A content management system (CMS) is software that creates an interface between a web author and the control of the site. In it, pages (treated as articles) can be organized into categories, and categories can be organized into sections.
This hierarchical structure in combination with the online administrative interface allows a web author to manage website content easily. For example, every article within a category can be made only visible to registered users by making that category only available after logging in. Without a content management system, this sort of change might be tedious and insecure for people without an advanced knowledge of web programming.
As with any software, it’s important for the prudent end user of a content management system to choose one that is well-established. Aside from the resulting extensive documentation on how to fix errors or confusions (which you might find in a forum, for example) it’s also important that the end user choose a well-supported system.
Online, the more popular something is, the more likely it is to be supported and expanded upon. In this case popularity is a measure of security and Joomla is one of the topmost content management systems available in terms of popularity.
Joomla! is simple enough for anyone to use, yet powerful enough for almost any situation. It’s extensible for both business and personal purposes; there are free templates and commercial ones; and there are modules available for almost anything under the sun.
The easiest way to use Joomla! is inside the browser interface. It can be downloaded and used on a PC as regular software, but it’s much easier to use it inside the browser. Most hosting sites provide Joomla! as an add-on, either through “Add-on Software” or through Fantastico. During installation, the user will be prompted for a subdirectory name and password. The install only takes a few minutes, sometimes just seconds, and it’s done.
Joomla can be downloaded from the Joomla site. For the sake of simplicity, one should download the .zip file and save it to the local desktop.
Once installation is finished, the user logs in at http://domain.com/subdirectory/administrator. The login is simple, and once in, new users should follow a few steps to make an organized website. CMS software is designed to take certain functionality out of the user’s hands, automating certain functions, and if the site isn’t organized well, it won’t work as well as it can.
The first important step when beginning to set up a Joomla! site is understanding what CMS means. Content Management Systems do exactly that, manage the content, automating many aspects of the site. New articles automatically move front and center on the website’s “frontpage.” The hassle of updating HTML each time an article or news item is added is gone; Joomla! takes care of it.
Joomla! also keeps items organized through its Section->Category->Article heirarchy. Articles are kept up-to-date and in order. Finding articles either through the backend (control panel) or in the site itself is easy because of the automatic organization.
If you plan to host Joomla on a third party hosting service, it’s important to be sure the hosting service provides PHP as part of the plan. PHP is a programming language which Joomla will require to fetch information from the server, for example, to check passwords for logins or to add items to a shopping cart. If you plan to run your own hosting server, again, it’s important to be sure the Apache server (PHP and MySQL database) software is installed and running.
If you prefer to demo Joomla on an at-home personal computer before launching it publicly, it’s handy to first download and install XAMPP. XAMPP is a free program that runs MySQL and PHP locally and creates a virtual server on a home computer. XAMPP is recommended for getting to learn how to use Joomla.
Personalizing a Joomla! website is easy and fun, since thousands of extensions are available. Free templates are available at many websites. One of the best parts of extending Joomla is that modules, plugins, and templates are all installed the same way, through a simple interface that requires browsing to the downloaded file and clicking “Install.” Users can also install by using the URL of the file, making a download unnecessary.
Commercial templates are much more customizable and offer more features, easy flash galleries and easily edited banners. Free templates often come with mandatory banners and hard-to-change designs, even with a good understanding of CSS and HTML.
Adding Modules and extensions really turn a basic site into a professional creation. Depending on the template, modules can be placed all over the page, in the right column, the left column, the breadcrumb, the header, the footer, and more. There are modules for RSS feeds, for login/security, for payment and sales, for social networking, everything.
Competing with other CMS and website creation software like WordPress and Xoop, Joomla! stands out because of its customability and its variety. Amidst a lot of quality software available, it’s obvious that some are designed well and others are not. Joomla! is CMS done right.
This section is a quick learn step-by-step on how to setup and administer a Joomla! site which discussed global configuration, sections and categories, plugins, modules and components.
There are 3 primary menus that are often used, but any number can be created. The “Main Menu” typically contains links of interest to general, non-registered users of the site. The “User Menu” contains links to sections of the site used by registers members. The “Top Menu” can also be used, and often is manifested as a horizontal row of links at the top of the web site. Access the “Menu Manager” in the “Menus” menu. Click on the icon in the “Menu Items” column to add and remove items to menus. When adding an item, the first step is specifying the “Menu Item Type.” This defines the type of the menu link, such as an article, user management page like registration or profile, news feeds or other components.
The heart of Joomla! is content, or Articles. They are created in the “Article Manager” under the “Content” menu. Articles can consist of text, pictures, even video and flash. “Article” does not just mean a literal article, though it is often used that way. It really can be viewed as any content page on the web site. Access the Article Manager and create a few sample articles. For example, “About Us” or “Site Features.” Use the editor to create pages with a bit of content on them.
Also found in the “Content” menu is the Front Page Manager. Use this configuration page to set which Article or Articles should be on the front page of the site. A common misconception is that this is also where the layout of menus and modules is configured. Actually, that is controlled in the various “Managers” under the “Extensions” menu. The placement of each plugin and module can be set while configuring each specific item.
Joomla! templates control the “look and feel” of the web site. There are literally thousands of free user-created templates available for download on the web. There are also a great many free and commercially developed components, modules and plugins to be found. Perhaps the biggest strength of Joomla is this community-contributed functionality that can be added to a Joomla site. To install any of these items, use the “Install/Uninstall” function under the “Extensions” menu. Upload the compressed file archive that was downloaded and click the “Upload File & Install” button. Once installed, the component, module, plugin or template can be accessed and configured using the respective administration page.
Working through each of the steps above should provide a basic understanding of the different pieces that make up a Joomla! site and how to get started configuring a web site. Explore the many components and templates that are available and be prepared to burn up some hours and have lots of fun working with Joomla!.