Joomla! 1.6 First Look

By Eric Tiggeler
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  1. Stepping Up to Joomla! 1.6

About this book

Release of the much awaited Joomla! 1.6 is just round the corner. There is a lot of hype and curiosity about the new features Joomla! 1.6 will provide and how it will affect existing users.

Joomla! 1.6 First Look is a concise guide to the new features of Joomla! 1.6, targeted at existing Joomla! users and developers. If you want to see what's new in Joomla 1.6 and how it's going to affect you, this is the book for you.

This book will give readers an insight into the new features of Joomla! 1.6, showing them what has changed, how the changes will affect them, and how to upgrade to Joomla! 1.6 from existing Joomla! versions. It begins with general changes in interface and basic articles, and then takes you through the changes in menus, control levels, templates, extensions, and SEO features. It explains the new features and how to use them, drawing attention to significant differences from how things used to behave. By the end of this book, you will be well-versed with the consequences these changes will bring to you as a Joomla! user or developer.

Publication date:
March 2011
Publisher
Packt
Pages
236
ISBN
9781849513425

 

Chapter 1. Stepping Up to Joomla! 1.6

The Joomla! development team has worked for several years on the latest release, Joomla! 1.6. This may seem like a lot of time, but it's definitely been worth the wait. Important new features have been added, previous limitations have been dealt with, and many improvements have been added. All in all, the Joomla! CMS is fully up-to-date again. It's more powerful, more user friendly, and more fun to work with.

In this chapter, you'll learn what to consider when upgrading from Joomla! 1.5 to Joomla! 1.6 and you'll get acquainted with the main new features and enhancements.

 

Upgrading from 1.5


If you've installed Joomla! 1.5 before, installing the new version will seem very familiar. The installation process—using the Joomla! installation wizard—has remained unchanged. However, before you start installing Joomla!, make sure that your web hosting account meets the following list of server requirements for Joomla! 1.6.

To enable you to run a Joomla! 1.6 powered website, your web hosting account should support:

  • PHP 5.2 or higher. PHP is the scripting language that Joomla! is written in.

  • MySQL 5.0.4 or higher. The MySQL database is where Joomla! stores its data (the contents of your site).

The other system requirements have remained the same since the 1.5 release:

  • Apache 1.3.x or higher. Apache is the web server software that processes the PHP instructions for how to pull in contents from the database and display a web page.

  • XML and Zlib support. Your host's PHP installation should support XML and Zlib functionality.

Note

If you don't have a web hosting account yet, it pays to be picky. Although you shouldn't have problems finding a suitable web host, don't just go for any budget hosting service. It's best to have a hosting account allowing you to change certain server settings yourself (typically by editing either a special file named .htaccess or by permission to add a php.ini file with these settings to your account). This will ensure that you can optimize server settings and successfully run Joomla! 1.6 even when your site, your site traffic, and your requirements may change. Examples of good web hosting services for Joomla! are Siteground.com, BlueHost.com, InMotionHosting.com, or Rochen.com.

You can find detailed server requirements at the official Joomla! help site: http://help.joomla.org/content/view/1938/310/.

Joomla! 1.5 extension compatibility

Joomla! 1.5 featured a special legacy mode to maintain downward compatibility with extensions that were written for Joomla! 1.0. Joomla! 1.6 doesn't have such a compatibility mode. This means that all extensions are now required to be "Joomla! 1.6 native". As most extensions developed for Joomla! 1.5 won't run on Joomla! 1.6, extension developers will have to revise their code for the new release.

To check if your favourite 1.5 extensions are already compatible with Joomla! 1.6, go to the Joomla! Extensions Directory (http://extensions.joomla.org). Extensions for 1.6 are marked with a special compatibility label.

Changes for templates

Templates created for version 1.5 can't be used in Joomla! 1.6. The new release uses clean, semantic HTML code, without using tables for layout purposes. This is good news, as template developers are no longer required to add so-called template overrides in order to achieve a semantic design. However, it is one of the reasons that developers will have to upgrade their existing code to move a 1.5 template to version 1.6.

You shouldn't have any trouble finding a suitable template for a 1.6 site. New and updated templates are becoming available every day.

Note

In this book, we won't go into the the technicalities of upgrading template code. If you want to know more, go to http://www.prothemer.com/blog/tips-and-tricks/7-tips-to-help-convert-your-joomla-1-5-template-to-joomla-1-6/.

