A word about Drupal.

Submitted by Ed_B on Thu, 10/08/2009 - 04:46

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Before the new wears off this Drupal thing, I'd like to put down some thoughts about the server, etc.

First Drupal is a beast of a content management system (CMS). I mean that in the best and worst ways possible. It's all things to all peole who want web2.0, ecommerce, community sites, whatever. It does this through having a "core" and hundres of plugins you can use to customise your server.

This power comes at a price. A raw install is hugely time consuming if you don't know what you're doing. If you want to get _good_ at drupal, you need to learn PHP, CSS, and Javascript. I know none of these things, but I've still made it run. But it's very true that the more you know,the more you can do.  Other people have said this so I won't sit here and complain. The biggest problem I had doing a bare bones setup on the ArtBus page was understanding "who" was asking questions during the setup. My problem was in differentiating the components of the system while doing the setup. On a raw install you have a bunch of identites.

  • your system root user login and password to install the appications on the computer
  • you always have a regular user account, too, so we'll throw that in
  • CMS systems build web pages on the fly by pulling pieces of the page out of a database. MySQL is a popular database, and it will want a root user all to itself. That's another login and password.
  • The database will be queried by some PHP scrips that get run by the web server application (Apache). MySQL will want a user with just enough permissions to build the pages. You'd never log in as this user, but you have to set one up and give it a login name and a password. The Drupal PHP scripts will use that login to access MySQL
  • Databases always have at least one database about the database server. I think it's internal config stuff like passwords, permissions, and amillion other database things. This database is not the one mentioned above.
  • Drupal needs an admin user, so there's another login and pasword combo.
  • I think I've missed another one or two

So when a login name is created in one place, I ofen get confused about what info the setup is asking for when you go to actually run things. I'm not sure the teminology for the different users and database access profiles (is that the word?) is consistant across different parts of the setup process. 


If you're patient, and don't mind reading a lot of postings on drupal help sites, you could get a system up the first time in about 20 hours, if you've never done anything like a drupal setup before. It _does_ get easier after the first time because you know what it's supposed to look like as the process goes along.

Managed hosting services like a2hosting (where this system is being run), offer different levels of drupal. Everything from a blank server for a DIY raw install, to one that more or less starts up and says "your content here". The cheap cheap pricing plans are of the latter description, but they're limited in size, bandwidth, and sophistication. a2hosting doesnt give shell access on their lowest end plan. That's a show stopper.

Drupal is huge and highly configurable and can do lots of stuff, but it is rough around the edges in some places. Backup isn't straightforward. You do have to edit the Drupal PHP scripts occasionally. If you're getting good guidence from help forums, books, etc., the changes are usually quick and you don't have to understand what you're doing to omake it work. But of course you can break things, too.

I've been working off and on for a couple of weeks getting this Drupal server running. I added the blog function, added a wysiwyg editor that does rich text and embedded pictures, set up the login so that authentication is done automatically thru email, and only to email addresses with the artic.edu or saic.edu domains. I picked a moderately configurable theme (there are hundreds to chose from) and stripped it down to pretty much bare walls. That's what you see here. In another post I'll explain how this Drupal install can be used to help like minded people communicate about technonlgy being used in art and design.

Now it's 4:30am, and I _must_sleep.