Monday, March 25, 2013

Drupal to the rescue

My sister wanted to jump start her business in migration services related to Sri Lanka and wanted a website done. Contemplating on how to approach this within the time frame requested i was thinking along a few dimensions.

  1. The site should be built in 1-2 days time
  2. Must be cost effective to host and manage
  3. Ability for my sister to manage the content as time goes by
  4. Deliver with minimal effort
First i thought i would mash up a site coding it myself. As the cost effective (the elegant way of say cheap) way of hosing as i know is with PHP i wanted to initially do the coding myself. As i am primarily from a Java background and given my PHP skills were a bit rusty since the only time i really code in PHP is when i do freelancing related projects, i was thinking whether i could finish it on the given timeline.

This is when i thought in the line of CMSs (Content Management Systems). There are many options to chose from such as Drupal, Wordpress, Joomla. Wordpress byitself is not a fully fledged CMS per se, but it gives you the ability to administer and manage your content.I went ahead with Drupal mainly because i found an ebook that explained it in detail and i was able to figure it out within a couple of hours time. Im not saying the other two options are less competent, but in the end i believe you have to approach the solution with something you are comfortable with given the time frame and since this is not like a mission critical system i am aiming to develop there were no explicity trade-offs.

Drupal with its modular architecture made me feel at home since its concept is easily comprehensible. Also its intuitive administrative console allowed me to teach my sister how to manage the site in the future without my help since she would want to change the content as time goes on.

The main important elements with regards to Drupal was;

  • Regions
          Region is all about page layout in its simplest terms. If you are to hand code with html and css, you will probably use div elements to divide your page for instance to hold the header part, footer section, and main content section. With Drupal you have a multitude of themes to chose from. I would say first design your website deciding on how you want your elements to be aligned. I use Adobe Fireworks for my initial design purposes. Then depending on your page layout you need to select the Drupal theme that best fits your layout since all themes have a specific layout to place content.

  • Blocks
         A block is a particular element in which you group a set of content that you want to display. It can be a navigation menu, or you can even build your own custom block which would consist of a certain section you want to present. Also blocks give you the ability to be able to be displayed only in certain pages which i believe is such a great feature to give the flexibility to the user.

  • Content Types
         There are mainly two content types when you first start out. Stories and Pages. A Story typical is published on the home page and allows the users to comment. It is recommended to use this for news feed and content that is updated regularly. Pages are static content which is mostly what is required when building web pages. You can even stick it on the front page if required so it can act like a story in someway. The beauty of Drupal is that you can even define your own content types to match your requirements. With Views and CCK (Content Construction Kit), you can customize Drupal according to your needs.

This is the site i built for my sister in the end. Its not flashy or anything, but hey this is the best i could achieve with around 6 hours of work to get it up and running. I used the basic bartik theme that comes by default since i did not see the need to adapt any other. You can also change the look and field by injecting your own customer CSS file. That is another topic by itself.

CMSs save alot of time you would spend aligning your content and adapting and incorporating possible changes in the future. It allows you to manage your content, security and users with ease. Also it prevents your site from known attacks such as cross side scripting, sql injections etc which otherwise you would be handling by yourself or through a framework you would be using. Though it is not as exciting as hand coding yourself, for me, it was the right tool for the job in this given situation. After all you should work smart and not hard right ;)

Cheers all and thank you for reading. As always comments and criticisms are always welcome.