When should you move to 1.6?

If you've got a site running on 1.5 and the extensions you are using haven't been updated to 1.6 compatibility, do not upgrade your production site to Joomla! 1.6. But, you can create a testbed and install 1.6 and get acquainted with the new features. Move to 1.6 when you've made sure that Joomla! 1.6 is stable, all desired features work as they should, and all necessary extensions and templates are available.

Migrating content from Joomla! 1.5

Joomla! 1.6 doesn't contain any functionality to upgrade content developed for a 1.5 powered website to a 1.6 site. The main reason behind this is that the structure of the content database has changed substantially due to some of the feature improvements in 1.6, such as the replacement of the old content organization system (using sections and categories) with a new and more flexible system of unlimited nested categories. You'll read more about that change in the Working with content section later in this chapter.

Migrating to 1.6 probably won't pose a problem if you have a small site or if you plan a complete overhaul of your existing website. Switching to the new release can present an opportunity to update both your website and its content. You can copy content manually, pasting existing article text into the article editor of the new Joomla! 1.6 installation.

Note

Upgrading automatically

What can you do if you want to keep all your existing content and the existing structure of your website when upgrading to Joomla! 1.6? Matias Aquirre of Matware has developed a component called jUpgrade that will move your entire site, including its database, from 1.5 to 1.6 automatically. At the time of writing, this component is still under development. To learn more, go to http://extensions.Joomla.org/extensions/migration-a-conversion/Joomla!-migration/11658.

 

What's new? A quick overview


You probably want to get your hands dirty and start right away building a website using this new Joomla! release. Don't worry, we'll get to that in the next chapters. For this chapter, however, let's take it easy. Lean back comfortably and enjoy a guided tour to all that's new in Joomla! 1.6.

There are hundreds of changes in Joomla! 1.6. Some are invisible; these are technical improvements making the Joomla! engine more efficient, doing a better job at powering your website, and making it better optimized with search engines. Other changes are visible improvements to the user interface that make it more intuitive to use. In this section, we'll cover four main fields of improvements: usability, working with content, user access, extensions and templates.

1 - Usability enhancements

Joomla! has been a very powerful tool from its earliest days. However, it didn't always make it easy on its users to unleash all that power. Joomla! users had to get used to jumping around from menu to menu in the backend administration area to perform simple tasks, such as editing a menu item. In version 1.6, the backend user interface (the administration area) is tidied up and simpler to use.

A friendlier interface

At first sight, Joomla!'s restyled and rearranged backend administration area may not seem really different from the 1.5 version . Here's what the new version looks like:

One of the usability improvements that will save you many unnecessary clicks is the introduction of tabbed buttons in many backend screens, allowing you to switch quickly to another screen to perform related tasks.

The screenshot below, for example, shows three tabs that are displayed in the Article Manager. When managing articles, these allow you to jump from the Articles screen to the Categories screen, where you can add or edit article categories, or to the Featured Articles screen, where you can assign articles to the homepage:

The administration area layout has been further updated allowing easier access to those features that you use regularly. For example, a new Users menu has been added to the top menu that gives you access to enhanced users, groups, and permissions tools (called Access Control Levels or ACL). This menu lets you add users, and define what they can and cannot see or do on the frontend and backend. The Users menu is where you set all Access Control Levels (see the New ways to manage user access section later on in this chapter).

The great new time-saving toolbar

In 1.6, the toolbar in the Administration area contains new options—each of them great time-savers. As an example, here's what the toolbar buttons look like when you're editing an article:

One example of a clever addition is the Save & New button. This allows you to quickly create a series of articles one after another without having to close the New Article screen.

Note

In the course of this book, you'll learn more about changes in the way you'll work in the Joomla! 1.6 backend. In Chapter 2, we'll focus specifically on all that's new in the administration area interface.

2 - Working with content

The main thing that a content management system should help you in doing is of course to publish content and to manage existing content with minimal effort. In this respect also, Joomla! 1.6 makes some significant steps forward.

The endless joy of unlimited categories

A major innovation is that Joomla! 1.6 allows you to organize content exactly as you want. Up to Joomla! 1.5, you could only classify your content in three levels: sections would contain categories, and categories would hold articles.

