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Drupal 101: An Introduction

What is Drupal? How is it different from coding a website from scratch?

Building a website with Drupal is like making a quilt, while coding a website from scratch is like weaving a blanket from threads. Making a quilt still takes a lot of time and needs a lot of skill, but using the quilt approach has a lot of advantages:

  •     It's easy to swap out pieces without reweaving the whole
  •     You can often use pre-made pieces to make the process faster
  •     You can always weave custom pieces and sew them into the quilt
  •     You can rearrange the look much easier than reweaving a whole blanket
  •     A client can use Drupal to easily add more pieces to the quilt

Another advantage is that just like quilting, Drupal has a large community of people who love to sit around talking about it; you'll find a lot of people are excited to talk to you and to help you learn.

What kinds of pieces go into the quilt?

Pages are the main sections of your quilt. A page in Drupal will have at minimum, a title and an area for body text. Pages can also have extra features enabled, such as image galleries. Additionally, each page can also include smaller pieces, such as nodes or teasers.

Nodes & Content Types
Nodes are the pieces of fabric that make up the quilt. Each node is a particular "content type," just like each piece in a quilt is made of a particular kind of fabric. A quilt may use pieces made of cotton, linen and nylon, and your website may have nodes that are blog posts, news stories and case studies. When you make a new node for your site, the first thing to do is to decide what it will be made of.

Each node has an "edit screen" that allows you to customize that piece of fabric to fit into the quilt the way you want it. You will see this screen both when you first make the node and any time you go back to edit it.

You can view all of the nodes on your site in the "Content" list. Here you can filter by content type, whether or not it's published and other filters until you find just the one you are looking for. Then you can edit it, publish it or unpublish it.

With Drupal, you can also create new content types whenever you need a new one.

There are often times when you want users to see a list of the nodes available for them to view, like a page showing your most recent blog posts, or one showing the most popular news items. Just like a menu in a restaurant, this list can be more interesting with special descriptions for each option. With Drupal, you can cut a little piece off of your node and designate it as the teaser. Then whenever the node is listed, the users will see your special designated teaser.

You also choose whether or not users should see this special piece when they are looking at the node itself.

Blocks are like a ribbon that is woven in and out of your quilt. The same block may appear and reappear on your site many times and in many places. If you change the block, it will be changed everywhere that that block appears.

The design of the site is like the pattern and color of the pieces in your quilt. The files that control the design are called "themes." Using Drupal lets you change and update the design of your site comparatively easily, although just like with a quilt, it takes a practiced hand and a good eye to make a beautiful design.

Webforms are the different places where users can submit information to your site; perhaps putting in their contact information, or submitting a question. Webforms can send out an email notification whenever they are submitted. Drupal allows you to easily add items to your webforms, each of these items (such as a space for the user to enter their email address or zipcode) is called a field.

Taxonomy lets you sort and organize the pieces in your quilt. For example, you might want to list all of the square quilt pieces. First you would make a list called "Shapes" and in that list you would name all of the shapes that you want to classify, for example "Squares" "Triangles" and "Rhombus." (This is called a "Vocabulary") Then you would tag "Square" to all the squares, "Triangle" to the triangles, etc. etc. Allowing you to easily make that list of squares.

If you decided to add circles or remove triangles from the classified items, you could always add  "Circle" or remove "Triangle" from your "Shapes" vocabulary.

Blogs often use taxonomy to categorize their subject matter, for example a blog post might be tagged with its topic, such as "politics" or "health."

Users, Roles and Permissions
With a real quilt, you wouldn't want just anyone to use it. Maybe you'd let anyone look at it, but only your friends could touch it. Maybe you'd let them create new pieces to be sewn in. With Drupal you can decide just who is able to do what with your website, called "Permissions." You can create permissions as restrictive or generous as you please. You control who can see and do what to each node by assigning the user a "Role." Each role carries a particular set of permissions and can be assigned to as many users as you like.

By default, anyone who is looking at the site, and not signed in, is assigned the role "Anonymous User."

Common User Roles
Many sites have roles like these, and you may have one or more of them on your own installation. Drupal allows for so much customization that you can create very specific roles.

    "admin," (short for Administrator) Bluecadet
        The administrator has access to the technical settings and has permission to do anything on the site (this is important for setting up and maintaining the site).

    "Content Administrator" or other name for the client's administrator
        The client will have access to content creation and less technical settings; these will be streamlined for what they will need to do on the site.

    "Contributor" or "Editor" Can create and edit their own content, but may or may not be allowed to publish it

    "Authorized Users" users able to sign in for specified reasons
        These may be users who sign in to the site to complete a task, for example on an e-commerce site, a user may sign in to track a package.

    "Anonymous User" anyone looking at the site who is not signed in

Depending on their role, users may be able to leave comments on your site. Of course, if someone is writing on your quilt you will want to make sure that you like what they're saying. Drupal makes it easy to check people's comments either before or after they've been written, or allows you to forbid them altogether.

Modules are packets of code that add functionality to the site. In general you won't need to worry about them, but you may hear them referred to from time to time as the site is being built or when you are adding new functions to the site.

Menus determine the placement of pages in relation to each other, and the items listed in each of the navigation bars. Generally the pages are referred to with familial terms such as "parent" "child" or "sibling."

For the most part you won't need to worry about these, since Bluecadet will set up the menu structure for you. If you are adding a new page you will see a dropdown for the page's parent, in that dropdown choose the page that you wish the new one to be filed under. For example a new page called "Manicure" would go under "Services."

There are several important kinds of caches, which can be thought of as hidey-holes of data files. As your computer surfs the web, the browser saves large items like pictures and videos and puts them into it's cache: "Browser Cache." When you go back to the site again, it will not have to download these items again, but will instead pull the picture out of it's hidey-hole to show you. In the normal course of events this speeds up your experience of the internet greatly. The computer will reuse the stored information in its cache for a while before eventually checking the website to see if it has changed.

Unfortunately, if the site has changed since the last time you were there, and your cache has not caught up, you will see the old version and not the new one. If you're working on a new site this can be frustrating, since you may not immediately see your changes. Luckily there is a solution to this which is to "clear your cache" or even "disable" the cache. Bluecadet can teach you how to do this.

There are other types of cache, even your Drupal site itself has a cache, and you may hear of these being cleared at various times, however Browser Cache will be the most important to remember.

The Drupal site can tell you how it's doing, what has happened lately with the site and anything that may have gone wrong. Reports can be technical, and may or may not be enabled for your Role.

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