Alfresco vs KnowledgeTree – first look

In the OSS document management (DMS) space there are two primary choices: Alfresco and KnowledgeTree (KT). Other systems that do content management, like Plone or Drupal, are often suggested as DMSs, but in my opinion while they maybe great for managing websites they aren’t really designed for a business DMS.

The primary reason for a DMS over a file share is to improve the sharing and auditing of business documents. For this there are some key considerations:

  • Methods for easily organising and storing documents
  • Security and protection
  • Ability to add meta-data
  • Option to search inside documents
  • Version control and transaction tracking
  • A document work flow system

Both Alfresco and KT provide the above in their core feature sets for both their OSS and commercial packages. The second aspect which is important in the consideration of any new business application are:

  • Easy to maintain application
  • Easy for the workers to use application

There are a few other reviews out there, but nothing in depth. Since I’ve spent only a week installing and testing Alfresco and KT, this also is not a very detailed review of document management practice. For now this is purely my impressions of both installation and modeling future business practice.

Both Alfresco and KT provide all the primary functionality required to run a good business DMS. They both have the concepts of users, groups and roles; KT also providing the option for units. Users and document access can be managed with a scale of simple to complex protection options. Meta-data and global internal document search options are available. In KT versioning is on by default and with Alfresco it can be added easier by defining inheritable aspects against locations. Finally, both have solid work flow systems.

Short View:


  1. Java based CIFS server
  2. Document symlinks
  3. Inline previews
  4. Powerflow aspect and work flow functionality
  5. Good set of additional built-in language translations
  6. Strong methods for internal document conversion using aspects


  1. Lack of clear and up to date documentation
  2. Multiple XML files in several locations for configuration
  3. Pricing is not open
  4. Installation is a PITA
  5. Long term maintenance of a OSS installation could be an worry

Knowledge Tree

  1. Easy to install – 10 minutes
  2. Easy to configure and maintain
  3. Very good documentation
  4. Basics done well
  5. Seems to have a strong community


  1. Scalability
  2. UI could be more usable
  3. Additional translations provided by community and could be out of date
  4. Webdav access not ideal, requires buying commercial version for proprietary KTexplorer tool

Long View:

With a mind to the above, I’ll I intent to focus on three of the main differences between Alfresco and KT – Java vs PHP, CIFS vs Proprietary KTExplorer, and Extra Features.

Java vs PHP

A java application might naturally be considered more scalable than a php application. Not only in the perceived greater depth of clustering options, but with basic stuff like dealing with large files. While clustering is not something that I considered, Alfresco does have a cluster options in the commercial version. It might also be possible to use load balances to scale both Alfresco and KT, but again not part of my consideration. More importantly a basic part of scalability for a DMS is dealing with large files. Both Alfresco (java) and KT (php) work fine – in fact php aside I was able to upload a 100MB PDF to KT via both the web and ktexplorer interfaces.

The other aspect of a Java vs PHP application is maintenance – which is easier and and more flexibility? For an experienced sysadmin with good documentation, it is likely that neither is a concern. While a Java Application Servers (JAS) can require more time to management than similar LAMP system, JAS systems do run well – Zimbra being a classic example for both commercial and community versions. Lack of good documentation will kill the maintainability of any application and future system worry is a devil for any sysadmin.

In this case it is an important component of consideration.

For Alfresco the first stage installation to disk of the OSS version is straight forward. The commercial version requires an X gui, so I wasn’t able to try the evaluation version on my headless xen domain. The next step is less that a happy event, Alfresco is a PITA in the ass to configure. Documentation is not clear and fragmented, needing to the use of both google and forum trolling get a good handle on best practice. Issues I faced were: figuring out how to cleanly change the resource location (URL), dealing with keytool or using apache to get SSL working, running ports that seemed to be part of the new WCM system but with no way of turning them off or rebinding, and no clear process to set up Active Directories as an authentication provider. In fact the freely available documentation in general, was poor.

The biggest issue I discovered was changing the database from the embedded HSQL to Mysql.

Starting from a basic install of the OSS version, for a couple days I read the wiki documentation and trolled the forum building a list of practices so I was able run the system the way I needed – CIFS server and Apache proxy included. The next step was moving to Mysql. It should be noting that in both Alfresco and KT the database is used for indexes and application information, actual document files are stored in the file system.

