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Learning Drupal: Back to basics

a picture of some cool pipes by tinou from flickr's creative commons by attribution listings

Drupal is powerful, it's undeniable. What's worrying is that you can get pretty far without understanding much about web development. This poses some challenges for novice web developers.

By simply installing the Acquia Dev Desktop you can quickly mock up a great new site with a dizzying array of features which would take you probably thousands of hours to code by hand. That is also not counting the years it would take you to build the relevant developer skills. The Dev Desktop includes a web server, scripts, database software, libraries - and all the components of Drupal itself wrapped into a nice little control panel package.

And that is the cool (also scary!) thing about Drupal, you can really hit the ground running if you're brand new to web development. What you want to avoid is hitting the ground with your face.

Recently, I received a question from a new Drupal user.

I am able to access my website from my computer Acquia Drupal Control Panel at localhost:8082 How do I pull my domain name example.com to localhost:8082 so the public can access? Also I would like to build multiple Drupal websites with different domain names. How do I accomplish this goal using Acquia Dev Desktop?

I've seen similar questions before. This person is a novice in web development and possibly just starting on a new career. While they have created a possibly magical and amazing website with Drupal, they are stuck because they don't know how to get it online. Or later, after they do get a host, they don't know how to maintain and update the site.

What do you need to know first?

When I get asked questions like this from novice, I am taken aback. So... where should we start? Even if you use the web everyday, no one expects you to understand how it works. I relate this to my knowledge of plumbing. OK, I can turn on the faucet, but I haven't got a clue of how that water gets from the reservoir.

However, as a novice web developer you need to start understanding the plumbing of the web as well. There are so many great resources about learning Drupal which jump right into using it as an end product, and don't carefully explain that underlying plumbing.

I made this short video to explain some of the concepts underlying Drupal to a novice developer. Sorry about the sound in the beginning, it gets a bit better. Before you watch this one, you might also want to check out this quick video from Doug Vann about How the Web Works.

Some of my favorite resources for people brand new to web development include:

Hmm... What next?

So - you have some basic concepts down now, but there's quite a lot more to learn before you're a bona fide web developer. Acquia has a few options suitable for novices...

  • You can use Drupal Gardens and completely bypass all the questions about hosting and maintenance. You still need to bring your site building skills!
  • You can outsource the maintenance and development to a more skilled developer. This can allow you can focus on the other aspects of your site such as community management or business development. If you're looking for some help, check out our list of Partners.
  • You can improve your web development skills through self teaching with a variety of useful Drupal learning resources, or through our developer training classes.

In fact, one of our training partners focuses solely on novices - Own Sourcing. I love that name. Get it? You train yourself so you don't need to out source. Own Sourcing offer free mentoring as well as commercial classes. Own Sourcing have a class on Saturday, May 14th in Boston for people who have business experience, but no web dev experience. Check out Build a Website in a Day for Start ups.

What Drupal training courses would you like to see?

I'll be the first to criticize that our current training materials don't address the needs of a novice developer. We have suitable Site Building courses... but the next jump is to Theme or Module development- for which you need experience of HTML, CSS or PHP. Novices have no prior experience of coding, and may even suffer from "code phobia".... eek!

Soon, we'll be announcing our new curriculum of Drupal 7 materials and more options for novice developers to hone their skills. We're now checking out the overall training program we seeded last year, and looking at the next stage of growth.

Whether you're a seasoned developer or brand spankin' new to Drupal, what courses would you like to see from Acquia?

If you're keen to find out more about training, please contact us at http://acquia.com/training/contact

Awesome plumbing photo by Tinou (cc)


Posted on by Bruce Clark.

Hi Heather
Thanks for the brilliant video - you are right there are quite a few simple folk such as myself who value Drupal big time but need constantly to go back to basics - your video is a great help - I've watched it about 3x and it nearly answers my question.
I have decided to redo a site called 'ctis' in D7 which I had started in D6 which in turn was an attempt to convert an existing static html/css site to drupal. When I used D6 (using WAMP) I placed my new files in sites/all/themes/ctis (.info, styles.css, page.tpl.php + a few others) Whatever I placed in this folder replaced any files in the downloaded D6.

I am trying to do the same using the DAMP stack and D7. Using the DAMP stack I set up an additional site called ctis. This was given the name ctis.localhost. I expected to find a file called ctis in C:/Users/Bruce/Sites/acquia-drupal/sites/all/themes/ctis but didn't instead I find: C:/Users/Bruce/Sites/acquia-drupal/sites/ctis.localhost.

So I thought I should put my .info file; a test styles.css with a couple of changes in colour etc, page.tpl.php , and the new D7 html.tpl.php but no changes ... the site is still using the core D7 files.

Am I putting the files in the right place?

Do I call the .info file ctis or ctis.localhost?
If the latter then my .info file looks like this:

name = ctis.localhost
description = a churches together website
package = Core
version = VERSION
screenshot = ctis.png
core = 7.x
engine = phptemplate
stylesheets[all][] = style.css

which seems correct.

or ... do I actually set up a new folder with the path I initially expected ... C:/Users/Bruce/Sites/acquia-drupal/sites/all/themes/ctis (or ... ctis.localhost)

(I did actually try moving the files there but lost the site altogether so think it cant be right)

I'm not sure what to try next. DAMP does not seem to put the site where I expect it to be and also gives it the appellation .localhost which throws me as to what to name my .info file and where to place it and any over riding files to develop my own theme

I hope this makes sense and would really value your help as I seem to be stuck on the first hurdle. I'm not sure if I automatically get a reply via email but would be grateful of a notification if you get time to answer.

Posted on by Bruce Clark.

What a burk - I only needed to change themes in Drupal (Doh!)

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