What is Drupal?

Are you looking at Drupal? Have you heard of Drupal but not sure what it can do for you? Is the Drupal icon just so cool that you want to be a part of this movement?

Drupal is a content management system that makes use of modules to allow site administrators to organize and display content, customize appearance and manage routine tasks, such as registration for websites requiring user names and passwords. One of Drupal’s key characteristics is the fact that the entire Drupal framework is open source, meaning that the source code is available to anyone interested in working with it. The system itself is also free for all users, and while some web designers sell certain types of Drupal customization, many themes and modules are available for free as well.

Drupal is written in PHP, a programming language known for its usefulness in producing dynamic web sites. Drupal works with Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and many other operating systems. However, it does require a database, such as MySQL to store content and settings. Anyone can create modules for Drupal, and currently available modules range from photo galleries to e-commerce systems. Modules can even change Drupal’s default behavior in order to build a better website. There are also extensive tutorials and documentation available for Drupal, due to the community built around Drupal development.

While some web designers have criticized Drupal as difficult to learn, the system has received extensive accolades for its usefulness and relatively rapid build time. It is also known for its dynamic nature: websites designed on the Drupal framework can be changed rapidly by modifying modules. Joomla is considered the chief alternative to Drupal, although there are other options for more specific purposes.

Drupal was originally written by Dries Buytaert, who still heads the Drupal project. Buytaert transliterated the Dutch word ‘druppel,’ which means ‘droplet’ to create the name ‘Drupal,’ in order to make an indirect reference to the community aspects of the project through the Dutch word ‘dorp,’ meaning ‘village.’ He opened the source code for community work in 2001.

What is Drupal Good For?

Unlike war, Drupal is good for many things. On the other hand, Drupal is far from a one-size-fits-all solution, and some projects are a much better fit for it than others.

Drupal is growing leaps and bounds these days, powering everything from ma and pa brochure sites to Obama’s recovery.gov. Does this mean it’s a great fit for any website? Not exactly.

Drupal has been defined as many things, including a content management system, a web application framework, and community plumbing. In some ways, this is both a blessing and a curse; there’s so much you can do, in so many different ways, that new users are crushed under the weight of the options and lack of clarity. In addition, all of that flexibility does come with a cost, in terms of performance and conciseness.

This presentation will cover some Drupal basics including history, core concepts, and system structure. From there, we will dig into Drupal’s strengths and weaknesses, finishing off by discussing the types of projects Drupal is best suited for, including specific examples for each case.

My hope is that developers new to the platform will gain a better understanding of when to approach a new project with Drupal, more experienced developers will gain a bit of insight on when not to use it, and non-techies will have some help in choosing a platform for their projects along with an understanding why developers they work with select a given platform. Please note that this talk will not delve deeply into the technical details of Drupal.


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