Following the README.mysql, I changed the xml db config from HSQL to the Mysql driver. Alfresco then restarted broken. Later after log file googles, and a wiki/forum search that lack direction, I decided to try rebuilding the data repository. No luck.

So like any good sysadmin in that situation I gave up.

Getting nowhere after two days of work is never productive so I went on to the KT part of my investigation.

Later, I went back and did a clean reinstall of Alfresco. This time, before starting Alfresco I changed the config so it first started on Mysql rather than HSQL – this time it worked. But I was not happy.

Alfresco comes by default with HSQL in the OSS version, and it recommends that Mysql be used in production. I think that the commercial version comes setup with Mysql, but I haven’t tried it. Regardless of how the commercial version work, difficultly at this stage for a OSS version poses some concerns. The question I ask myself is comes backs to system trust – “what happens if I need to do some special?”. Special cases happen quite often with computers, lack of good documentation is the killer.

No matter how good or stable a application – if you can’t read it, you can’t fix it.

In contrast, KT installs the complete lamp – mysql, php and apache – system to disk. It took me only 10 minutes to get from thedownload to a running system – including the time to answer a few questions about system defaults. The main application system config.ini was well documented and easier to read and all of the application level configuration was done from within the web interface. Even Active Directories was easy. In about an hour I had a basic system running with a couple users, some made up test cases – ready for the acid test with my brother in China.

Quite a solid contrast.

CIFS vs Proprietary Explorer

The second aspect is CIFS vs KTExplorer. Alfresco has an in-built java based CIFS server derived from jlan. It works well, is straight forward to config and has a clever method was auto creating folder to web URLs and _checkin/out.exe shortcuts in the CIFS filesystem.

This is, I think, the biggest selling feature of Alfresco and is in both the OSS and commercial versions.

On the KT OSS side it has a php based webdav access. With safemode turned off, it is possible to use netdrive, webdrive or webfolders to access the KT system via a file explorer. It is not as easy to use a Alfresco, and although being well documented does not have complete functionality.

For the commercial version there is the proprietary protocol tool KTExplorer (KTE). It lacks some features, but the basics work well. For interacting with a large document set it is much easier to use than the web interface. It is not quite as easier to access as a CIFS system, but a good point to note is that during the above mentioned acid test to China my brother found KTE to be quite snappy. CIFS access over the vpn from China to file servers in NZ at times can be slow. Based on this test he thinks KTE will ofter him an improvements on his current work process.

Access the DMS via CIFS or KTE is an important decision point between Alfresco vs KT.

When you open to read a document in KTE it downloads it to My Documents\My KnowledgeTree Documents\Downloaded, when you check out to edit a document in KTE it puts them in My Documents\My KnowledgeTree Documents\CheckedOut and locks the version in the DMS. Depending on company policy this might actually be a better system than via a file explorer.

The often difficult aspect of training work process discipline is an important part in any decision on specific business tool use. Access via file explorer can make life too easier for workers, who then end up not using the DMS and leaving files in their personal My Documents. Being forced to interact via the thin wedge that KTE provides might make a difference in training good habits. In theory with Alfresco it is possible to take over My Documents via CIFS, this might lead to other issues with Windows.

The best option is to test each case yourself on the basis of how your document management culture functions.

Extra Features

The final aspect is the extras. KT has all the basic functionality: work flows, version control, global inside document searchs. Alfresco does have some useful extras: inline previews, a powerful aspect based control allowing – among other things – auto-transformation of documents, a complete (web) content management system, and – I think – a nicer web interface.

The usefulness of these features should be reviewed in context to each document culture.


Six months ago when I first started investigating a DMS, Alfresco was my top choice. After the last week of testing my view has changed. KT have a solid product for both the OSS and commercial versions. Their documentation is very clear with a good depth and their community seems quite active. While Alfresco is a very good product as well, their support of the OSS version is not convincing enough for me to consider their commercial package.

I still have a few questions to ask Jam Software, but for now the commercial version of KnowledgeTree is my likely choice.

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  1. Mark Said,

    August 15, 2007 @ 12:54 pm

    An interesting comparison. I wasn’t aware of KT but I’ll check it out.

