Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Open source CMS options

18th March 2007

After reading an article in the latest issue of PC Plus, I got curious about the world of content management systems again. I went over to OpenSourceCMS to sample the CMS demos that they have got on there. Mambo and Joomla! are fully fledged CMS’s and look impressive too, though how they would fit into my online presence is something of an open question. I spied that PHP-Nuke uses themes so that is an attraction; I am already used to that mindset thanks to WordPress. Drupal seems to be less slick than the others but that could be an attraction of itself; it does offer themes but no rich text editing is available.

All of the above are base upon PHP/MySQL but I ignored them for some reason when I last took a look at open source CMS’s. That does seem a strange thing to do but this was a while ago and the moderate cost of adding database functionality to my website was not something that I was willing to pay, though I have done so since for HennessyBlog. I therefore ended up taking a look at Plone (built on Zope and using the Python programming language). What I was had in mind at the time was a replacement for Perl-powered photo gallery and a CMS was never going to fit the bit; it still doesn’t. In any case, I like coexistence of website components on a single server and Plone left me with the impression that it was an all or nothing affair. Things may have changed since so giving it another go remains an option.

I have now decided to take a look at Drupal but the emphasis this time is not on using it as a photo gallery platform; if I wanted that, I’d go with the API for something like Flickr or Zooomr. This time, the emphasis on using a CMS to manage the visitor information directories on my website. It does coexist with the other website components, including WordPress and the aforementioned bespoke built photo gallery. Interestingly, Drupal does offer blogging functionality if I wanted it.

Set up involved a spot of work with mySQL before moving onto other things:

mysql -u adminuserid -p /* logging in*/

create database drupal; /*creating new database*/

grant ALL on drupal.* to adminuser identified by “**********” /* granting access to new database */

quit; /* exiting */

I prefer command line working with mySQL; it is easier to see what’s going on (not wrong, hopefully). For some reason, Drupal comes only in tar.gz archives but I extracted this into the web server directory and opened up the site in Firefox. Installation only requires set up of database access and is very quick. A few things turned up in the status report that needed attention: cron, this can be run manually; activation of PHP Unicode and GD library (PHP’s gd_info function is a real help in testing this) extensions, editing of php.ini to remove commenting semicolons activated them and restarting Apache made them available; having a place to store uploads, the directory files was created.

I have since set about bending it to my will, not always an easy thing to do with software. The first thing to do was to give it a static home page. By default, Drupal places tasters for any nominated pages and stories on its home page and shows configuration instructions until you allow some content to filter through. However, adding the Front Page module allows you to override this behaviour and have something more static. It was an entry on Kehan’s Blog that set me heading in the right direction.

The next steps are be to persuade the thing to allow external links to exist in menus (patches exist but I have yet to learn how to apply them other than finding the nefarious piece of code and replacing, a considerable challenge that makes me wonder if there is not a better way to do it: with a module, perhaps?) and carry on the theme editing until it ties in with the rest of my site. Then, I’ll make the decision as to whether to replace my current work flow (Perl-powered pre-processing of XML into PHP/XHTML using XSLT and the Saxon parser followed by FTP upload to the web server) with this one. The automation of the former argues in its favour. We’ll see how things pan out…

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