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Getting Meaty with Joomla!

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One year ago, I posted a whiny, melodramatic entry about the horrible abuse I was suffering at the hands of my employer when they implemented their mandatory everything-must-use-Joomla-for-a-CMS policy. I am now on the cusp of launching my third Joomla-backed site and, while I'm still not excited by it, I have learned to manage (and in some cases even enjoy it).

For anyone considering using Joomla for a content management system, I recommend that you either have or develop a good grasp of PHP and Javascript. Unless you have no interest in customizing the system and intend to use whatever generics you are given, then you needn't know anything more than how to write your name in crayon with no backward letters. For those of the former alignment, I present: Things I've Learned About Joomla!

1. Extensions are your friends. Plugins, components, modules... while they may seem rather jumbled and confusing at the onset are insanely useful and can cut your development time by days, weeks, or even months. There are extensions for almost anything and if there is no extension for what you need, you can likely find something very close and modify it to suit your needs. The differences between the three: modules are for page rendering - to get a specific piece of content to appear in a specific box on a specific page; plugins are event handlers such as generating a "read more" link in an article; and components are like mini-applications - banner ads, contact forms, and RSS feeds are all components working within the Joomla system.

2. In Windows, when Joomla installs an extension package, YOU are not the owner of those files, the script is the owner of those files. What this means is temporary files will not empty properly and neither will the actual files should you choose to uninstall an extension. Your best bet is to keep a running tab of everything you've installed and which items you've uninstalled and do a mass cleanup (consisting of manually changing file permissions and deleting by hand) just before site launch.

3. The secret to Joomla templates is no secret. It's whatever HTML and CSS you would have written in the first place. There is no magic formula. There is no secret code. It's just HTML and CSS. And each template requires three files: index.php, template.css, and templateDetails.xml - the xml file is used to identify the template author and any areas in which you intend to load dynamic content.

4. Free stuff is usually - but not always - as good as paid stuff. When it comes to Joomla extensions, there are crazy amounts of free options available. Many of these free options have paid alternatives with more functionality. Just a quick example is a Google Calendar plugin called "GCalendar". You can maintain a full listing of upcoming events in your normal Google Calendar and feed that information directly into your website. It comes in free and paid versions. The difference? In the free version, you have to go to your Google Calendar account to add, modify, or delete events. In the paid version, you can add, modify, and delete from your Joomla administration panel. The paid version runs about $30 (rounded conversion from Swiss Francs). For some, this is a drop in the cash bucket. For others, this is the week's grocery budget. So it really depends on what you have and what you're willing to sacrifice for a minor convenience. Given that my operating budget is $0.00 per fiscal year, I will be spending my career with the free variety.

5. The Official Joomla! Book is a waste of money. I bought it. I've used it four times. There is nothing in the book you can't find in a 30-second Google search. In fact, you'll usually get better information from the search. Save yourself $45 and just use your Google-fu.

It's really not as bad as I've previously made it out to be, but I fear it's making me a lazy coder since I rarely have to think through the logic involved in creating solutions to my development quandaries anymore - I just find an extension that does all the thinking for me. Perhaps I should start working on some custom extensions....

1 Comments On This Entry

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Sergio Tapia 

25 July 2012 - 08:17 AM
I was recently hired on a new job and we work with the Moodle framework. It's a behemoth of a software, but I also kind of like the feeling of just configuring small files and downloading extensions. It is boring though.

Luckily next month I'll be tasked with creating iOS applications that interact with Moodle's Web Service endpoints.
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