Joomla! 3 Beginner's Guide

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By Eric Tiggeler
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  1. Introduction: A New and Easy Way to Build Websites

About this book

Joomla! is one of the most popular open source Content Management Systems, actively developed and supported by a world-wide user community. It's a free, fun, and feature-rich tool for anyone who wants to create dynamic, interactive websites. Even beginners can deploy Joomla to build professional websites. Even though it can be challenging to get beyond the basics and build the site that meets your needs perfectly, this book will guide you through it all.

Completely updated for Joomla! 3, this practical guide helps you to create professional and good-looking websites with Joomla!, whether you want to build a personal blog site or a full-featured company or club website.

The Joomla! 3 Beginner's Guide will help you to get started with Joomla! quickly. It's presented in an organized, easy-to-read manner. The book doesn’t focus on what Joomla! can do - it focuses on what you can do using Joomla!.

You learn how to get Joomla! up and running, how to organize content, add new menus, add new features, change the design and much more. Real-life examples and tutorials will spark your imagination and show you what kind of professional, feature-rich websites any web builder can achieve with Joomla!. The focus is on clear instructions and easy-to-understand tutorials, with minimal jargon.

Using the "Joomla! 3 Beginner’s Guide" you'll quickly gain the knowledge needed to build your own site, perfectly tailored to your specific needs.

Publication date:
March 2013
Publisher
Packt
Pages
434
ISBN
9781782164340

 

Chapter 1. Introduction: A New and Easy Way to Build Websites

You want to build a website. It should look great, and it should be easy to use and maintain. Keeping it up-to-date should be effortless. Changing the appearance of your site should take minutes, not hours. You don't want to manage it all by yourself, but you want to enable other people to log in and write new content without having to understand HTML or other coding languages. And when your site grows, it should be easy to extend it with new functionality—maybe adding a forum, or a newsletter. If that's what you're looking for, welcome to Joomla.

When it comes to creating a great, professional-looking website that's easy to use, you really can't beat the power of a Content Management System (CMS) such as Joomla. Without writing a single line of code, you can create any kind of site, boasting a variety of cool and advanced features.

 

Join the CMS revolution


Maybe you have already built websites the traditional way. That basically meant creating HTML documents—web pages—one by one. As the site grew, you'd end up with a bunch of HTML documents, trying to keep all of them organized and making sure all menu links stay up-to-date. You'd probably maintain the site by yourself, because it was hard for other people to find their way around the structure of your particular site, or be proficient in the web editing software you use.

Enter the Holy Grail of web building: the Content Management System! A CMS is an application that runs on a web server. It allows you to develop and maintain a website online. It comes packed with features, ranging from basic features to add and modify content to advanced functionality such as user registration or site search capability. In short, a CMS makes it possible to build sites that would normally involve a full team of web professionals with a massive amount of time, money, and expertise at their disposal.

All that magic is made possible because a CMS is really an advanced set of scripts (written in a scripting language, such as PHP) that uses a database to store the content of your website. From that database, it retrieves bits and pieces of content and presents them as web pages.

This dynamic way of storing and presenting content makes a CMS very flexible. Do you want to show only a selection of articles from a specific category on a page? Do you want to display only the intro texts of the most recent articles on the home page? Do you want to add a list of links to the most popular contents? Do you want to limit access to registered users? It's all possible—just pick the right settings. Additionally, a CMS allows you to integrate all sorts of extra features, such as contact forms, picture galleries, and much more.

The best part is that CMSes like these are yours to download and deploy today. You can pick your CMS of choice from a range of freely available open source products. Your new CMS-powered site can be online tomorrow. Now how's that for a great deal?

Note

What's open source software? The source code of this type of software is "unlocked", unlike software developed commercially. Everyone has access to the Joomla source code and software developers are encouraged to modify and to help improve the software. The name Joomla stands for "all together". It's as much a software product as it is an international community of people working together voluntarily to expand and improve that product. Most open source software is distributed free of charge, as is the case with Joomla. However, some Joomla extensions are commercial—you have to pay for them, but it's still open software (that is, you get access to the source code).

 

Why would you choose Joomla?


There are many open source CMSes around. They're all great tools, each with its own typical uses and benefits. Why would you want to choose Joomla?

