Crash course: How to make a website with Drupal

Drupal is an amazing content management system (CMS) that can build pretty much any Web site you want it to -- if you can figure out how. Follow along as I remake my personal Web site, bratgrrl.com, using Drupal.

[ Making money in open source: Drupal future looks bright ]

Why Drupal?

Everyone wants to know why choose Drupal, and how does it compare to WordPress and Joomla? A quick Web search will find endless comparisons and reviews. Here is the short story: Drupal is the most flexible and capable. It has a steeper learning curve, but once you learn your way around Drupal you're set for the long term and can build everything from simple personal blogs to giant enterprise sites, and build them the way you want. WordPress is super-nice and you can literally have a new site up and running in five minutes. (There are two WordPresses: the WordPress software that you install on your own server, and Wordpress.com, the giant hosted WordPress blogging site.) Joomla is also easy to get up and running. For me, both WordPress and Joomla are harder to customize and extend, while Drupal allows endless flexibility.

Installation

It will probably take more than five minutes to set up our shiny new Drupal site, but not much more, because I will spell out those all-important first steps that are so often glossed over.

An easy way to get started is to get an inexpensive hosting account that includes Drupal support. I use AMS Computer Services. I've run several sites on them for years and they have never let me down. All of their hosting plans includes Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla, and a giant batch of other CMS. Installation, updates, and removals are super-easy because they use the Softaculous auto-installer. Many hosting services include giant batches of open source servers, and you can visit Webhostingtalk.com to get good reviews and information about who is good. For this article I'm doing everything on my own AMS account using Drupal 7. You may elect to install Drupal on your own test computer. Consult the good Drupal installation guide for this.

Making a new site

It is helpful to use a second Web browser to preview your site as you make changes, so you can see how it looks without being logged in.

When you're managing any Web site on a remote server, your first job is to set up FTP access. If you mess up your site configuration and can't access it with a Web browser then FTP will save you. FTP is faster than faffing around in a Web browser anyway when you're editing or uploading files.

Figure 1 shows my original bratgrrl.com front page.

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Figure 1: The original bratgrrl.com. It doesn't get much plainer.

I whipped that up in a few minutes using a text editor and then didn't touch it for a few years. Softaculous installed Drupal into its own drupal/ directory, so bratgrrl.com is untouched, and I have to go to bratgrrl.com/drupal/ to see my new Drupal 7 installation. I'm going to leave it there until I have something decent to replace the old front page. Figure 2 shows the new bratgrrl.com/drupal/ page.

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Figure 2: The login page for my brand-new Drupal installation.
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