Packt Publishing

David Mercer's "Building Powerful and Robust Websites with Drupal 6" by Packt Publishing

Building Powerful and Robust Websites with Drupal 6 book coverPackt Publishing is at it again. They've published David Mercer's follow up to Drupal: Creating Blogs, Forums, Portals, and Community Websites, which was originally based on Drupal 4.7. The new book subtitled Build your own professional blog, forum, portal or community website with Drupal 6 tries to cater to the same audience but with greatly updated content.

David seems to be completely up to date on the Drupal 6 matters, as much as the March 2008 publication time allowed. This was one of the first Drupal 6 books on the market, and the author even managed to include a lengthy section on CCK. Hats off. Now that Views 2.0 is out for Drupal 6, many more people will consider using this new version as a base to start with. David caters to new users, not upgraders though, so this guide helps you get up to speed (and the Views covering books are still awaited on the market).

The book has a certain eye to detail in talking about things like setting up users and permissions. David even goes to note that setting up access rules for names or emails does not affect existing users. This practice was changed in recent Drupal versions, considering this a security bug instead of the way how Drupal works, and honestly, I don't think people expected to see this behavior noted in print. This attention to detail goes to extremes however in the examination of taxonomy. To my tastes, it would have been better to get down to more practical examples sooner instead of trying to organize the section around the theories of taxonomy. Same applies to coverage of HTML, where David tries to teach content producers certain HTML tags to write a feature-rich webpage. This might be a good idea for the theming section, but not where content is produced by end users.

With a book going into such details, you might think Drupal core fills up the pages in itself. This is however not the case. David goes to introduce contributed module installation right in chapter three with DHTML Menu module. Highly useful and/or popular modules such as Pathauto and Localization client are covered. So the book acknowledges that for building a website, Drupal core needs to be pimped up with contributed functionality. Another positive note in this approach is that even custom look and functionality is covered. In my humble opinion, this book does a modest but still better job in doing a custom theme then Ric Shreves' Drupal 5 themes accomplishes. JavaScript capabilities are also shown by integrating a custom JavaScript control.

All-in-all, I think this book is a good starter guide for Drupal 6 users, even if sometimes too detailed. You'll certainly need to be ready to learning a lot more from Views to CCK field modules while you actually build a more complex site, but starting off with a simpler website should be possible from the topics covered.

Michael Peacock's "Selling online with Drupal e-Commerce" by Packt Publishing

Drupal e-Commerce book coverPackt Publishing is continually coming out with Drupal books for different verticals. They have a "Drupal for Education and E-Learning" title coming up, they sell the "Drupal Multimedia" title, and they are spot on with "Selling online with Drupal e-Commerce". Their target is the beginner who might have chosen another e-commerce software, and would only choose Drupal if directed from start to end to build user registrations, static pages and the e-commerce functionality itself.

Interestingly the original announcement of the book on Drupal.org spurred a lot of "why a book about a dead module, write about Ubercart instead". But this book is a testament that Drupal is really open, and the two competing (huge) module sets for e-commerce: Ubercart and e-Commerce are both moving along and worth evaluating.

Coincidentally I got this book for review just I was about to build the registration cart/wizard/payment interface for Drupalcon Szeged. We were in talks with Ryan Szrama from Ubercart who was about to sign up to help out with our payment system, I've been reading the book on the competing module suite, and at the end decided to assemble a custom built Signup, Signup Status and Simple Paypal modules based solution. I would not suggest you to go on a custom module set route unless you see your requirements really clearly, and feel adventurous enough to build an exceptionally tailored system for your own needs. (In our case, it turned out that our model was not as fitting to practice as we thought so, and an Ubercart / e-Commerce based system might have been a better fit). Generally, I'd suggest you to just grab a cookbook like this one and play along.

