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Building Powerful and Robust Websites with Drupal 6 [Paperback]

David Mercer
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Feb. 1 2008
This book updates the bestselling Drupal: Creating Blogs, Forums, Portals, and Community Websites for Drupal 6, the latest, much improved version of this popular open-source Content Management System. Targeting readers with little experience in website design, unfamiliar with PHP, MySQL or HTML, and with little to no experience of Drupal, it looks pragmatically at the steps needed from knowing you want a website right through to designing and building it like a pro, and then successfully managing and maintaining it. Experienced author David Mercer uses a friendly, engaging style that is clear and concise, allowing readers to advance rapidly until they can tackle any problem with confidence. Drupal is an elegantly designed, well-supported and flexible open-source CMS platform that empowers anyone to create a website or blog and is rapidly becoming first choice of people in the know. With this powerful tool you need not pay professionals to design a site; you can do the job yourself.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good starting point with Drupal 6 July 8 2009
Format:Paperback
I bought this book, along with 2 other Drupal books to get started with Drupal, as I felt that the rich online documentation was already too steep of a learning curve for me at this point.

This particular book, which I just finished reading, came a little bit late in my learning process, in that it's a bit basic. At least, it confirmed that I used best practices and made me correct a few mistakes.

The one thing I really hated about this book was that the author kept writing that the scope of the book was limited and that he couldn't tell us everything about everything. Having contributed a technical book myself in the past, I know how the business works, but the reader shoudn't feel that on about 10 times through the book. Also, the book is uneven in depth. I can feel that the author was a bit rushed to produce this book and didn't offer all the quality we deserve for a $50 book.

Bottom-line : skip this book and learn by experimenting and by reading the Drupal descriptions on the screen or on-line. I started reading Front-End Drupal by Käfer and Hogbin. So far, this one shows to be a lot better, but with a different objective. I'll review it when I'm done reading it.
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  30 reviews
64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent coverage of CCK and thorough coverage of the Drupal 6 interface April 25 2008
By R. Hill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This updated and expanded edition of Drupal: Creating Blogs, Forums, Portals, and Community Websites contains 362 pages with the index -- ~100 more pages than there was in the first book. It's printed in black and white with screen captures that look like photocopies of photocopies, yet are still legible. The author, David Mercer, expressed on the Drupal website that he wishes his book to become the Drupal community's de facto title for learning the technology. Drupal has a steep learning curve... The book, in my opinion, will save newbies countless hours of aggravation. It contains information that I found useful, although the book is not targeted for developers, nor themers Packt has another book Drupal 5 Themes that decently covers theming, but for Drupal 5. Mercer spends much time here discussing web technologies used with and around Drupal. For example, you'll learn how to install a server on your machine (Apache2Triad), and will get an introduction to HTML! You will not here learn how to install multiple sites that use the same code base, you won't know the steps by which you create a virtual host on your development machine, nor will you learn to properly reference image files in your site content. Most information pertaining to 'scaling' and performance relayed by Mercer can be read right from the Drupal interface. I'd like to mention right off that the book's instructions on how to install a language translation are incorrect. I should also mention that there is an excellent coverage of several contributed modules. You'll find in this book the best introduction I've seen to CCK.

Per chapter detailed review

CHAPTER 1 covers how Drupal came to be and what it has to offer. You get a tour of the Drupal web site. (Mercer mentions the sheer number of support-related posts in the Drupal forums: 200,000). Forums have an advantage over Drupal's IRC channels: forums are archived, and hence searchable.

In CHAPTER 2, we install Apache2Triad on our development machine. Once we've set up our local server, we download and install Drupal 6 using a fresh database. (We are directed to an appendix to learn how to upgrade a Drupal 5 web site to Drupal 6.) Cron jobs are not discussed at this point, the author points us to chapter 10, 'Managing your web site', where they receive a fair treatment. The following is often overlooked: we (as 'admin') can view the Administer section 'By module', rather than 'By task', which is the default. Mercer makes good use of this particular view. In this chapter, we also get to install and configure a contributed module, DHTML Menu. (A module you won't be able to live without.)

In CHAPTER 3, we build a wildlife and conservation web site. We install forums and create content for them, we post a comment, and we learn how to use blocks. We take a close look at the search module configuration page. We learn that we can weigh the importance of three indexing criteria, which affect the order of search results. I learned how to re-index a web site, and then run cron.php manually so that the re-indexing is done right away. This can be very useful. Say you want to place Ad-Sense ads on your site. You need to remove some words from your content, before you seek approval from the censors at Google. You edit your content, but some words still turn up in your web site search results. You are in a hurry, so you want to re-index your content right away. You go to admin/settings/search and press on the button 'Re-index site'. Then you go to admin/reports/status/run-cron.