  • People tend to choose Joomla because they find it easy to use. It has a clear and friendly user interface that keeps on getting better over the years. The redesigned Joomla 3 interface makes it easy to create and publish articles to keep your site current. You can manage content anytime, anywhere, whether you're using a web browser on a PC, a tablet computer, or a smartphone.

  • Adding new features to your site takes just a few clicks. There are thousands of extensions available for Joomla, ranging from menu systems to commenting systems and forums.

  • It's very easy to change the site's appearance—templates for Joomla are abundant and can be installed within minutes, giving your site a fresh look and feel.

  • The current Joomla release, version 3, adds many improvements and new features. It's easier to install the CMS, the HTML output is based upon the latest standards, and dozens of little changes—such as an improved text editor screen for creating content—make the CMS easier to work with and more powerful.

Apart from these typical Joomla benefits, it comes with all of the advantages of a state-of-the-art CMS. To name just a few:

  • It's really easy to add or edit content and to keep it organized (even if there's lots of it). Joomla allows you to categorize content using an unlimited number of multilevel categories.

  • Keeping hyperlinks up-to-date is greatly automated. For example, you can add category overview pages without ever having to manually update them—on a category overview page, Joomla will automatically add links to all new pages you'll put in that category.

  • You don't have to maintain the website all by yourself. Other users can add content, add new menu items, and much more.

The numbers seem to indicate that Joomla is the open source CMS of choice for web builders worldwide. It's the engine behind some 20 million websites worldwide and this number is still growing rapidly day by day. It's is one of the biggest open source software projects around, supported by a huge user community and constantly being developed further by an international team of volunteers.

What kind of sites can you build with Joomla?

Let's have a look at some great real-world examples of sites built using Joomla. If you're anything like me, seeing inspirational examples is what makes you want to get started right away, creating something equally cool (or preferably something even better). These are just a few examples from the Web and from the Joomla site showcase (http://community.joomla.org/showcase). They are very diverse sites from very different organizations, each with their own goals and target groups. What they have in common is that they deploy Joomla in a way that you could too. They adapt the CMS to their specific needs, making it perfectly suited for the content they present and the impression they want to make.

Here's an example from the Alliance for Catholic Education in the United States (ace.nd.edu). The home page uses various ways to present highlights from the site's impressive amount of contents.

The following example is a website of a M+H Architects, providing a clear and attractive overview of their services and projects (mharch.com):

Joomla can handle complex sites with thousands of pages. Here's an illustration of a content-rich site with a made-to-measure design—the Guggenheim Museum website (guggenheim.org):

One final example demonstrates that Joomla sites don't have to look anything like a typical CMS-powered site. You can use quite a different design—and still take advantage of Joomla's default functionality to power the site. This site presents a Dutch events company (puurspecialevents.nl):

Tip

If you're looking for some more inspiration, browse the official Joomla showcase at http://community.joomla.org/showcase or go to www.bestofjoomla.com and have a look around the Best of Sites section.

 

Learning to use Joomla


It may sound too good to be true. Does Joomla really make creating state-of-the-art websites easy as ABC. Let's be honest—it will make it reasonably easy, but of course it does require you to invest some time and effort. After all, working with Joomla (or any CMS) is very different from building websites the traditional way. You'll notice this as soon as you start installing the system. Compared to setting up a simple static website consisting of a few HTML pages, building a Joomla-powered site takes a bit more preparation. You'll need hosting space that meets specific requirements and you'll need to set up a database. It's very doable, and this book will guide you through the process step by step.

Once you've got Joomla set up, you'll soon get the hang of creating a basic site. The next challenge is to get things just right for your particular goals. After all, you don't want "just any Joomla-powered site"—you want to build a specific site, aimed at your specific target audience. The Joomla Beginner's Guide will help you to go beyond a basic site and make the choices that fit your goals.

Even using a CMS, it will take time and effort to create and maintain great websites. However, Joomla will make it much easier and much more fun for you (and your web team members) to get your site started and keep it evolving.

