Keep your documents organized with SeedDMS

Tutorial – SeedDMS

Article from Issue 249/2021

The SeedDMS document management tool helps your team stay focused and offers some powerful features for search, notification, and process control.

A Document Management System (DMS) is a file manager on steroids: a tool that stores files in orderly fashion but with many more features than a normal file manager provides. A team can use a DMS to co-manage documents of all sorts, from invoices to courseware, books, and product specifications, coordinating all their work on the document through an organized workflow.

SeedDMS [1] is a multiplatform, GPL-licensed DMS tool that provides version control, metadata search, and sophisticated workflow management. This tutorial will help you get started with managing documents in SeedDMS.

Why a DMS?

Before I plunge into the details of installing and using SeedDMS, I'll take a moment to address the question of why a DMS is even necessary. The first thing that any DMS gives its users is finer control – of both privacy and security. Total separation between DMS accounts and system user accounts also makes it much easier and safer to add temporary "guests" – customers or interns who need access to internal documents without full access to the system.

Support for metadata like keywords, categories, comments, and arbitrary attributes, together with the possibility to search both the metadata and the actual content of each document, allows users to organize and retrieve their files in many different ways.

Above all, a DMS administrator can decide who should review or approve each class of documents, allowing for a coherent, constant process that each document must pass through before it is officially approved. A DMS makes teamwork easier and team members accountable in ways that are not possible with normal users accounts and shared folders on a file server.

Why SeedDMS

One advantage of SeedDMS is that you can try it without installing anything. The SeedDMS website includes an online demo [2]. Your only limit is that you cannot upload files bigger than 5MB. If you have Docker credentials, you could also start your own test instance of SeedDMS inside an online virtual environment such as Play with Docker [3].

Feature-wise, SeedDMS has the basic functions found on most DMS tools, such as access control lists for both users and groups, plus the possibility to adopt a custom or built-in workflow for reviewing, approving, and publishing documents. The user and administration interfaces are entirely web-based, available in multiple languages, and compatible with WebDAV servers. Thanks to its integration with the Lucene search engine, SeedDMS offers full text search for files in PDF, Word, and Excel formats.

Another interesting feature of SeedDMS is its readiness for multi-site operations: You can install one copy of the source code and then share it among many different, totally independent instances. This makes it easy for consultants, or organizations whose departments have very different ways of working, to give each of their customers a SeedDMS configuration that is optimal for their needs. The same feature also allows each of the organizations that might share the same server to migrate to new versions of SeedDMS with minimum effort and impact on users.


SeedDMS itself is a PHP7 application. A working installation is a mix of six components: web server, database, basic PHP libraries, PHP PEAR Modules, assorted utilities like ImageMagick or pdftotext for image and text processing, plus the actual PHP code of the application.

If you run any common, well-supported Linux distribution, you either have most of the background components already, or, if SeedDMS asks for them, you can install them from the default repositories. The PHP core of SeedDMS is divided into two independent parts. One is the back end, packaged as a PHP PEAR module, that accesses the database. The other is the front end that generates the web interface and handles user input.

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