In this chapter, we also create a custom block.

CHAPTER 4 covers things we modify or set usually only once, such as clean URLs and the download method. We learn that aliasing is a good idea, and are invited to skip ahead and learn how to use the modules Path and Pathauto, covered in chapter 10. We learn how to be both user and search engine friendly.

I was reminded that custom messages can be presented to the user whenever the content he's trying to see is restricted ('access denied') or 'not found'.

Unfortunately, Mercer does not explain how private download can interfere with the proper working of other parts of the site. What parts? For private download, the author sets his file path to the following absolute path: c:\apache2triad\files (p.104), instead of using, more appropriately, the relative path ../files.

CHAPTER 5 covers 'who does what' on the web site, ie: permissions, roles, and access rules. We're reminded in this chapter that any user who has an admin-defined role (such as role moderator) is also an authenticated user. Also, a user who belongs to role x and role y will get combined permissions of roles x and y. That means that if role x is allowed to Do Something, and role y isn't, the user will be able to Do Something. That is why one should create special roles by adding the specific additional permissions that are required by that role, and no more. (p.126). Very wise.

In CHAPTER 6, we learn how to generate simple content and administer it. There is a very nice coverage of the core modules Aggregator and Book.

You can download CHAPTER 7, 'Advanced Content', from the publisher's web site. This chapter covers taxonomy and custom content type creation. We learn that a taxonomy is a hierarchy of 'terms', unlike thesauri, which define 'is similar to' relationships. The contributed module Similar By Terms is mentioned. We learn that multiple vocabularies can be used to provide faceted tagging, although the example used by Mercer to illustrate this concept is weak. It's only further down the road in one of the last chapters (and not by accident, I believe) that we learn that it's possible to access lists of content through their tagged terms using system paths such as /taxonomy/term/1+4.

Coverage of CCK is excellent. We download the contrib module Fivestar to learn how to add a 'contributed field' to a content type, but it's not clear why we would want to do this when we can enable the Fivestar widget for any content type (another contrived how-to example). The chapter also covers input formats and filters, how the former can be created, and how the latter can be rearranged (the order in which they are applied). When creating a 'feature-rich' page, we attach an image file to our node, and display the image in the content using an tag with the 'src' attribute set to: [...] This link will be broken when the file structure will change, such as after deployment. A site root-relative path is preferred: /sites/default/files/team.jpg or, in the case where the content may be posted on another web site through a feed, the URL of the file is even better: [...]

CHAPTER 8 discusses theming. As an exercise, we download, install and customize the Barlow theme. The modifications we bring to it are simple: we upload a new logo, style blocks by modifying block.tpl.php and adding a few rules to style.css, change the background image.

In CHAPTER 9, we learn about Actions and Triggers, new-to-Drupal 6 modules. We also learn how to install a language translation the wrong way ;-) We learn to add a new language and then import to it a .po file that we download from drupal.org. When in fact, no manual 'import' is necessary. What needs to be done is 1) Get the translation tar ball (*.tar.gz file) from [...] then move this file to your web root (in the same folder as index.php), then extract the file. Every extracted .po files (as there are many, many) end up where they're supposed to be. (The translation package has a tree structure.) Then, add the language (going to admin/settings/language/add). The importing of all .po files is then done automatically for you by Drupal.

If we want to translate the interface ourselves, Mercer recommends the use of a contributed module, Localization client, and shows us how to use it. This chapter provides an excellent coverage of content translation, as well. (Interface translation is one thing, content translation is another.) In a section about Drupal caching, Mercer talks about the contributed module CacheExclude which enables one to disable cache for certain pages. Then he offers a very brief jQuery introduction, presenting us with a contrived example script. (We are far away from the succinct yet powerful treatment jQuery gets in the book Pro Drupal Development.)

In CHAPTER 10, we learn how to use the modules Path and Pathauto for path aliasing. We learn how to run crontab, and how to make a backup of our web site. Mercer provides a checklist to help with Search Engine Optimization.

The author adopts a conversational tone (as I do here), is very thorough in his coverage of the Drupal interface, and provides a handful of screen captures in most places.

The book needs more polishing in a few places. The chapter on 'Advanced Content' (the one free to download) seems to have skipped proofreading, as it contains several glaring typos.

