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Mike Riley

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Using Drupal Book Review

January 13, 2009

Drupal has become one of the most popular open source CMS projects thanks to its relatively easy implementation, extensible add-on architecture and devoted fan base.  Learning about this flexible PHP-based system beyond the simple setup and run tutorial available on the drupal.org website is why this book was written.  Read on for my review of this first edition O'Reilly book authored by several Drupal team members.
The first two chapters help readers install and configure a Drupal 6 instance and teach Drupal's terminology and navigational aspects.  The next eight chapters follow a standard recipe format of introduction, case study, implementation notes, spotlight, hands-on, taking it further and summary.  This format works well given the multi-authored nature of the book.  I'm not an enthusiastic supporter of books written by multiple authors since the content tends to suffer as a result of being presented in a disjointed or redundant fashion.  However, given the relative isolation of each of the main examples demonstrated in the book (ranging from job posting boards and photo galleries to wikis and online shopping carts) combined with the structured presentation format, this recipe approach minimizes unnecessary repetition.

Each chapter is accompanied by a copious number of screenshots, tables and call-outs that make learning Drupal a more portable, book-centric experience.  While I still find learning new information best sticks to my brain by doing (a practice encouraged by each recipe's "Hands-On" sections), developers who are short on terminal time but fortunate to snag blocks of reading time during commutes can consume and quickly reference the book's contents in just a few days.

Using Drupal checks in at just under 500 pages, and while the design carries the typical O'Reilly layout, the paper weight and quality feel lighter and less durable than past O'Reilly books.  Perhaps its my oversensitivity to paper stock, but thumbing through the book gave a tactical sensation of a step down from O'Reilly's previous releases.  Knowing how paper prices and distribution costs continue to erode publisher's margins, it's possible that O'Reilly attempted to offset these costs by moving to lighter weight paper stock, but frankly it communicated to me a physically lower quality product and, by extension, a less important topic for O'Reilly to publish.

One important and very sensitive topic that wasn't as sufficiently covered as it should have been was security, a word mentioned sparingly in the book.  Given the number of PHP exploits, a chapter or appendix should have been devoted to significantly clamping down a Drupal-driven site once it has been placed into the wild.

In summary, Using Drupal will aid developers responsible for managing Drupal-driven CMS's and extending them via community modules.  It will not teach developers how to write such modules, and does little to expose the underlying PHP code that drives the project.  Perhaps this is a good thing, since many serious web developers I know cringe at the thought of writing PHP code.  As such, Drupal's use may remain confined to content management while it acts as an umbrella or pointer to other non-PHP-based web applications for some time to come.
 
 
 
Authors: Jeff Robbins, Angela Byron, Addison Berry, Jeff Eaton, Nate Haug, James Walker
Publisher: O'Reilly Media
ISBN: 0-596-51580-4
Price: $44.99 US

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