    I’ve previously evaluated Alfresco and also ran into similar configuration problems. I found that the wiki was OK – not brilliant but enough information for me to try out various authentication options, switch databases, etc. I’ve previously commented on the Alfresco forum that the documentation is somewhat lacking. It’s a bit of a shame because other than that it’s a fantastic bit of kit.

    I’m intrigued to know what the differentiators were? Is it solely the documentation or are there features that you feel is unique to KT or implemented better? Right I’m off to download KT now 🙂

  2. stateless Said,

    August 15, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

    The rPath version KT is broken at the moment for Xen, I’ve been told that will be fixed shortly. Best to try the bitrock installer package which, as I said, does the install in 10 minutes. Simply rm -rf will remove this as well.

    For me, it does comes down to maintainability. ie. documentation. I think the functionality is sufficiently similar. A system that runs 10 people and 20,000 documents requires a level of trust. I’m happy in worse case I can php hack KT to handle any problem. One time I had to read the qmail code to figure a mail configuration error, so that does worry. Alfresco doesn’t seem to deal with this problem as effectively.

    Even if I did buy the commercial version of Alfresco, it would worry me. Waiting for support calls to go though is a PITA. Plus there would be worries about any downgrade path.

    I’ve actually talked to both Alfresco and KT a while back, and the KT people to be more up front as well. I got several emails from different Alfresco sales reps and partners, all falling over each other with the same information. In contrast the KT guys where pretty up front and honest.

    At the end of the day both are commercial OSS products. Both work well for a business DMS, so how you intend to use them and what you are willing to pay for support is the key decision process.

  3. Sebastian Said,

    August 15, 2007 @ 6:44 pm

    Alfresco should get a “easy to install” too.

  4. Daniel Chalef » Blog Archive » KnowledgeTree versus Alfresco - A 3rd-party Comparison Said,

    September 23, 2007 @ 9:40 pm

    […] interesting comparison of KnowledgeTree and Alfresco has been blogged by a “tech geek” in New Zealand. While both KnowledgeTree and Alfresco […]

  5. Miguel Said,

    September 24, 2007 @ 10:21 am

    Alfresco installer has an option to launch it without any graphical interface, even if I do not remember the option name 🙂

    What’s more clustering options are also available with the “community” version. I did setup one in my company.

    You’re right on one point, Alfresco lacks a ‘quick start how to’ to find the most classical configuration options.

    Before I forget : it’s perhaps logical you add some issues after changing hsqldb to mysql. Did you export the existing database content to mysql ? It’s important to make sure there’s no inconsistancy between the DBMS and the already existing files.

    Anyway, nice review !

  6. John Said,

    September 24, 2007 @ 7:03 pm

    Have you tried Nuxeo also ?


  7. Paul Holmes-Higgin Said,

    September 25, 2007 @ 1:16 am

    Thanks for the feedback on Alfresco, it’s certainly something we’re working on (improved installers are in the Community code line now). Documentation is something we’re now really working hard to get more accessible and comprehensive (although most of the information is there on the wiki if you can find it).

    I just wanted to point out that as well as CIFS, we do also provide WebDAV, NFS and FTP protocol support.

    One of the other areas we’ve been working on is to make the system more adaptable by scripting and templating, so you don’t actually need to know Java to develop your own components – Javascript is enough.


  8. Alejandro Said,

    October 17, 2007 @ 9:34 am

    I’m in the same business now (getting an ECM in my job company) and I had the same top two: KT and Alfresco, both just free editions.

    I tried KT at first: easy install for windows, not so easy for linux. But Windows bundle poor performance. Web interface is not powerful enough, tedious for a working day. Workers get their work done REALLY slower. Commercial version sure is great, and if can be quite affordable if you have hundreds of users, but not so for small / not so small companies.

    I’m working with Alfresco right now. It’s quite complex to set up it’s great. State of the art software. Free version could be more polished, but nothing to worry about. I never did Java, so it got some time for me to set up Tomcat correctly. After that all is about XML.

    I got into a few problems installing the WAR into tomcat, but I won’t decide a long term service like this just because I would need 2 or 10 more days to get it up and running if I choose one or other.

    With Alfresco you can have a “up and running” installation in less than 20 minutes installing their Alfresco + Tomcat bundle. Download, install and go. But maintaining and setting up things still is done editing XML.

    Comparing just both free editions I would go with Alfresco: First weeks/ months IT department sure will work hard, but it’s a free, efficient for workers and powerful product.