Because this book starts from the beginning and builds up a shop from the ground up, it will be useful to you even if you are not going to use e-commerce, but instead would take Ubercart. Some concepts will be a bit different, but you'll get an understanding of the issues involved with building a shop, including permissions, roles, branding, tax rules, payment and shipping details, securing sites and marketing the business. There is a lot of value in this book for beginner Drupal site builders beyond dealing with the e-commerce module itself. Basic concepts such as Drupal content and user management are explained, so that you can just take this book without buying a few hundred more pages on generic Drupal site building. On the other hand, appropriate contributed modules like Taxonomy Access Control, Image, Image Attach, CAPTCHA, Legal, Login Security, etc. are used and explained briefly where necessary. Of course this also means that if you need specific information on things such as Drupal theming, you'll need to refer to other resources, but that's not a pre-requisite to building a shop, right?

All-in-all, I'd suggest you to read this book, if you are a Drupal beginner looking to set up shop on the internet, or a somewhat experienced Drupal user, who never built a complex e-commerce site yet.

Reviewing "Drupal 5 Themes"

Drupal 5 Themes Earlier this month, I got a copy of "Drupal 5 Themes" for some reading pleasure. I just arrived to the end, and after submitting a bunch of non-major errata entries, I thought it would be a good idea to share my thoughts with you.

A lot of people wondered in the drupal.org thread whether such a book is any valuable now that Drupal 6 is out. Well, after reading it through, I can state as well that it certainly has value for people interested in a comprehensive Drupal theming introduction. Book publishing is not a quick process, the CSS reference of the book was updated for Drupal 5.2 (admittedly not much changed in later versions as far as CSS goes, if anything), and the author mentions writing parts of the book while Drupal 5 was just briefly out. Implementing ground-breaking changes is not much easier however, so Drupal 6's new theme flexibilities and features does not require unlearning Drupal 5 knowledge. People familiar with Drupal 5 theming will be able to pick up the new stuff in Drupal 6 much more easily.

Back to the contents of the book, the various chapters definitely provide a decent introduction to Drupal 5 theming. While I don't agree with some approaches (like the chapter on starting a theme from scratch really starting from empty files instead of copying default PHPTemplate files over), the book gives lots of tips which are hard to pick and gather from the Drupal forums. The author also takes liberty of reiterating some basic points multiple times, so it is easy to jump into relevant chapters (eg. modifying an existing theme) without reading all the others. This might feel like a bit too much repetition for people reading from start to end however.

The pages include lots of reference material, like the last chapter with a listing of major forms to theme or chapter 4 completely filled with a list of themeable functions. I think these would have been better put to the appendix as reference chapters, but they are findable where they are nonetheless.

The book does not delve into advanced style sheets and layouts, so the examples provided are of the really basic looks. Those looking for creating top-notch themes still need their own creativity, but this should not be much of news for anyone. The book strives to provide a picture on how HTML and CSS attach to Drupal not how one does things like Sliding doors (a CSS technique) or SIFR (Flash text replacement) work. The author also skips advanced Drupal topics like how to use color module in your themes, although this does not feel like missing since color module would only be used in contributed (reused) themes most of the time, definitely not in purpose-built site themes. The themes produced in the book examples will not compete with Garland regarding their looks either.

Even a site building recipe is included, with things like block visibility settings, custom blocks and some essential blocks explained; showing off that building a site theme is not a generic task most of the time, but it needs to consider site specific needs including blocks, menus and settings even.

So all-in-all I'd recommend this book to all, who are new to Drupal theming, and would like to get a head start on integrating their HTML and CSS techniques to Drupal.

Drupal gets second place and $3000 on Packt Publishing's Packt Open Source CMS Award

The results are announced (with my emphasis).

The final result, as voted for by judges from The Open Source Collective, MySQL, the Eclipse Foundation, and 16,000 users on www.PacktPub.com saw a tie for first place between Joomla! and Drupal. In the event of a tie, a fourth independent judge would be brought in. This was Apoorv Durga who is a member of CMSPros and runs his own blog [http://apoorv.info/] on portals and content management. This crucial vote ended up with Joomla! triumphing over Drupal by one point.

The final result was as follows:

1. Joomla!- $5,000
2. Drupal - $3,000
3. Plone - $2,000

Full details