Drupal is an advanced website content management system (CMS) that’s very popular amongst professional Web designers.
It’s estimated that Drupal acts as the backbone for around 22 million live websites, and some of them you will have definitely heard of. These include the US White House, The Economist, and the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
As with any platform offering such a rich range of functionality, there is an inevitable learning curve when you first begin to build sites using Drupal, and Drupal’s curve is steeper than most. However, once you’ve learned the basics, you should quickly find that using it becomes second nature.
In this article, we are going to guide you through the process of setting up your first Drupal website. You don’t need any existing Web design knowledge, as we will take you through all the steps, from setting up your domain and hosting to launching your site. However, if you are a real technophobe, you may be better off choosing an alternative platform, such as Weebly, Wix, or WordPress.
For the purposes of the tutorial, we’re going to build a fairly basic personal site, but as your confidence builds you will be able to add all kinds of extra functionality.
There are various different platform options available to you if you want to build a new website, from simple online tools such as Weebly and Wix, to more advanced CMS options including WordPress and Joomla. Drupal sits alongside Joomla as one of the more advanced but most capable (and flexible) options.
Here are a few reasons why you may wish to opt for Drupal as your platform of choice:
1. Flexiblity: Drupal is suitable for Web projects of all sizes, from simple personal websites to large online shops and multi-user community sites. If your requirements are really simple, you could perhaps get the job done more simply with one of the other platform options, but Drupal gives you plenty of scope to build on your site in the future.
2. A great support community: Drupal has a user community of millions, and a great support network to back them all up. Drupal’s online documentation is free to use and highly detailed, so you should never find yourself with problems you are unable to solve.
3. Thousands of themes: As with other CMS systems, Drupal uses a concept of themes to control the appearance of websites. There are thousands of themes out there – just Google “Drupal themes” and you’ll soon see what we mean. While some of the more advanced themes are commercial, there are plenty of others that are attractive, functional, and completely free.
4. Easy install: Thanks to Drupal’s widespread popularity, most of the best Web hosting companies offer a quick and easy automated Drupal installation procedure.
How we will help you
Here at Make A Website, our team have built many websites, and Drupal is sometimes our platform of choice. We know exactly how to make the most of it.
There are obviously limitations to quite how much we can show you in a tutorial article. However, it’s reasonably easy to get started with Drupal, and we’re going to take you right from the beginning. We will even show you how to arrange a domain name and some reliable hosting. By the end of this tutorial, we hope you will be confident to go forward with Drupal and learn more and more about the system.
What You’ll Need
Here is a list of all the things you’re going to need to build your Drupal site. Don’t worry about any of the items on the list – our aim is to take you through everything step-by-step.
- A credit card or PayPal account to pay for domain registration and hosting
- A Web hosting account with your own domain
- A Web browser of your choice (we prefer Google Chrome or Firefox)
- Some text and image content with which to populate your site
- Some knowledge of FTP and file management if you wish to use Drupal’s advanced features
- A little patience while you learn the basics of Drupal
Getting a domain and hosting
Before you can do anything, you need an address for your website (a domain), and a place to host your website (Web hosting service). We recommend HostGator as your Web host.
We have produced a very detailed step by step guide to registering your domain and setting up your hosting. You should visit the page now via this link. (The links will open in a new window or tab, so you can easily return to this guide at any time – see you shortly!)
Now your domain is ready to go, it’s time to perform a simple, automated install of Drupal. Don’t worry – we will do all of this step by step!
1. Go to your cPanel login link and enter your username and password. This information is provided to you by your hosting service provider in an email when you first sign up.
Even though the wealth of cPanel options can seem initially daunting to novices, it is actually very easy to use. Stay tuned on Make a Website for a comprehensive tutorial on cPanel that will follow soon.