    Well… hope I won’t get into troubles later with real world data 🙂

  9. Nicholas Lee Said,

    October 17, 2007 @ 12:40 pm

    The 20m install uses the HSQL java database. In order to get it into production after testing you need to reinstall with the mysql database. If you have the time and understand tomcat really well then Alfresco is probably a workable product at the moment. At the moment I think KTDMS does a better job of system maintenance.

    In contrast Zimbra is a great java based product that is trival to install, update and manage. With great documentation. It is a shame Alfresco is not more like that.

  10. Nicholas Lee Said,

    October 18, 2007 @ 12:44 am

    John, I had a look at Nuxeo but was not compelled. There is a lot of "group ware" that is sell's document management functionality. IMO, many are not designed well for "business" document management.

  11. DOC Said,

    December 3, 2007 @ 1:19 am

    Having stumbled upon both KT and Alfresco whilst looking for such functionality for a Joomla install…big leap….this review has helped consolidate my decision to use KT….being an extreme newbie i have found the stacks available at to be invaluable in setup…..your concise review has meant i can stop hours of procrastination and get on with it….appreciation form the UK and kindest regards

  12. Jon Cox Said,

    January 29, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

    Thanks for your feedback on Alfresco. Comments like these will help our
    public facing documentation to become more comprehensive over time;
    the right example can make a huge difference for a newcomer.

    That said, the first configuration problem you mentioned actually has
    nothing to do with Alfresco at all — it’s a very generic mod_proxy
    question. We’d include this in our FAQ if it were commonly asked,
    but as it turns out, most folks don’t do what you’re doing.
    FAQs do evolve though, and a related question *was* asked/answered
    regarding the virtualization server:

    As for modifying ports, that’s pretty well documented in the
    virt server faq also. Maybe the core issue here is that the link
    did not appear in whatever part of the docs you were reading;
    if that’s the case, please let us know where additional references
    would have proved helpful.

    I’m not sure how much you had a chance to play with WCM,
    but it’s actually doing something quite unique: it can
    virtualize complete webapps in a scalable manner.

    Not just the files in “websites”, but actual webapps
    (e.g.: struts apps). Not even TeamSite can do that.
    Further, it gives you the ability to surf in multiple
    virtual views simultaneously in different browser
    instances/tabs, so you can compare anything in the
    staging area to your user’s workarea side-by-side;
    bookmarks work properly, there are no extra redirects
    to mess up the results of POSTs, and no wacky
    Documentum-like javascript buttons to create
    “bookmarkable urls” for you. It all just works.

    The new AVM repository used Alfresco for WCM is
    extremely powerful. It has a SVN-like versioning
    model so you get full directory versioning & branching,
    plus user “sandboxes” that are like transparent overlays
    on the staging area. Those using the AVM for web content
    are never stale with respect to staging — their
    changeset is just an overlay. By comparison, other
    product that lack this feature never get to reap many
    of the benefits of per-user workareas because “casual users”
    can’t seem to invoke “get latest” operations frequently
    enough. Bolt-on update scripts are a poor replacement
    for layering; they don’t scale well, and they don’t
    encourage WCM authors to integrate as-they-go.

    Another nice thing about transparent layers in WCM is
    that when you’re creating a page preview in the context
    of templating, all your tmp files are themselves isolated
    on their own separate layer; other products only try to
    approximate this by using name-mangling & reverse proxying;
    however, that pollutes your data directories with scratch
    files that are plainly visible in the file system view
    (thus requiring all 3rd party apps to code around them).

    As an aside, the AVM is really about a whole lot more than
    the web content management — it’s a general purpose data
    repository. It’s not used for SCM yet because we haven’t
    written all the required command line tools, but it does
    a bunch of things in a way that will make it great for that.
    For example, it already gives you workarea versioning in
    addition to versioning in staging (something that both
    TeamSite and SVN lack). Over time, we’ll be using the
    AVM for just about everything. The AVM is quite fast.
    If you access WCM content via CIFS and compare that to
    our DM content, you can see the difference. The reason
    why I thought it worth mentioning a lot of this stuff is
    that you need to look at both where a product is and
    where it’s going. Hopefully, you’ll find some of this
    information useful.

