Keeping track of all documents and data in the business world is crucial. Businesses can store documents in various ways, but one of the most popular methods is electronic document management systems (known as EDMS or DMS). EDMS are software programs that allow businesses to store, manage, and track their documents, wherever they reside throughout their network and associated cloud services, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft's OneDrive. But which are the Best Open Source Document Management Systems?
Many document management software options exist, both open source and proprietary. Open source EDMS has become increasingly popular because they offer many benefits over proprietary systems.
This article explores five of the best open-source document management systems currently available. We will discuss the features and benefits of each system, as well as how they compare to proprietary systems. But before we list our favorite Electronic Document Management Systems, let's briefly examine what open-source means and why you might want to use an open-source EDMS.
When it comes to document management software, there are two main models, either an open source document management system or a proprietary option. Proprietary software is created and owned by a single company, with no access to the code provided to users or the community at large, while a community of contributors is able to view and contribute to the codebase of open source software. Both approaches have pros and cons, but open source software is generally seen as more beneficial for businesses.
Proprietary document management software is designed to meet the specific needs or visions of the company that creates it, which can be good for businesses that closely align with the design, but it also means that if your business needs were to change, you're stuck with the software you have. With open source software, on the other hand, there are opportunities to request or even contribute modifications, combine additional modules from other open source projects, or even fork the codebase into your own version of the product, and make wholesale changes as you see fit.
And ultimately, if the company that created a proprietary product goes bankrupt or winds down, you may end up with a stagnant system that cannot be update, or in the worst-case scenario with Software-as-a-Service or even a self-hosted product, the application itself may just stop functioning completely with little-to-no warning. In open source, you can retain a copy of the codebase through forks or a mirrored clone, and in almost all cases, even defunct open source projects are available to view and download.
Proprietary software typically requires you to pay a license fee to use it. This can be a significant expense, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). On the other hand, open source software is usually free for individuals and small businesses, while enterprise versions include onboarding and other organizational benefits for a cost that is often lower than their proprietary counterparts.
Also, since there is a large pool of users who can access, evaluate, and even contribute to the free version of the software, all without having to pay a license fee, an open source application is more likely to have had issues and feature requests found and documented openly. This can be of benefit even in the case of open source software that uses an “open core” model, where some of the enterprise-level functionality may not be publicly available, as the basic, core components will have that increased coverage.
This increased coverage and development-in-the-open model is one good reason why open source products often have competitive enterprise products compared to proprietary software competitors.
Proprietary software is often considered a greater security risk than open source software. That may seem counterintuitive at first, since the code is openly available to people other than the core development team, but it's the openness of open source software that provides it with more protection from security issues.
This is because the software code for proprietary software is closed off, meaning that only the company that creates that code has access to it. This can make it challenging to identify and fix security vulnerabilities. With open source software, on the other hand, the code is available for anyone to examine and experiment with, providing more coverage (as mentioned in the section about affordability). This means that security vulnerabilities can be found and fixed more quickly, and almost as importantly, security vulnerabilities that have not yet been reported can be reported by anyone, and anyone can contribute a remediation of that vulnerability to be reviewed and included into the codebase.
For an open source project, a critical vulnerability would need to be addressed due to high visibility in the code, whereas a developer of proprietary software does not have the same incentive to prioritize addressing vulnerabilities; that increases the software user’s risk footprint, as they are unable to verify which vulnerabilities exist in the proprietary codebase, and they will have little-to-no visibility as to if and when vulnerabilities are being resolved.
Additionally, open-source software features simple license management, no vendor lock-in, and support from active communities, providing less operational risk to organizations that rely on that software.
Now that we've discussed the benefits of open source document management systems, we’ll look at five of the best. As each open-source EDMS software product has different strengths, you will probably find one or two that are better-suited for what you are looking to do. Some are self-hosted only, while others offer a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) version of their product. One product, FormKiQ, installs into your AWS cloud account, which might be considered a new “flavor” of self-hosting.
All of these five products have a version you can run for low cost, often with a free license plus your hosting costs. They all also offer a commercial version, often with additional features and support. And all have a codebase that you can review.
Papermerge is a great option if you need a basic open-source document management system that focuses primarily on importing, processing, and storing scanned documents. Papermerge offers a wide range of features, including drag-and-drop document importing, automatic metadata extraction using optical character recognition (OCR), version control, and full-text search. This system also integrates with a number of popular applications. Papermerge is easy to install, with one-click installation on most major Linux distributions.