2. Locate the “Software/Services” group of icons on the right. You will have to scroll down a fair way to find it.
3. Look for QuickInstall and Fantastico De Luxe, both of which are excellent automated installers for Web applications. The only trouble is that some applications available on QuickInstall aren’t available via Fantastico De Luxe, and vice versa.
We are going to use Fantastico De Luxe to install Drupal for the purposes of this tutorial. However, it’s fair to say that the process is practically the same regardless of which installer you choose to use.
4. Click into Fantastico De Luxe, and look for Drupal under “Content Management” on the left hand navigation menu. Click on it, and then click “New Installation.”
5. If you have set up your domain properly, you will see it in the drop down list. The blank field afterwards lets you specify a subdirectory in which to install Drupal (i.e. www.yourdomain.com/drupal-here).
We will assume for the purposes of this guide that you want to place your Drupal site in the root directory so it appears as soon as people visit your Web address. It’s unlikely you would want any other configuration.
6. In the “Admin access data” section, key in your desired username and password.
7. In the “base configuration” section, enter a live email address you use. It is essential you have access to this mailbox, as all the details of your installation will be emailed to you.
8. The second stage of the installation will show you the MySQL database information that Fantastico De Luxe automatically creates for your new Drupal installation. Don’t worry if you don’t fully understand it, but do make a note of the details in case you need them later. Click on “Finish Installation” to continue to step 3.
8. Once the installation is complete, the installer will confirm all the details. You can also input your email address so you get a summary via email. We recommend doing this so you can keep the information safe somewhere.
Congratulations! Your Drupal installation is now complete, and you should be able to see a link to your new Drupal site.
Please note that if you’ve installed Drupal very shortly after arranging your registration and hosting, and receive a “page not found” error when you try to access the site, you needn’t be alarmed. Your domain registration needs time to propagate across all the global DNS servers. The process can take anything from a few hours to 48 hours. If you want to learn more about this, click on this link.
9. Once you can access your Drupal site, you should see a login screen like the one below. You can access the administration interface by entering the login details you chose back in step 6.
Getting Started on your Site
When you enter your login details, you will see a very similar front page for your site to the one shown above, but if you look closely you will notice a whole extra bar of options at the top of the screen:
First click on the “Dashboard” link. At this point, you may be alerted to updates that are available for your Drupal installation. It’s always important to install these updates to ensure security. If you have any problems installing updates, check out this link on the Drupal website.
Now follow these steps to get started:
1. First, you should name your site and (if you wish) give it a slogan. Click on the “Configuration” link, then click on “Site Information” on the top right.
2. Fill in the details as shown in the screenshot below. Once you’ve finished, scroll to the bottom of the page and click the “Save Configuration” button.
3. If you click the small “Home” icon in the top left of the screen after doing this, you will notice your site name has changed, as shown below.
4. You will also notice that the Drupal home page is saying that “no front page content has been created yet.” We will move on to creating content shortly, but first, we’d like to show you how you control the basic appearance of your Drupal site.
About Drupal Themes
As we discussed earlier in the tutorial, Drupal uses themes to control the appearance of your site. The great thing about this is that if, at some point in the future, you decide you want to give your site an overhaul, you can do so by switching to a new theme, whilst leaving all of your content in tact.
You will, by now, be aware that Drupal’s default theme is a fairly minimalist looking template using blue, white and black. The theme is called “Bartik.” It’s a decent starter theme, and one we will stick with for the purposes of this tutorial.
However, just for the sake of a demonstration, we will now show you how to change the theme on Drupal.
1. From the admin dashboard, click “Appearance”
2. You will see all of the installed themes, including the active one, and notice that you can also select different themes for the admin interface.
3. One great thing about Drupal is that the themes themselves are often customisable. Click the “Settings” link under the “Bartik” theme. You will see that you can change the colour of various elements of the theme, and enable and disable different parts of the site design.
4. Feel free to play around with the design elements of the “Bartik” theme. Click “Save Configuration” at the bottom of the screen when you are done. Click the “Home” icon to go back to your site to see the result of your changes.