    There really are a lot of things in Alfresco’s WCM feature
    set that make it compelling. When you have a bit more time,
    please give us another look. In the meanwhile, we’ll do what
    we can to make the public docs better.

    As always, comments and contributions are welcome.


  13. Said,

    February 10, 2008 @ 8:24 pm

    Alfresco vs KnowledgeTree: Welches Open Source DMS ist besser?…

    Guter Artikel der die beiden Systeme Vergleicht. Das marketing überhypte komplexe Java basierte Alfresco ist schlecht dokumentiert und das Lizenzmodell sowie Preisfragen sind nicht gerade klar. KnowledgeTree ist als PHP Open Source DMS in 10 Minuten i…

  14. Alfresco vs. Knowledgetree. Interesante comparativa | Cacharreo Variado Said,

    May 13, 2008 @ 7:01 pm

    […] […]

  15. victoria Said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 3:08 am

    Hi, I just wanted to let you know that in you can find easy to install (and uninstall) installers for both Alfresco and KnowledgeTree opensource editions.

    The installers (we name them stacks) include MySQL, Tomcat/Apache and Java/PHP. You can find them for Linux, Windows and Mac OS X.

  16. Bartoz Blog » Blog Archive » Open Source Document Management Systems Said,

    October 25, 2008 @ 4:01 am

    […] primary choices: Alfresco and KnowledgeTree (KT). A good recent comparison of the two is in this blog post. There are some other […]

  17. Matias Said,

    June 25, 2009 @ 7:49 am

    We are trying/using KT (Comunity Edition) on a production enviroment. It’s really what we needed: folders, permissions, workflow for the approval of documents, full text search. The only drawback is the speed. I’ve tryed caching and all, but it’s still slow. I hope they improve this. I will try Alfresco on my own server and see how it works. Thanks

  18. Nicholas Lee Said,

    June 25, 2009 @ 7:52 am

    O3Spaces is another worth looking at now.

  19. Robin Said,

    November 12, 2009 @ 11:11 am

    Very informative article..But you missed another good DMS – OpenKM. I have been researching various DMS for a few weeks and I found these three to be the best ones. It all boils down from here to which one serves your particular needs best.

  20. Nicholas_Lee Said,

    November 12, 2009 @ 11:14 am

    The article is a couple years old now and I should do an update. I've found O3Spaces another good DMS to consider.

  21. Viral Said,

    August 17, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

    Did you ever try to use OpenKM with MySql?

  22. Nicholas_Lee Said,

    August 17, 2010 @ 6:57 pm

    Only the demo. Wasn't inspired.

  23. bernd Said,

    April 15, 2010 @ 10:00 am

    Nice Artikel, thanks you!

    I will start to test them, but i think the choice would be KT cause i more like php, and for a newbie its easier. They also have a bigger Community.

  24. Ludovic Jakobsen Said,

    April 21, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

    One problem with alfresco is that it consumes orders of magnitudes more resources than ktree. My alfresco installation is using like 500MB when not in use! ktree uses almost nothing (httpd used 4mb) in the same circumstances.
    Of course, memory is cheap these days, so this is maybe a minor concern for most.
    For me it wasn't.

  25. Ivan Said,

    January 31, 2011 @ 2:01 am

    I have used both…KT is having some issues lately, some of the things isn't working all the time. Here is online Alfresco DMS, it's a bit different than original Alfresco, but I think they are going into right direction.

  26. Nicholas_Lee Said,

    February 2, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

    They haven't been supporting the OSS version as well. I've been thinking about changing. I'm not really happy with SAAS for business documentation – amongst other things our local tax authority released a newsletter indicating that use offshore services needed to be done is such a way that local tax laws where not broken.

    O3spaces or Alfresco are the options I'm considering at the moment.

    Personally I think it would be nice if someone wrote a git based decentralised system. Distributed workspaces, VDI and mobile computing would make something like this useful.

  27. Rebrouf Said,

    October 12, 2011 @ 12:44 am

    I'm new to dms systems. Looking for somethething intuitive and very user friendly. I see you Guys had a top 2, but I've got a top 3: Alfresco, KT and LogicalDOC. I like LogicalDOC because it is easy 2 use. Yet seeing this discussion makes me wonder if LogicalDOC is really my best choice. Can someone give some information about the performance of LogicalDOC in comparison of Alfresco and KT?

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