Section

Category

Article

Photography

> Camera Reviews

> Pentax kX review

Although this didn't pose problems for most sites, it was nevertheless a strange restriction. That's why Joomla! 1.6 introduces a more flexible system of classification. Categories can now hold an unlimited number of subcategories. This means that you can have a hierarchy like this:

Category

2nd level category

3rd level category

4th level category

5th level category

Article

Photography

> Reviews

> Cameras

> SLR Cameras

> Pentax

> Pentax kX review

A category can hold as many subcategories as you need. This concept is called "unlimited nested categories". In most cases you won't need more than two or three subcategories, but if you do, there's nothing to stop you.

You can check the content category hierarchy in the Category Manager. Child categories are displayed indented, with small gray lines indicating the sublevel:

The above screenshot shows the nested categories contained in the sample data that comes with Joomla! 1.6. As you can see, all article content is stored in subcategories of the main category Sample Data-Articles.

Note

Displaying the Category Structure on the frontend

You can also have a list of (nested) categories displayed on the website itself as shown in the screenshot below. In Joomla! 1.6, there's a new Menu Item Type available called List All Categories. Using this new Menu Item Type you can display an overview of (links to) all site categories. See Chapter 3, New category view # 1: List All Categories to find out more about the possibilities of this Menu Item Type.

On the next page, you can see an example of the output of the List All Categories Menu Item Type as it is used in the sample site that comes with Joomla! 1.6.

No more fiddling with menus

Adding menus and editing menus is something you'll do quite often in any CMS. In Joomla! 1.5, this basic functionality sometimes required many steps, clicking back and forth from the Menu Manager to the Module Manager. In 1.6, the Menu Manager now contains links to both the menu contents (the menu items themselves) and menu settings (the menu module details):

Moreover, when you add a menu link, you're now presented with a new list of clearly understandable Menu Item Types. For example, the Menu Item Type that was previously called Article Layout has been renamed to Single Article—which anyone new to Joomla! is much more likely to understand:

Note

In the rest of this book, you'll learn more about the new ways of working with content.Chapter 3 focuses on organizing content. In Chapter 4, we'll cover using menus and menu modules.

3 - New ways to manage user access

A major change in Joomla! 1.6 is the new Access Control Levels (ACL) system. It gives site administrators fine-grained control over what registered users can see and do on the website. Site members may have exclusive group access to special content and members of the editorial team may be allowed to access the backend and perform site management actions (such as creating or editing articles).

Joomla! 1.5 featured a basic ACL system: administrators could classify users into a limited number of fixed user groups with predefined rights. In Joomla! 1.6, there are no limits to the permissions system. You can create as many user groups as you like and control the rights of users in detail. In short, you can add users, assign them to custom groups, and define what these user groups are allowed to see and do both on the frontend and backend of the site.

You can set permissions on different levels: on a site-wide level, on the level of components, right down to the level of individual articles or modules. The site-wide permissions are set in the Global Configuration Permissions screen:

The new ACL system may be very powerful, but it can also be quite complex. You need to carefully plan how you want to set it up. But it can be fun too—it's really cool to be able to specifically control which pages different registered site user groups can see or edit. You'll see examples of this later on in this book.

Do you want it simple? Keep it simple

Of course, you don't have to use ACL when running a Joomla! site. If you're fine with the basic levels of user access that were present in 1.5, you can still use these. The 1.5 ACL levels are still the default configuration—it's just that you can now infinitely extend this system if you need that kind of control.

Note

In Chapter 5, you'll learn more about managing site users with the new Access Control Levels system.

4 - Working with extensions and templates

The availability of numerous high-quality third-party extensions and templates is probably one of the main reasons why Joomla! is one of the most popular CMSes. In Joomla! 1.6, the developers have made it easier to update extensions and they have made applying templates much more flexible.

Updating extensions? Just lean back

Using extensions is great—but there's also a weak point to relying on third party functionality. How do you keep track of updates for all the extensions you're running? In previous versions of Joomla!, you'd have to keep an eye on the Joomla! Extensions Database or the developers sites to see if updates were available. In real life, the difficulty of keeping track of upgrades has meant that many Joomla! sites are running with outdated add-ons, which cause security vulnerabilities and many other problems.