You will see in the screenshot below that we’ve made some changes to the colours of our demo site, and made use of the “upload logo” feature to upload a logo (in this case, a screenshot of some sky and clouds).
5. If you want to use an alternative Drupal theme, you must first upload it to your webspace. You will find full instructions on how to do this on the Drupal link here.
Now we have the core appearance of our site ready, it’s time to populate our site with some content. For the purposes of this tutorial, we are going to create a blog article and an “About” page, but you can of course go on and add as much additional content as you wish.
As we begin to populate the site, it’s useful to keep in mind a couple of core Drupal concepts. Pieces of content are sometimes referred to as “nodes.” Areas of the site, such as sidebars and footers are known as “regions.” These in turn display “blocks” of content. Then, there are the inevitable menus, that help you navigate your content.
You will have noticed a link to “Add New Content” on your home page, so let’s start there.
1. Click the “Add New Content” link on your home page.
2. You will be given the option of an article or a “basic page.” We will choose the latter first, and set up our “about” page.
3. Once you’ve clicked the “basic page” option, you will be taken to a very basic page editor. You will see that we’ve added the “About” title and placed some dummy text in the screenshot example below. You may prefer to put in genuine text content of your own at this point.
4. Below the editing section, you will notice a “Menu Settings” section. Make sure you tick the box marked “Provide a menu link,” and select a title, as shown below:
5. Click the “Save” button once you’re done. You will be taken straight to your new page, and should also notice that there’s now a new menu item for your “About” page.
6. Now, let’s add our demo blog article. Click “Content” at the top of the page and then “Add Content.” This time, we will select the “Article” option instead.
7. You will see the same basic editing screen, but this time with a few additions. Once again, we have added some dummy content. You can also add some keyword tags, which will help search engines to find your articles.
There is also the ability to add an image to your article, as shown below:
In the screenshot below, you will see our demo article. We’ve added text and tags, and uploaded an image of a ladybird.
On this occasion, we didn’t select the “provide a menu link” option, as by default Drupal displays articles in descending order on the home page. This doesn’t, of course, mean that you can’t do so if you wish.
We’ve now created all the demo content we set out to. Hopefully by now it’s become clear to you how to move on from here and create as much content as you need to populate your site.
Suggested Next Steps
As we stated earlier in this tutorial, there is a significant learning curve to Drupal, especially if you want to do anything much more advanced than we’ve shown so far.
For example, you may have noticed that when we added the “About” page, there was no option to add a picture to the page (as there was with the article we created). Some things like this are surprisingly complex in Drupal, so you will need to do some additional reading to learn more.
Thankfully, the Drupal documentation is thorough and detailed, so we would recommend you refer to it on an ongoing basis to build your competence with the platform. As an example, the procedure for adding the ability to place images on a “basic page” is found here.
Here is a suggested list of things to do next, in order to take your Drupal site to the next level:
1. Experiment with changing themes: You will find a link to Drupal’s theme library within the “Appearance” section of the admin interface.
2. Explore Drupal “Modules:” Drupal modules allow you to add all kinds of advanced functionality to your Drupal site. A good place to begin is the Drupal Module Library.
3. Tweak your menus: Once you’ve added a range of pages to your Drupal site, you will probably want to change the order of the items on your navigation menus, perhaps moving some content to subpages. From the admin interface, you will find the relevant settings under STRUCTURE – MENUS.
4. Use the built-in help: You needn’t turn to the Drupal site for advice all the time. There is also quite good documentation on basic functionality available via the “Help” option on the dashboard.
A Final Word
We’d never try to claim that Drupal is the easiest content management system to get started with. However, there is great power behind the complexity. By making full use of the online support and documentation and tackling each change to your website a small step at a time, you should soon find you can competently find your way around, and at the same time come to appreciate the level of customisation that is possible via this powerful platform.