The book puts too much emphasis on general recommendations (such as Try not to chop and change too often once the site is live), and spends too much time discussing web technologies despite the author's objective to have provided more concentrated information. For example, Mercer talks in length about the different image formats used on the web, and introduces the reader to CSS and HTML. He spends too little time discussing the working of the PHPTemplate engine. Theming is only brushed upon. While he recommends against using PNG images because IE6 does not render their transparency (there is a jQuery plugin, by the way, that fixes this problem), he goes right along and uses .png files to style blocks in the modified Barlow theme a few pages after. There is no source code nor image files to download on the publisher's web site. (Not yet, anyway.) However, the latter doesn't make it hard to follow along when modifying the Barlow theme, provided one produces his own image files.

This is the 'Missing Manual' anyone new Drupal should read as he or she installs and starts playing with Drupal. The Drupal interface is very intricate, and even an experienced drupaler will tend to forget to look in certain places. It's not unlike a big house with many different rooms and closets. By reading this book, an advanced beginner or an intermediate user will certainly be reminded of a few simple but remarkable features.

Contributed modules 'covered' in the book:
* DHTML Menu
* Pathauto
* Similar By Terms (only mentioned)
* Content Construction Kit (CCK)
* Views (only mentioned)
* Fivestar
* Localization client
* CacheExclude (only mentioned)
* XML Sitemap (only mentioned)
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good basic to intermediate introduction to Drupal 6 April 20 2008
By Michael McKee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I was disappointed in Mercer's book covering version 5 of Drupal, "Drupal: Creating Blogs, Forums, Portals, and Community Websites," and had some specific complaints. I'm happy to say that this book covers the subjects that I felt were missing the his prior book. I seriously doubt that my review of his last Drupal book had anything to do with the subjects he added to this volume but he managed go down my wish list and check off almost all of the items.

The book starts off with a description of Drupal and the context for which it is designed. The second chapter covers setting up a development server on Windows. Since I'm a Mac user I can't comment on the quality of that chapter but the rest seems solid. Mercer gets right to the nuts and bolts of setting up and configuring a Drupal website. Setup, configuration, user access, content creation, blocks and basic customization through modules all get decent coverage.

Mercer claims that the book will be useful to people without much web experience. Maybe. His coverage of general web design topics is pretty token. Some inexperienced but intrepid souls will probably get a Drupal site up and running from this book but I'd consider the task pretty daunting.

Where I'm really happy is with the addition of coverage of some more advanced functionality like the CCK (Content Creation Kit) module, a decent description of Drupal Nodes and Taxonomy and a basic jQuery example. There's also a bit of coverage on improving performance through caching and load throttling and a couple other advanced topics. Each section is short but the examples are well chosen to give an idea of how things work.

There's a lot more content in the 340 something pages in the book. I'm happy that it isn't a door stop but think that covering so many topics in that few pages leaves some subject descriptions a bit on the thin side. Still it's definitely worth the money and I'm glad the the publisher, Packt, is now allowing Amazon to discount their titles.

Some people will probably have a problem with buying a book that covers a popular open source CMS like Drupal as there is a ton of documentation available online. I'm not one of them. Drupal 6 is well organized, reasonably clear, and David Mercer writes with an easy conversational style. It's also nice that the book became available so soon after the version 6 release of Drupal. There are enough changes that an up-to-date text is very nice to have. "Building powerful and robust websites with Drupal 6" is a solid basic through advanced-intermediate manual. For more advanced coverage of subjects like module creation or theming there specialized books available, and of course, a strong developer community.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for the intrepid newcomer May 21 2008
By James Stewart - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An update to David Mercer's now two year old Drupal: Creating Blogs, Forums, Portals and Community Websites, this version has been updated for the CMS' latest revision and guides the user through from setting up a development environment and installing drupal through to building custom themes and deploying a fully built site.

The book is designed to be read sequentially and assumes very little prior Drupal knowledge, though a little familiarity with the interface would be helpful, and a lot of willingness to explore and experiment are going to be necessary for complete newcomers. The first few chapters-focussed on explaining the benefits of using drupal and guide the user through the initial setup-are a little clunky and may deter those not comfortable with installing databases and scripting languages. The style improves as the book progresses and Mercer covers his topics well, with a considerably better structure than several Packt publications I've seen lately. (sadly the book retains Packt's )

Some of those topics are fairly complex and it might have been good to have a few more directions for exploring the power of taxonomies and getting to grip with best practices in designing them. Given the range of documentation (on blogs and elsewhere) available online, more references to resources outside the book would have been a useful addition. But the fact that Mercer takes users beyond the very basics is to his credit, and it's very good to see coverage of jquery, CCK, caching, and other topics that are key to recent versions of drupal but which could easily have been glossed over.

