What is Drupal

Absolute beginners guide to how the Drupal content management system is taking the world by storm, from Sony to the Whitehouse. Drupal seems to have become the number one choice for commercial web projects. Recently CERN announced they would be moving their 10,000  research sites across to Drupal. Exactly what is this platform and why should you care?

Answer 1 (for absolute beginners)

First the technical answer: Drupal is an open source CMF (Content Management Framework) which uses a PHP code base. It works by using a Drupal Core (which is constantly under revision) and a series of add-on extra modules which give your site extra functionality based on your needs and wants.

So now you heard the geeked up explanation let us tell you what it all of this means

Open Source: It is a philosophy by which a product and its source code are freely available to whomever would like to use it. These open source programs (i.e. Drupal, Linux, etc) are written and developed by a community of developers who, in general, give their time and expertise freely and for the benefit of all. Drupal is an Open Source software, it is free to use, download and adapt.

 

CMF: Drupal is one of the many CMF (content management frameworks) operating in the web at the moment. Other CMF you might have heard about are Joomla, Mambo, Umbraco, DotNetNuke, WordPress, etc. A Content Management Framework is a programming interface to create a CMS (Content Management System). CMF is a framework that can manage and harmonise many different webfunctions, including CMS, eCommerce, Mobile web and Social Networks.

 

CMS: Content Management System is a combination of tools that are put together to help organise, maintain and enlarge content. This content can be made of text, graphics, sounds, video, audio, etc. When you put this managed content together you can create sites such as: blogs, e-commerce, SaaS (Service as a Software), social media, video sharing, etc. The main feature of CMS is that is creates a collaborative environment in which a number of people can manage Internet content without needing to understand the code behind the scenes:

  • creating the content (redmami.com, youtube.com)
  • giving their opinion on the content (huffingtonpost.com, blottr.com)

Drupal Core: The way Drupal works is by presenting you with a Drupal Core from which you can set up a basic site and then presents you with a very long list of modules from which you can choose from and add to your site to increase its functionality. This Core is basically a group of files (modules and themes) with which you can start constructing your site.

Using an example hopefully most of us would like to relate to, lets compare Drupal to a house. Drupal Core is like the basic home architecture (walls, doors, roof, rooms and an option of two or three paint pot colours). You could then add the content which for us would be the furniture, TV, cutlery, bed. Basically you now have all the elements of a home, not the most striking of homes but it does all it needs to do.
The Drupal Core, and the modules that extend the core, are under constant revision and improvement. The community strives to make the whole experience better and easier to use, as well as taking into consideration how the community uses modules.

Modules: In order to understand what a module is, let me continue with my home example:

Now tell me, would you just live in this environment? Or, would you start thinking... “Well I think I might rip out this kitchen and put this other one which is nicer, does what the original one did, plus a section of built in features (extra cool stuff), I will also extend back there and create another kind of room (study)”. What you have just done to your new house is add modules! You have got modules for nearly everything you can imagine. It is rare to find there are no modules or combination of modules for what you want.

So modules are extra features that do things you do not have in the Drupal Core, or that do it differently. Choosing which one to use needs a combination of factors:

  • What functionality you want to see in your site
  • What does the specific module you choose do
  • How many sites are using the specific module you choose
  • Trial and error. The fact that a great amount of people are using a specific module does not mean it will work for you, as you might find there is a less known module that gives you better results

Themes: The concept of theme is actually a very girly one. A theme is the equivalent of makeup and fashion. But back to our house example in order to keep consistency, lets say:

Once your house has all the rooms and main fixtures to make those rooms work properly we now apply the “finishing touches”, and we add different coloured paint, lamps, cushions (if you have or are the girlfriend), curtains, paintings and tiles. This will all make our house look prettier and more like a home.

The same applies to Themes, these are the faces or the facades of your site. Your site will “DO” the same irrespective of it being blue, pink, spotty or grunge.

