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Using Drupal

Angela Byron, Addison Berry, Nathan Haug, Jeff Eaton, James Walker and Jeff Robbins
Published by O'Reilly Media
ISBN: 978-0-596-51580-5
492 pages
£ 34.50
Published: December 2008
reviewed by Gavin Inglis
   in the September 2009 issue (pdf), (html)

Content Management Systems are close to the hearts of many web publishers. They offer easy, intuitive site management and an end to all those pesky HTML tags. However, often publishers switch too quickly based on a recommendation or review, without considering in enough depth how that particular software will suit their needs. Indeed there is rather too much choice in the CMS market.

Drupal has a good reputation among CMS users for its longevity, extensive range of modules and suitability for collaborative work. Using Drupal explores its application to a variety of realistic web projects.

Rather than plunge straight in, an early chapter takes the time to break down Drupal and differentiate it from the web server plumbing beneath, and the style coding above. This is certainly worth the read to become clear on the concepts of modules, blocks, nodes and so on.

Case studies always help to ground a technical volume, and Using Drupal deploys no less than nine of them to cover its ground; in fact, they represent the conceptual spine of the book. The idea — and it comes off well — is to show the breadth of sites which can be created with Drupal, while delving deeper into its functionality at each stage. It also provides a context to each design decision: what modules are required, how the site should be laid out and styled, and so on.

First we have Jeanne and Mike's organic grocery store in the midwest US. Their objective is to move from a large static page edited by their next door neighbour to a dynamic site they can edit themselves. As beginners, a lot of the choices by their technical adviser (the next door neighbour) concern simplicity and functionality.

A job posting board for a University introduces us to more refined form handling, the Views module and a more traditional database-driven application. Super Duper Chefs, a specialist cookery equipment review site run by a perfectly awful sounding couple, covers interaction with Amazon, searching and advanced CSS rendering.

A wiki for student groups requires revision tracking; an online arts magazine with growing pains needs an editorial structure and a formal workflow; a son sets up a family photo gallery website with hassle-free uploads and image manipulation — in exchange, no doubt, for some extended World of Warcraft time.

Internationalisation and locality come into focus with a website reporting on migratory birds. Event management and attendance tracking are important to a book club more social than many. Finally, we see the creation of a full-blown online T-shirt store using the integrated e-commerce package Ubercart. This covers everything you would expect: shopping cart, order processing and product management.

Also welcome is the banishing of the “how to install” material to Appendix A. The online instructions are quite adequate and in many cases Drupal comes pre-installed with commercial webhosting.

This book is aimed at the everyday user rather than the system administrator. Its treatment of security gets little further than downloading new versions when the status page requires it. There is also little space given to the option of extracting the content should one want to change CMS later.

Nevertheless Using Drupal is a well judged work written with clarity and a hands-on approach, and is a good investment for anybody already leaning towards this particular CMS.

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