Drupal 6 book recommendations

As we’ve just delivered a big lump of functionality onto our website using Drupal, in fact everything is now managed through Drupal except this blog, I thought that you might appreciate a heads up on the books we used during the development process. Getting hold of the right books early in your project will make things a lot easier.

Whenever I’m taking on a new programming language or some other technology it always seems to take three books to really get a good handle on it. Drupal is no exception, you will need a more user oriented book outlining the basic concepts, a more development oriented book to let you look underneath the covers, and finally a book for modifying the look of your site.

Using Drupal

Inside Drupal

Using Drual by Angela Byron et al is a book aimed at people with little or no experience of Drupal who want a leg up in implementing their first site. As such it delivers very well. It outlines the basic elements of Drupal, like what the basic content types are, simple navigation and, best of all, explores some of the many high quality modules available for Drupal.

The downside with all such beginner books is that things tend to be dealt with very quickly. Taxonomies are dealt with in just a few pages, which is a shame because taxonomies are absolutely key to organising all but the smallest Drupal site. In fact, I have yet to find any book or online documentation that outlines taxonomies well or provides a set of best practice for your use of taxonomies. I know that we’ve created a bit of a mess with ours that will need to be sorted out over the coming weeks. If anybody has any good suggestions for online or offline resources that can explain Drupal taxonomies clearly and succinctly with good real world examples I am all ears. Please leave a comment if you know of anything…

Pro Drupal Development

Pro Drupal Development

Pro Drupal Development by John K. VanDyk is a more developer oriented book covering topics like developing modules, forms, the search system, working with the Drupal database and the like.

Whilst we’ve only scratched the surface of this book, I expect in time that it will become the most thumbed of our three tomes.

Pro Drupal Development really gets down to the nitty gritty detail needed to do the more tight integration or customisation that you may need. The book is chock full of PHP code so if you don’t have a pretty good handle on both PHP and Drupal I’d stay clear until you do. Recommended for the Drupal developer wanting to go to the next level.

Drupal 6 Themes

Drupal 6 Themes

Drupal 6 Themes is the most recent book we acquired and we’ve yet to get the full benefit from it. I do expect that as we come to changing the look of our site that this book will be ideal. Drupal relies on content specific template files quite a lot and we had some problems figuring out exactly what variables Drupal passes into them. Fortunately, Drupal 6 Themes covers this area quite well so we expect to learn a lot more about this important area.

If you any recommendations for further reading drop me a line in the comments…

Choosing a content management system redux

I blogged about choosing a content management system and we’ve finally managed to deploy the resulting system. It would be fair to say that choosing a content management system is a nightmare. And, anybody elses experience probably won’t help you very much unless you share the same set of requirements.

Our requirement was largely shaped by the e-commerce system we run on our main website. It is a big blob of a Java system running under JBoss all front ended by Apache.

That’s why I don’t think there is much for anybody else to take away from our experience. Had we not had to contend with the JBoss hosted system our choice would have been completely different.

In the end we went with Drupal as our CMS of choice, not because I particularly like it, but because it was the best of the choices we could successfully integrate into our system.

My favourite was OpenCMS, but as a Java based system, it would have had to be integrated into JBoss and we couldn’t find a satisfactory way of achieving that. OpenCMS works exactly the way I would expect a CMS to work. It removes all of the pain out of managing a site and is flexible in how to manage your content.

Selecting a content management system

One of the great discoveries I made whilst writing this blog has been the ease with which I can create posts using WordPress as the content management system (CMS). It started good and it just keeps on getting better.

I’d love to be able to update content on the rest of the site just as easily. Unfortunately, as things stand at the moment, updating the site means wading waste deep in PHP. All changes to the website need to go through either myself or Dean, slowing things down considerably.

In order to ease the burden of creating content we’ve decided to implement a CMS across the entire site. So far the evaluation list looks like this:

  • Plone – Python/Zope based CMS;
  • Drupal – full power CMS with a full power learning curve;
  • Joomla
  • WordPress – can’t be beaten as a blogging platform but how well does it work as a vanilla CMS?
  • Typo3 – a quirky full power CMS with versioning and workspaces. My fave so far;
  • MODx – a bare bones CMS that is Dean’s favourite;
  • OpenCms – full featured Java based CMS. Kinda like Typo3 without the goofiness.

I will let you know how the evaluation goes. One thing I have noticed with open source CMS, the documentation is king. The Typo3 documentation is the best of the lot that I’ve seen so far. With large complicated systems like CMS you need a way to ease yourself into the software. Surprisingly, only Typo3 has a simple tutorial to setting up your first site for the most recent release. Drupal is an incredibly powerful tool but the documentation needs a lot of work.

Update 1: Added OpenCms, dropped Drupal, Joomla and WordPress.

Update 2: Forgot about Plone…not suitable because we’d not have enough control.