The beauty of a theme is that it could change the entire look and feel without affecting your content. It is important your content gets presented in the best way possible. It needs to be clear (the user must understand what the site is about and what you are trying to communicate, easily) and it must me beautiful (people will pay more attention if they like how the information is presented to them).

Hopefully now you will be able to read the definition or the first paragraph again and say: “ Aaah... OK, now I understand...” “So, why is Drupal any better than other CMS/CMF?” Well this is a question for our next article but in a couple of words:

We think Drupal is the best choice of CMF/CMS because it is a powerfully robust system and it can be relatively easy to scale.

If after this you would like to learn more about Drupal please have a look around our site and see how we apply Drupal into contexts extending a traditional website (also try the site from a mobile phone, so see the them automatically switch).

 

Answer 2 (for those with a basic understanding of making a website)

The simple answer is that Drupal 7 is awesome. A strongly evangelistic opening statement, especially considering the author has spent over a decade building Microsoft .Net based platforms. Since Drupal is open source and Microsoft is often seen as the antithesis of open source, perhaps a strange mix of experience. The reality is that both Microsoft and Drupal are top of their respective games in the software development world. This mutual respect led Microsoft to host the UK launch of Drupal 7 earlier this year. Drupal is one of, if not the, most powerful and comprehensively secure web platforms available on the planet today, and if that sounds like a bold statement then a quick summary of some of the many sites using it include:

  • The Whitehouse
  • Nasa
  • Cern (with 100s of Cern micro sites currently being migrated)
  • Harvard
  • BBC (magazines)
  • Fox
  • ITV
  • Twitter (developer community)

Some of the highest profile names on the planet, obvious security targets, with high volumes of often complex traffic. So to answer just exactly what is Drupal, let's look a little closer. In essence it is a framework that holds a collection modules to run a website. Since no two websites are the same (we would hope), most websites require different combinations of modules. Typical modules found in a Drupal site include:

  • WYSIWYG editors (easy to use on screen word processors, so you can create content without needing to know html
  • Image processors
  • List or view manager (to create lists of content, such as latest news or blogs)
  • Contact forms
  • Image handlers (to crop, scale, rotate or resize images)
  • Theme to switch the look and feel / design oft he site
  • eCommerce to handle shopping carts and goods / services for sale
  • Maps
  • Weather
  • RSVP invitation
  • Newsletters

Programmers can write their own modules, and many sites have custom modules, that sit alongside the standard modules. Because Drupal is open source, modules are given back for general use by the community. There are over 10,000 contributed Drupal modules! This means that quite often if you need a module, the chances are someone else has already written it, and many sites exist perfectly happily without ever needing to resort to a custom module.

So what makes Drupal such a massive success. Quite simply it is because the modules "play nicely together". If developers follow the rules then modules do not clash and co-exist in harmony. This combined with the vast number of contributions and enormous amounts of helpful documentation make Drupal a fertile and productive online environment to base small and enterprise sites on.

So to answer the the final question, what are the negative points. In a nutshell the main problem with Drupal is that it has been the geek platform of choice, with a bias towards technicality and very little concern for ease of use or UX. This has meant it has had a far steeper learning curve than Joomla or WordPress for example. However all that has changed in Drupal 7. The user interface is far more intuitive, and focus is on great design.

If you are planning to build a website in Drupal there really is nothing that cannot be done on this platform, so have a look around the 10,000 plus free modules and go to town.

If you would like to move your site to Drupal or start a brand new one from scratch, make your site available for mobile or even want your project to appear on the smart TV environment, give us a call or dop us a line. We will be happy to go over your project and talk to you about your possibilities.

 

Answer 3 (for those of you with in depth knowledge)

What else is there to say? Oh yes! Contact us with your spec, we will be happy to help. Our speciality is with enterpise Drupal, and sites that need to scale to millions of members with tens of millions of hits per month.

 

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