailed content of news entries for example.


Contao uses its own PHP templating engine with inheritance support. The output of any front end matter is usually generated via templates. Modules, entity elements, sections, content elements, form fields, etc. all have their own template. Templates can be overridden on an application level and often several different versions of a template can be chosen.

Assets & Images

Contao has full support for responsive images and supports a wide variety of image processing techniques and libraries, including the basic GD lib for PHP as well as Imagick and Gmagick.


Another important concept for customizing your Contao based web application are so called Hooks. They allow you to modify certain aspects of the processes within Contao. There are many different hooks placed throughout the Contao code base (see the reference).


Your web application’s functionality can easily be extended by installing one or more of the many available extensions for Contao. A Contao extension is basically a Symfony bundle that you can load into your Symfony application - or will be automatically loaded in the Contao Managed Edition. See the article on getting started with creating an extension on how to create an extension for Contao.

Insert Tags

Insert Tags are special tokens that will be replaced with other content in the front end before it is sent to the client. They can be used anywhere and thus allow for dynamically generated content in any place. Contao brings its own set of available Insert Tags, however it is possible to register your own Insert Tags as well.