Open Source

Book review: Teach yourself Drupal with this text

Sams Teach Yourself Drupal in 24 Hours makes learning Drupal easy for even non-programmers. Blogger Justin James discusses what he did and didn't like about the book.

Sams Teach Yourself Drupal in 24 Hours, written by Jesse Feiler, is designed to take a complex topic (working with Drupal) and make it approachable for people who are not necessarily programmers or even very technical people. For the most part, the book is successful, but it has one critical flaw that makes it less than perfect. (Download a sample chapter from the book.)

What I liked

Overall, the book is very well written. The author walks the reader through every major facet of working with a Drupal site. Do not let the title fool you: You probably will not spend anywhere near 24 hours reading the book, although it is easy to see how you could spend up to an hour per chapter if you are following along.

I toyed with Drupal a number of years ago, and I found it a bit overwhelming. I never thought of Drupal as being a true content management system (CMS); it was more like a basic CMS with all of the programming hooks to build great functionality. Fortunately, lots of developers have already built the functionality extensions that most users will want, and Feiler does a good job of covering those extensions.

I really like that Feiler describes not just the core Drupal components, but also the various must have add-ons that it might take a Drupal newcomer weeks or months to find out about. Some of the topics covered include installing and modifying themes, creating taxonomies, working with "friendly URLs," creating Web forms, displaying various views, enabling social networking capabilities like forums and comments, and adding on shopping cart functionality.

What I didn't like

Feiler dabbles a bit with giving you non-Drupal specific information, such as hints on managing a Web site development project or sprucing up a theme. This advice is hit-or-miss; it is never inaccurate per se, but Feiler often discusses a topic in a paragraph or two of a sidebar that some authors write entire books about.

The much larger problem is with the book's screenshots. The design of the Drupal management system takes up a large amount of horizontal space for the navigation on the left; as a result, the screenshots could probably be 20% larger with that trimmed off. In addition, the book has large margins. All said and done, if the screenshots cropped off the unnecessary parts and filled the page, they would be much, much easier to read. To make it worse, the way the screenshots are printed in the book, they have black text on a light grey background; this is another quirk of the Drupal system, where something that might work well onscreen did not translate to a legible screenshot. As a result, the screenshots are very difficult to read, which makes it challenging to follow along with the images. Unfortunately, this issue dramatically decreases the author's ability to convey information, since all too often the text says to fill in a form the way the screenshot shows it. Does this problem make the book useless? Far from it. But it does put you a bit more on your own than you might like. That said, in most of the cases, the Drupal screenshots should be easy enough for you to figure out on your own.

If you are looking for a helping hand to guide you on a Drupal project, this book is definitely a good start. But if you want that helping hand to carry you through the nitty-gritty details, you may find it lacking.

Note: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher.

J.Ja

Disclosure of Justin's industry affiliations: Justin James has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides; he has a contract with OpenAmplify, which is owned by Hapax, to write a series of blogs, tutorials, and articles; and he has a contract with OutSystems to write articles, sample code, etc.

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About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

2 comments
Justin James
Justin James

As a follow up, after I wrote the review I decided to do a site with Drupal, my first time touching the product in YEARS. I must say, what I learned in the book was extremely useful and helped me significantly when working on the site, even without needing to pull the book off of the shelf. J.Ja

lastchip
lastchip

The only thing I found with it, is it is difficult to customise a website and unless you have fairly extensive programming experience (I don't), you are stuck with the templates provided. That said, it's still a very comprehensive CMS and you can find without too much effort, a significant amount of fairly large companies that use it.

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