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Building powerful and robust websites with Drupal 6
February 1, 2008
Week: Not ranked All time: 212
yyztech.ca/articles...Now at version six, Drupal is an open source content management system (CMS) that goes back to 2001.
This Packt book takes the reader through installing the Drupal software, configuring and theming, adding content and deploying a Web site. It is aimed at the end user who is looking to setup and customize Drupal's themes, but not actually write their own modules, which would be a topic for book on its own.
The publisher, Packt Publishing has, since 2004, made a name for themselves specializing in books on open source projects. They have published several books on Drupal, this being their latest.
As well as sponsoring an award for open source CMS', Packt has, as far as I know, a unique way of giving back. For each copy of a book on an open source project sold, they donate a portion of the sale to the project. It is a neat way of putting money back into a project, hopefully meaning it will ensure the continuing development of a popular project.
The name Drupal is Dutch for 'droplet', hence the water droplet icon found on hundreds of websites. Behind that icon is a content management system that has evolved over the years from a basic content management system into what has been called a "Swiss-army knife of Web software".
As that statement might lead you to think, Drupal does have a reputation for having a steep learning curve, but probably not that much more than other content management systems become when you step outside the defaults.
Like many such systems it employs a system of blocks of content that are skinned with a theme. How easy it is to make a site your own is what sets one content system apart from another.
To see what is possible, take a look at the Drupal.org Web site and these for a Toronto hot-spot TheDrakeHotel.ca and an events guide, 49st.com. All of these are Drupal sites, so it gives you some idea what is possible.
If you are familiar with the Model-View-Controller (MVC) design pattern used by many frameworks, then you could think of the blocks which are the view and the modules are the Model and Controller.
That said, this book is not about programming functionality into the site. It is more for the users who picked this system because they want to avoid the programming. To that end, Drupal has a large community, covered in the introduction, that has created a large set of ready-to-use modules.
The book covers the steps to installing, configuring, assembling a site, theming it, managing and deploying a Drupal website from the point of view of a Windows user.
At approximately 350 pages, coverage of some of the more advanced topics is brief, but you get a good overview of what is possible with this system. The layout is black and white, but has plenty of screen-shots and is cleanly laid-out, so it is quite comfortable to read.
Briefly, the chapters cover an introduction to Drupal, covering its history, the community and its features followed by a bit on planning a site.
Getting set up is covered in the next chapter. The book takes the reader through setting up a development environment, based on the Apache2Triad package, though they mention that XAMPP could also be used. That is the system I used when following this book.
Afterwards comes installing Drupal and fixing some common installing problems. Then how to set up an administrator account and create your first page.
Chapter three covers the basics of the Drupal functionality: blocks and modules. You learn how to install new modules, configure some common ones, including forum and comments and search. Then you learn a bit about blocks, as well how to create a simple one of your own. Like many content systems, Drupal's layout is based around blocks of screen space that are filled by modules.
Chapter four is about site configuration. Here you learn how to set up logging, error reporting and some site maintenance functions, basically all the things you need to know to keep your Web site running.
Related to this, on the chapter 5 the reader is given an overview about access control. This covers the built-in roles, configuring new ones and managing users and user settings. You also learn here about Drupal's more advanced features, such as its spam prevention tools.
Chapters six and seven cover creating content. The first chapter covers the types of content, working with content and the content related modules including the blog, forum, comments and page modules.
Chapter seven introduces the Content Creation Kit (CCK) and taxonomy. The CCK allows the user to create their own content types without programming, while the taxonomy system allows for categorizing your content several ways.
Chapter eight teaches you how to go about theming Drupal. Here the reader learns about planning a theme, customizing an existing theme via the CSS files to create a new theme.
Chapter nine covers some of the more advanced features of Drupal: localization, caching, throttling and jQuery.
Chapter 10 is all about managing your Web site. This covers doing backups, setting up cron jobs, updating your Web site as well as updating Drupal modules.
Finally, the appendix covers deploying your new site. This includes all the usual points about checking your host out, transferring files and the database, and then testing it out.
With the exception of chapter seven, I did not find too much in Drupal that was too complicated to follow.
The book is quite easy to read, but I hoped there might have been more coverage of theming. There are a lot of Web sites out there that scream "Drupal!" from a kilometer away. Making your own layout is one way to make a Web site your own.
There are not a lot of current books on Drupal on the market, so fortunately, for the reader looking to get started, this is a good one.
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