What you'll learn using this book

The Joomla Beginner's Guide isn't just about Joomla—it's about making websites, and it shows you how to use Joomla to make the best website you can. After all, if you're interested in all Joomla features and capabilities, you can get a reasonable impression by exploring the interface by yourself and trying out the menus and options. However, even a user-friendly interface doesn't tell you how to deploy it in the best way in real-life circumstances. What's the best and fastest way to get started, what features and options are particularly useful, what are the ones you probably don't have to bother using at all? I want to help you to tame the beast that's called Joomla, to find your own way around and to get things done—with a great-looking, user-friendly website as the output. That's what the Joomla Beginner's Guide is all about.

The Joomla Beginner's Guide is focused on learning by doing—the structure of the book reflects the process of building a website. In the first few chapters, you learn how to install Joomla, take a tour of the system, and get a feel for what it's like. After that, you'll learn all that's needed to build and maintain your own site, such as:

  • mastering the fundamentals by creating a basic website in one hour

  • adapt and expand the site to meet your changing needs. You'll set up a site structure and learn how to add different types of pages

  • how to make content easy to find through well-designed menus and design an attractive home page

  • how to engage your web visitors and turn them into active users who can register and add content

  • extend Joomla's capabilities and add special features (such as a picture gallery) to the site

  • change the site layout and make it more attractive

  • how to tweak the site to attract search engine traffic and to keep the site safe

    Tip

    Feel free to skip chapters!

    Don't worry, to learn using Joomla you don't have to follow all the book chapters and the exercises in them step by step. After you've gone through the introductory chapters, maybe you feel comfortable to skip to changing the design of your site or adding extensions. That's okay—you can jump straight into most of the further chapters and follow the exercises there as long as you have a working version of Joomla and some dummy content available.

What's the current version of Joomla?

On the Joomla website, two versions are available for download: 2.5 and 3.x. Joomla 2.5 will be supported until 2014. It's still commonly used, especially by experienced web developers, who need a matured CMS and want to be able to choose from thousands of extensions, developed specifically for 2.5. Joomla 3.0 is the first release of the next generation. It's stable and reliable, but the Joomla developers will keep on improving it until the new long-term release, 3.5, is finished. When you start using Joomla now, your best choice is version 3; you'll benefit from the latest improvements and features straight away, and the number of extensions you can choose from is growing rapidly, day by day.

Note

As Joomla 3 is still being actively developed, new features may become available. An example is the Tags component, which is planned to be added in version 3.1. For updates on these additions, consult the website accompanying this book, www.joomm.net.

About the example site

In the course of this book, you'll learn how to build a realistic example site step-by-step. Instead of just learning about Joomla's capabilities in general terms, you'll meet real-world web building challenges. Throughout the book, you'll achieve all of your fictitious client's goals (that is 'I want a website that my web team members can update themselves' or 'I want a website that makes it easy to navigate through a large amount of content').

Now who's that client of yours? It's CORBA, a club of Collectors Of Really Bad Art. They just love bad paintings and ugly sculpture. They argue it can be valuable art—in its own, ugly way. The CORBA people need a website to inform the public about their goals, informing the public about all sorts of bad art, showcasing fine examples of ugly art, and encouraging people to join and participate.

You'll take the CORBA site through different stages of development. First you'll base the site on Joomla's default design and layout:

Later on, you'll add advanced features and shape the site's contents and design to meet the changing needs of your client:

The CORBA site is a good example of what you can accomplish with Joomla. You start out with a basic website and add sophisticated features as you go. Of course, you can follow along in this book without having to actually perform all of the actions described—but you'll find it's a good and fun way to learn building a site and honing your skills step-by-step.

 

Summary


In this chapter, you've been introduced to the wonderful world of the Joomla CMS. You've learned about the difference between building a website the traditional way and using a CMS. You don't have to create HTML documents (web pages) one by one. Instead you use a web application to develop and maintain your site.

Using a CMS such as Joomla, you can create more powerful sites that are easier to maintain. You've also been introduced to the benefits of using Joomla, such as its ease of use, the ability to add extra features, and the ability to quickly change the look and feel of the site. In the rest of this book, you'll learn how to build a realistic example site with Joomla step-by-step.

However, that's enough background information for now—let's get started! In the next chapter, you'll get the Joomla software up and running. After that, you'll get familiar with the way Joomla works and start building.

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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