Digital Mission: Build a blog with Drupal

A quick into to Drupal, building your own blog in just two hours.

I've recently started working with the fantastic Freeformers, expanding their library of Digital Missions which are short practical based directions to get something useful done online. They're running weekly evening meetups called TechJams where anyone can come along, take on missions and learn and work together in a group environment.

Here's the first Drupal based Digital Mission, aiming to get your own Drupal site up with pages & blog posts, in just 2 hours!

Drupal is what’s called a ‘Content Management System’ or CMS for short. It comes with a load of useful tools to help you get a website up and running quickly. It’s also a very extensible and modular system, so you can start with the basics and build on top of it.

Drupal is used to build sites of all sizes, including some of the biggest in the world. The White House, The Economist, MTV UK, The BBC and The UK Government all use Drupal. (See some more of the amazing things you can do with Drupal at The Drupal Showcase website and Case Studies).

But why would we want to use a CMS at all? Understanding and using HTML, CSS & other web languages is really important but it will only get us so far, when we want to build more complex websites we’ll need a more powerful tools, and a CMS like Drupal will do a lot of work for us! A CMS will still produce HTML & CSS, but you won’t have to hand code it all, and you’ll be using tried and tested tools to build your website.

Drupal is Open-Source CMS which means it’s completely free, and the community who use Drupal all contribute back to it, actually one of the most powerful parts of Drupal isn’t the code itself but the diverse and supportive community. Check out the Drupal Community page for more info. And if you ever want some help you’ll be able to find it by using things like IRC, Forums, and Google.

So, let’s get going!

Step 1: Get a Drupal site setup

If you want to get a Drupal site up and running you’ll need access to a properly configured web server with a copy of Drupal installed. We could do set this up on our own computers, but this can take a bit of time. Lucky for us there’s a great cloud service called Pantheon which provides web hosting and developer tools for Drupal websites, and you can sign up for free.

  • Head over to Pantheon and sign up. Make sure you take care to note down your login details.
  • Head over to the ace Pantheon getting started guide and follow the instructions provided in the video. As the video suggests we should choose ‘Start from scratch’ and ‘Drupal 7’ when given the option. Watch the video up until 02:30 (after this point it’s all about the Pantheon Dashboard which you can use to manage your website, while this is useful to understand it isn’t essential for the moment).
  • The next step is to click the ‘Visit development site button’ where you’ll be presented with the Drupal installer. Fill out the form, page by page and by the end you’ll have a fully working Drupal site! See a step-by-step guide to filling this form out here
  • Congrats! You now have a Drupal website :)
  • When you’re on your new site you should be logged in and see a black toolbar at the top of the page. If you can’t see this, you can always login by filling out the login form on the homepage and use the Username & Password you specified in the ‘Site maintenance account’ section of the installer.

Step 2: Hello World!

Now comes the fun part, we’re going to see how powerful a CMS is by creating a new page with just a few clicks. To add a basic page you can follow these simple steps, or for more information there are lots of tutorials, see here, here and here.

  • Find the ‘Add content’ link (HINT: Click the little triangle in the top right) and create a new Basic Page, fill in anything you like in the ‘Title’ field, and add some dummy content into the ‘Body’ field. Try adding a menu link when creating the page to be able to easily navigate to it (HINT: check ‘Provide a menu link’ in the tabs at the bottom).
  • You can add as many pages as you want, and call them anything you like!
  • To edit a page you just need to visit it, and click the ‘Edit’ button

Step 3: Create some blog posts

So now we have our own website up and running and we know how to add pages, the next step is to add some posts. We’ll do this using the ‘Article’ content type that comes with the default installation of Drupal.

  • Add a few Articles, filling in dummy content for the title and body sections
  • Try adding some tags when creating the article’s, you’ll be able to click on tags and see everything with the same tag after you publish the content
  • Navigate to the homepage of your website, and you should see the Article’s you’ve just created

Step 4: Well done!

WELL DONE! You now have your own website, built with Drupal. You can add as many pages with as many menu links as you like, and you can add as many blog post articles with images as you like. Isn’t that awesome?

This is only the beginning though! Drupal is one of the most powerful CMS’s available, and you can do pretty much anything you can imagine with it.

If you want to customise your site a bit more, and learn more about Drupal:

  • Move some blocks around. Head into Structure -> Blocks and see what happens when you move blocks around.
  • Let your friends create accounts on your site and add comments to your blog posts by going to Configuration -> Account Settings and letting any visitors create an account.
  • Make it look good! Move on to the bonus level to change your theme

Bonus Level! Change your theme

Drupal comes with a very ‘Drupally’ look out of the box, so if you want to give it a bit more of a unique look you can change the ‘Theme’.

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