This is where Joomla! 1.6's new Extension Manager Update functionality comes to the rescue. With one click, you can search for updates for all installed extensions. If updates are available, you can install them immediately:

Templating to your taste

A strong point of Joomla! has remained: Joomla!'s intuitive template system enables site designers to customize the look and feel of their sites in just a few clicks, by swapping out the current template (and then rearranging module contents to fit the new template).

In Joomla! 1.6, it's easier to apply different templates to customize the looks of specific sections of the site: for example, if the visitor clicks on the News link on your site, another template can be applied, changing the looks of the site to fit that particular section.

Another new feature in this Joomla! release are Template Styles. Styles are combinations of template options, such as the template color scheme. Even if you apply just one template to the entire site, you can still select different template settings for specific site sections. One example of this is that you can have the home page of your site to display with a "green" color scheme (the first template style) and the other pages in the "blue" color scheme (the second template style):

Note

In Chapter 6, you'll learn more about using templates and template styles in Joomla! 1.6. Chapter 7 gives an overview of all that's new in working with extensions.

SEO improvements

Joomla! 1.6 offers some new features to optimize your site for search engines. It's easier, for example, to apply metadata to specific parts of the site. More importantly, you can now restore broken links to your site by using the new Redirect Manager.

This component (working in conjunction with the new Redirect plugin) keeps track of any "page not found" errors that occur when visitors are trying to visit pages that have been removed or deleted. Using the Redirect Manager component, you redirect future visitors to the appropriate new URLs.

This feature can be quite useful for people visiting your site through outdated links, as they won't just hit a dead-end error page any more. Moreover, search engine spiders can now keep track of valuable content, even after it has been moved to a new location.

Note

In Chapter 8, you'll read more about SEO improvements in Joomla! 1.6.

 

Summary


In this quick tour, we've only just touched upon some major changes in Joomla! 1.6. Let's summarize:

  • The server requirements of Joomla! 1.6 have been upgraded. Before you install Joomla! 1.6, check with your web host if your hosting account meets the new requirements.

  • Currently, Joomla! 1.6 doesn't contain any functionality to upgrade content developed for a 1.5 powered website to a 1.6 site. You'll have to copy articles manually or use a dedicated content migration extension, once it becomes available.

  • Joomla!'s rearranged backend interface is aimed at making it easier and faster to perform administrative tasks, skipping unnecessary steps. Menus have been rearranged, tabs and toolbar buttons have been added or renamed.

  • You can now organize content into as many categories as you want. The concept of unlimited nested categories is easier to grasp than the rigid old three level system.

  • A major change in Joomla! 1.6 is the new Access Control Levels (ACL) system. It gives site administrators fine-grained control over what registered users can see and do on the website.

  • The new Extension Manager Update functionality automates the process of keeping all installed extensions up-to-date.

  • To adjust templates to your taste, you can now set template 'styles'. Styles are combinations of template settings that you can use to give different parts of the site their own distinctive colors or layout.

  • The Redirect Manager helps you to automatically point visitors who visit your site through outdated links to updated URLs.

In the course of this book, you'll get to know all these enhanced features and try out how they'll benefit you when building your own site. In the next chapter, we'll focus on the new Joomla! 1.6 workspace. You'll learn how to get the most out of the new features of the revamped administration area.

About the Author

  • Eric Tiggeler

    Eric Tiggeler has authored several books on Joomla!, such as the highly successful Joomla! 2.5 Beginner's Guide  and Joomla! 3 Beginner's Guide, both by Packt Publishing. He has also written several Joomla! guides in Dutch. His books have received excellent reader reviews. He also writes tutorials for several computer magazines and Joomla! community websites. Over the last ten years, he has developed numerous websites, big and small, using Joomla!.

    He is fascinated by the Web as a powerful, creative, and ever-changing means of communication, as well as by the revolutionary software Joomla!, which enables anybody to create beautiful and user-friendly websites.

    On a daily basis, he works as a consultant and copywriter at a communication consultancy company affiliated to the Free University of Amsterdam. Over the last few years, he has written more than 20 books in Dutch on writing and communication. His passion lies in making complex things easy to understand.

    He is married, has two daughters, and lives and works in Hilversum, the Netherlands. On the Web, you'll find him at www.joomla.erictiggeler.nl(in Dutch) and www.joomm.net(in English).

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