Papermerge is built with Django (Python) for the backend/API and EmberJS for the frontend web client, and uses PostgreSQL for its database. Files are stored on the server’s filesystem.
Self-hosting Papermerge is a great option for personal use or small business, as all features are available for free.
Can run on local computer or a server, using Python and Poetry.
Teedy is billed as a “lightweight document management system”, and is a great option if you're looking for an open-source document management system that is well-tested and easy to use. With Teedy, you can easily organize your documents with tags and full-text search, and it has built-in optical character recognition (OCR). This system also offers robust security features, including password protection and role-based access control. Teedy is available as a cloud product with a free 30-day trial, while the self-hosted version is free and easy to install.
Can run on local computer or a server via Docker or through a manual installation using Java and several dependencies.
30-day Free Trial
FormKiQ is an excellent option if you're looking for a flexible cloud-based EDMS with an open-source headless document management system that offers powerful workflow capabilities. FormKiQ installs directly on your AWS cloud account with a one-click install. It provides the essential components of an EDMS as part of its free product, FormKiQ Core, with the ability to customize and extend the software within your AWS cloud account.
The commercial version, FormKiQ Enterprise, offers professional support and services, as well as advanced features for EDMS or Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems. You can also take advantage of a wide range of modular add-ons with FormKiQ Enterprise, such as the Document Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware Scanning and Protection Module or the Document Optical Character Recognition (OCR) Module.
FREE (+ AWS charges)
Deploys to your AWS cloud account with a one-click install
Starts at $2,200/month, billed annually (+ AWS charges)
A customized Enterprise Application Package deploys to your AWS cloud account with a one-click install
If you're looking for an open-source web-based EDMS that is easy to use, the OpenDocMan document management system is a good option. This system is user-friendly, offers multilingual support, and boasts a simple interface that makes storing and retrieving documents easy. OpenDocMan offers robust security features, including password protection and role-based access control. The interface is basic, but you get an EDMS that is incredibly easy to deploy in multiple languages. The free version requires you to self-support, while the commercial license provides options for on-premise server storage. OpenDocMan also offers its software as an online service.
OpenDocMan is built with PHP for both the backend/API and frontend web client, and uses MySQL/MariaDB for its database. Files are stored on the server’s filesystem.
Can run on local computer or a server via Docker, an installation page, or through a manual installation; uses PHP and MySQL (or MariaDB).
If your organization works exclusively with PDFs (which most scanners can produce), then “I, Librarian” provides a strong option for your open source document management system. Compared to the other EDMS products on this list, “I, Librarian” does not have the widest range of software functions, it does one thing, and it does that one thing very well: organizing your collection of PDFs. It also provides PDF annotation using a browser interface, and makes it easy to find documents using full-text search.
“I, Librarian” is built with PHP for both the backend/API and frontend web client, and does not use a database. Files are stored on the server’s filesystem.
Can run on local computer or a server, with installers for Windows and downloadable distributable source for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
NOTE: OCR processing is free for first 20 pages/month for both plans, and then $0.01 per page
"I, Librarian" also offers managed servers starting at $150/month.
As described on the README, Paperless-ngx is a document management system that transforms your physical documents into a searchable online archive so you can keep, well, less paper.
Paperless-ngx is built using Python and TypeScript, and does not require a database. The files are hosted on your local computer.
Can run on local computer or a server, installable using Docker or through a well-defined manual definition.
There's even a recent YouTube video from a community user showing how to set up and start using the system.
No official cloud-hosted product; Paperless-ngx is mainly aimed at being self-hosted on a local, on-prem computer.
Choosing the best open source document management system for your business can be a challenge. However, with so many great options available, it is sure to find one that fits your specific needs. We've highlighted five of our favorites in this article, but there are several others available. Ultimately, you may decide to try out a few of these options to see what might be the best fit, since you can set most of them up in minutes.
For some organizations, a small and lightweight EDMS will do the job. For others, having a more robust enterprise offering is essential. And for all organizations, there will be some features that you will absolutely require, while other features won’t be needed at all.
One of the reasons we see such a wide range of EDMS products is due to such a wide range of customer needs. Ultimately, as with proprietary systems, it’s important to determine exactly what is most important to you, but with open source, you have much better visibility into what each product will be able to do for you.
With the right system in place, you can easily manage your organization's digital and physical documents while knowing that your operational, budget and security needs can all be met.
Get started with FormKiQ through our core offering, which is free forever.Install Now