This is not a book for the seasoned developer coming from another platform or for those who have already have ample drupal experience (others have that covered) and it's not really the "user manual" I'd like to find to hand on to drupal-using clients. But for those with an itch to build their own site and a sense that drupal might be the right tool, this volume is well worth a look.

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book for review by the publisher.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to Drupal May 12 2008
By John Kenney - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am relatively new to Drupal and have read all the Drupal books in the last 2-3 months. This the best one and the most appropriate one for the beginner/intermediate person who wants to install and use Drupal to build a website. It is not so much geared to developers or themers, except maybe as a most basic intro. But if you are considering useing Drupal as a platform for your company's website or whatever, this is a good place to start. Probably the best place I know of.

That said, it is not sufficient and you will need to refer often to the drupal.org website as well, to get the real story on things as you get into building out your site.

One important point regarding installation of Drupal. As in his first book, he recommends using Apache2Triad to get your Apache/PHP/mySQL environment. I did this (using his first book) and it is a BAD IDEA. As I learned, A2T is very old (2 yrs+), is not likley to be updated anytime soon (see the A2T website for confirmation), provides practically no support, and has a rapidly diminishing community of users. There are many and much better options - such as XAMPP - and I recommend you use one of them instead. The install process and resulting functionality is much the same, so the book is still helpful. Just don't use the specific package he recommends.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Recommend as a buy for new users... July 26 2008
By P. Warren - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
...as an introduction to Drupal 6 and especially those individuals intending to build a Drupal site.

While researching and learning about Drupal 6 I bought and used this book, along with quite a bit of information provided on the Drupal main site. It is now full of little post-it notes to pages I used or referred to constantly while building our web site.

One of my immediate feelings is it could have been quite a bit larger, especially at the retail price of $44.99 US, coming it at only 362 pages including the index. I did manage to get a 'two book' discount (25%?) as I also bought "Building Websites with Joomla! 1.5, by Hagen Graf, from Packt Publishing. I'll be using that sometime in the near future as I research and learn Joomla!-based web site development. Most if not all books also come in an eBook electronic version, and the Adobe .pdf of this title sells for $30.59 US on the Packt Publishing web site.

As a technical writer I can be a bit picky when it comes to a books structure. Beginning with the table of contents I really don't agree with how the book chapter and topics were outlined and structured. Chapter 1 Introduction to Drupal, and Chapter 2, Setting Up the Development Environment, were okay and indeed useful as it included site planning, and setting up a development instance to work from, something often overlooked in what I would define as a beginners book on site building. But Chapter 3, Basic Functionality, is where I begin to take issue. It immediately jumps into Third-party Modules, those developed and contributed by the Drupal community. I feel more could have been written first on the core Drupal modules and the functionality they provide, just my opinion, as I would have used a prior discussion on Drupal core modules as a segue into the Third-party contributed modules. The remaining topics on blocks and menus was indeed right on. Chapter 4 Site Configuration, and Chapter 5 Access Control, could also have been a part of or followed Chapter 1, as it directly applies to site planning, and having read it earlier on it would have contributed to a better set of site plans.

The remaining chapters begin to flow nicely together going from Basic Content in Chapter 6 and Advanced Content in Chapter 7 where it discusses vocabularies, taxonomy, and thesauri (spelling corrected), something I am quite interested in developing with our site. The section on the Content Construction Kit (CCK) was just a tease, as this Third-party module is so much more, and something you'll discover on your own once you start digging into it and using it. That said I do think it was good to include and hope to maybe see another volume dedicated just to using combinations of the CCK, Calendar, Date, and Views 2 modules, with lots of real world examples to reuse or learn from.

One last note on Chapter 7, the section titled Creating a Feature-Rich Page. I feel should have been pointed out better that this page is not a themed page, and the page code tested too as I found a typo on top of page 230; no opening table tag. I found other typos in the book as well and that will automatically drop my rating down a star; page 4, first sentence, now instead of no. Page 9, again first sentence missing a 'to' ... - not only do we not have <strong>to</strong> develop the entire site... Page 12, bottom of page, word reversal; Drupal has many of <strong>common the</strong> features used in social networking sites. Sorry but with text checking algorithms what they are today this is inexcusable.

The remaining chapters provide an initial entry into theming and advanced functionality like jQuery and I already have my eye on two other books related to Drupal from Packt Publishing, "Learning jQuery" and the forth coming release "Drupal Multimedia" due out in September 2008. I think I'm going to be quite busy for many months to come multi-tasking between reading and reviewing these books and actual site development for web applications with them, but this isn't work, it's fun!
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