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Keywords: Joomla!, CMS, web publishing, content management
Title: Joomla! Explained
Author: Stephen Burge
Publisher: Addison Wesley
Verdict: Ideal for a first look at Joomla!
The Joomla! content management system is one of the most popular open source web publishing and application frameworks. Built using the PHP programming language, sound object oriented principles and using the open source MySQL database for the back-end, Joomla! is used to develop and publish thousands of good quality and professional looking web sites.
However, while it is supremely flexible and well put together, it all suffers from a steep learning curve and has a reputation for being difficult for beginners to get to grips with. Joomla! explained is a tutorial explicitly aimed at those beginners, offering a step by step approach to putting a site together. It assumes no prior experience of web development, including no knowledge of HTML, CSS or PHP. It doesn't even assume that the reader has access to a functional Joomla! installation. So, how does it do as a guide to the new and probably perplexed user?
The opening chapter provides a very quick introduction to what Joomla! is and what it does. It's really a very fast taster of what the software can do and what the book promises to help you do. And then it's into the meat of the book. In tackling installation the author looks first at 'one-click installs', which many web hosting companies are offering pre-packaged, but then does the decent thing and looks at a manual install. This is a good move as going for a one-click install is easy but it's not much good if your web host doesn't offer it, or only an elderly version of Joomla! is on offer using this route.
Once you've installed then it's straight into using the software, starting with a quick tour of the admin pages and the user pages. As with the installation chapter, it really pays to follow along as you go through the book. Some tutorials are designed so that you can read them off-line, but not this one. The tutorial is geared around setting up a site for Joomlaville, and so each of the chapters extends this idea.
To get the most from the book you really need to follow and to practice - and obviously one good way to do this is to install Joomla! manually on a virtual machine like VirtualBox if you don't have a live host you want to mess with.
The author makes a big deal about the work flow involved in publishing content using Joomla! - a workflow that he calls CASh - Categorise, Add, Show. This is a neat idea and it helps to separate out the difference between the content, how it's entered and stored and how it's actually seen on the site. This is an area that can really be tricky for the beginner to understand, but the workflow is drummed in again and again until it finally sinks in.
Once the basics are out of the way then it's in to looking at extending things - so there are chapters on all of the different extensions: modules, plug-ins and templates. There are also chapters on components, complete with examples of some of the more common components that most sites are likely to need: contact forms, news feeds, search etc. And, like all good tutorials, all of these objects are introduced naturally and you walk through the process of installing, configuring and using them.
By the time you get to chapter twelve you've pretty much covered enough territory to use Joomla! to build your own site. And that's pretty much what you do in chapter 12, building your own personal site and incorporating what you've learned building the Joomlaville site. From then on the final few chapters look at more advanced topics, such as languages and site administration.
Overall this is a really good introduction to Joomla! for the absolute novice. It's clearly not aimed at the more technically oriented reader, so for example it's not much use for the experienced PHP developer who wants to get under the hood. On the other hand if you're a site admin suddenly told that you're looking after a Joomla! site then this tutorial is a great place to turn to.