Drupal 101: More on Modules

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in October of 2009.
Last week, I kicked off this series on setting up a basic web site with Drupal, the popular open source Content Management System. This week we’re going to take a closer look at Modules, the Drupal add-ons that can extend your web site’s functionality. One of the great things about Drupal is that it is a popular application with a large developer community working with and around it. So there are about a thousand modules that you can use to extend Drupal, covering everything from document management to payment processing. The good news: there’s probably one that supports the functionality that you want to add to your web site. Bad news: needle in a haystack?

A potentially easier way to add extra functionality to Drupal is to download a customized version, such as CiviCRM or Open Atrium. We’ll discuss those options later in the Drupal 101 series.

Core Modules

Drupal comes with a number of built-in modules that you can optionally enable. Some are obviously useful, others not so much. Here are some notes on the ones that you might not initially know that you need:

Primary content types like blog, forum and book offer different modules for user input. They can be combined, or you can pick one for a simple site. Since the differences between, say , a blog (individual journal that people can comment on) and a forum (topical posts that people can reply to) are less distinct than they are in other CMS’s, you might want to pick one or two primary content types and then supplement them with more distinctive ones, such as polls or profiles.Enabling contact allows your users to send private messages to each other on the site, as well as allowing you to set up site-wide contact forms.OpenID allows your users more flexibility and control as to how they log into your site. I can’t see a good reason not to enable this on a public site. Since more and more people have profiles on social networking sites and Google, tools like Facebook Connect or Google Friend Connect should be considered as well.

By default, Drupal asks new users for a name and email, but not much else. With the Profiles module, you can create custom fields and allow your users to share information much as they would on a social network.

Taxonomy is also recommended, and I’ll talk more about that next week.

Throttle should be used on any high-traffic site to improve performance.

Use Trigger if you want to set up alerting and automation on your site.

Add-on modules, must haves:

CCK (Content Construction Kit) More than some CMS’s, Drupal is a content-centric system. It doesn’t simply manage content, but the web interface is structured around the content it manages: content types, content metadata (taxonomies), content sources (RSS feeds). Out of the virtual box, Drupal has content types like blog entries, pages and stories. Each content type has a data entry form associated with it. So, if you create a number of stories, and you want to read them all, then you can browse to the page “story” and they’ll all be listed there. CCK helps you create additional content types and use a fairly robust form-builder to customize the screens.Views

The Views module lets you customize the appearance and functionality of many of Drupal’s standard screens, and to add your own. Unlike CCK, which is limited to the default layout of content types, Views lets you seriously customize the interface. One easy reason to install Views is in order to take advantage of the Calendar view, which gives you not only a full page, graphical calendar to add events to and display, but also sidebar calendar widgets and upcoming event lists.

Here’s a tip: setting up the calendar view is reasonably tedious. The best write-up explaining it (for Drupal 6) is here: http://drupal.org/node/326061. Drupal’s documentation is okay, but this is step-by-step. It does miss one step, though, which is to add the “Event Date – From date” and “Event Date – To date” to the Fields listing (with friendlier titles, like “From” and “To”). Otherwise, calendar items show on the day they were submitted instead of the day that they are occurring.

calendar_view.png

There’s a good case to be made that these two modules should be folded into Drupal’s base package, because, in addition to providing very powerful customization features to the core product, there are a whole slew of additional modules that require their presence. If you plan to install a number of modules and/or customize your site, these are pretty much pre-requisites, so just grab and install them.

Contenders:

WYSIWYG EditorsWhat-You-See-Is-What-You Get, or Rich Text Format (RTE) editors transform Drupal’s default data input boxes into flexible editors with Word-like toolbars. The WSYIWYG module lets you install the editor of your choice. I’ve done well with FCKEditor (recently rebranded CKEditor, thank you!). The WYSIWYG module lets you work with multiple RTE packages and strategically assign them to different fields and content types. Most RTE editors are very configurable, but note that, in addition to installing the modules, you need to install the editors themselves, so follow the instructions carefully.Organic Groups

If you’re building a community site, with hopes of having lots of interactive, social features, Organic Groups gives you the flexibility to not only create all sorts of groups and affiliations on your own, but let your users create their own groups as well, much like Facebook does. For an interactive site, this is essential.

E-Commerce/Donations

Many modules are available for either integrating with Authorize.net or Paypal, or setting up your own e-commerce site. The aptly named e-Commerce module and Ubercart are among the better known and supported options.

Drupal fans: what modules do you recommend? Which do you install first? Leave your recommendations in the comments.

Next week, we’ll talk about menus, blocks and taxonomies: Drupal 101: Navigation.

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2 thoughts on “Drupal 101: More on Modules

  1. David Geilhufe

    Minor, though important clarification.

    CiviCRM is not a customized version of Drupal. It is stand-alone constituent management software integrated with Drupal and Joomla. Open Atrium is an install profile (or distribution) of Drupal. You can have CiviCRM without Drupal. You can not have Open Atrium without Drupal.

    1. Peter Campbell Post author

      Thanks for the clarification, which I should have made in the first place. I’m revisiting the Installation Profiles topic in the final segment (out Monday on Idealware, a week later here), and I’ve already subbed Acquia’s publishing distro for CivicCRM as an example, as I actually knew that, and should have spelled it out more clearly.

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