Hold my hand, teach me Joomla
May 4, 2009 12:23 PM   Subscribe

What are the best resources for learning Joomla? Help a poor designer wrap her head around the CMS.

I usually build websites with Dreamweaver and use my knowledge of html and css to get everything just so. Now I need to enter the (wonderful?) world of CMS templates and administration. The experience I have in this area is basically limited to Wordpress.

So far I am overwhelmed by the amount of information out there for Joomla, and underwhelmed at its quality. Every video tutorial I've watched is along the lines of "log in to the administrator area and look around, it's pretty straight forward." Nothing concrete on how Joomla structures everything or how to control where content goes. The interface is — to me at least — not intuitive at all. I need a guide to hold my hand and tell me exactly what everything does. And not only does the interface throw me; I also need to understand how to edit/create templates and shape the design.

What are the best resources out there? What was helpful to you in the beginning? Books, video tutorials, webinars, pdf guides, your advice... anything that is clear and specific to help me get started would be much appreciated.

By the way, I am using the most current version which at this time is 1.5
posted by wundermint to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure you want to commit to learning and using Joomla? I've never had a very positive experience with it - it always feels bloated and unintuitive. The quality of the community, resources, etc. is all over the place. I think if you stick to it you can make it work for you, but I feel like I need to throw the idea out there.

I'm sure you'll get other suggestions, but my vote is for CMS Made Simple
posted by chimmyc at 12:50 PM on May 4, 2009

Best answer: Are you using a Mac?

If so, designing on templates is made infinitely easier and more fun using CSSedit.

Basically, you load up the site as-is, use the X-ray button to locate various divs, hijack and overwrite the CSS to a local file, and make your changes which show up in real-time (as in, no refreshing). Then, when you're happy with the design, you copy the local CSS and overwrite the remote. So awesome.
posted by nitsuj at 1:00 PM on May 4, 2009

Best answer: I assume you've already found it, and I can't vouch for the 1.5 documentation, but when I had to learn to template 1.0.x I went off the tutorials and guides people had put together on the Joomla forum. I haven't actually gotten round to learning 1.5, though it's my next project, but I will definitely start here.

And for what it's worth, I looked at the other CMSs available when I started using Joomla, and it was the only one, despite it's slightly bloated UI, that could do half the things I wanted. And I think the community support and such has improved since they decided to focus on 1.5 more than the previous version. I think it's getting there.
posted by opsin at 1:32 PM on May 4, 2009

Best answer: You may want to consider trying the Joomla tutorials at Lynda.com. I've never watched them, but the other Lynda tutorials I have seen are very easy-to-follow and informative.

To start out, use Dreamweaver if you're comfortable with it and open up the template files for one of the default templates. They will be buried in the templates folder - you should be able to locate this with the help of your documentation. Play around with it - change colors, see what's where. Take a look at the code. You'll see that it's really just an html site with a linked css that has snippets of PHP code dropped into it.

There is an extension that you can find for Dreamweaver. It adds a toolbar that allows you to drop in the PHP code, as needed, into position. This looks like it. The PHP code basically tells the template where to load the different content areas of the site. You'll have your main content area and different menu locations.

You're going to be looking at the default template code a lot to see where things are and why they are there. Try to look at a default template that does not have all of the extra code in it for changing template colors, etc. You may end up downloading a free one and looking at that, too, for ideas (there are lots of sites for this). It will be a learning process to figure out how to style different things such as menus and modules. If I remember right, there used to be a site that provided blank Joomla CSS and index files. That was useful when starting out building your own.

The Joomla forum has gotten much better over the years and a lot of the questions that you'll ask have already been asked. And really, just keep digging. The answers are out there, but there is a lot of crap too. Joomla is great, but it does have a learning curve. I hope I was able to help some - I didn't have time to search out the link for every single suggestion.
posted by bristolcat at 1:44 PM on May 4, 2009

Best answer: I've only dabbled in Joomla but I can certainly sympathize with the confusion one can feel when learning a new CMS. Each has its own peculiarities and is organized around different abstractions.

You might want to check out Smashing Magazine's Joomla Developer's Toolbox, which has a fairly long list of resources and tools, including a link to the Absolute Beginner's Guide to Joomla.
posted by camcgee at 3:07 PM on May 4, 2009

Response by poster: chimmyc: I'd love to explore other CMS's, Drupal in particular, but most pressing at the moment is learning Joomla for a project at my workplace which requires I use it in particular. I will check out CMS Made Simple.

nitsuj: CSSedit looks wicked, thanks!

thanks for all the comments so far :)
posted by wundermint at 5:10 PM on May 4, 2009

I spent quite a number of months last year learning Joomla for a work project. Part of the problem is that while there's (relatively) loads of documentation and tutorials for Joomla 1.0.x sites, there's PRACTICALLY NONE for 1.5.x. The built-in help screens are useless.

We ended up buying a couple of ebooks. The one I remember as being really useful was Learning Joomla! 1.5 Extension Development. Now, I know you're interested in the templates and not writing your own components or anything, but I still picked up a LOT about the template system, template overrides, what the hell the difference is between components, modules, & plugins, etc. I also found it helpful for figuring out the structure and why files were organised the way they were.

Oh! Sidenote: In case you're thinking of attending one of the Joomla Day events, I wouldn't bother. We went to Joomla Day Sydney last year and it was the biggest waste of time ever. Our whole tech team was there thinking we'd be learning about the intricacies of the system, overriding templates, writing custom modules,etc... whereas every other attendee was a marketroid who just wanted to know how to get their Joomla site to #1 on Google. Consequently a lot more time was spent on SEO than on anything we wanted to learn. At one point after lunch some 14-year-old kid was playing a guitar and singing a song he wrote about how much he loved Joomla (no shit), and my co-workers and I looked at each other and simultaneously thought, "... at least it's a day away from the office, right?"
posted by web-goddess at 8:22 PM on May 4, 2009

Safari Books Online has some Joomla books - they offer a free trial which would let you check out the books and see which ones might be worth owning. (Note: some libraries subscribe to the Safari service, so check any libraries you belong to as well.)
posted by kristi at 9:48 AM on May 5, 2009

Best answer: Joomla: A User's Guide was a great reference when building my first Joomla site. It covers the fundamentals of CMS and the Joomla 1.5 architecture in clear, simple-to-understand language, then plunges into increasingly more complex concepts while remaining easy to follow.

My eureka moment hit while reading the first section, which explains--and shows via visuals--the relationship between a menu, article, module, and component; and how they all snap together to present a dynamic site.

A few other must-bookmark sites:
- Skim through the Absolute Beginner's Guide to Joomla.
- Watch the Joomla 1.5 Quick Start Videos.
- Read the Joomla 1.5 Quick Start Guide [pdf].
- Click through the links on Smashing Magazine's Joomla Developer's Toolbox.
- Browse through the collection of free templates here and here, and check out the fantastic template creator Artisteer 2 if you want to create your own.

Joomla is very flexible and even intuitive once you get the hang of it. I'm non-technical, but have yet to get "stuck" -- there seems to be an extension or CSS/PHP/HTML tweak that can pretty easily enable you to do whatever you want.
posted by prinado at 10:14 AM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: prinado: That's funny you mentioned Joomla! A User's Guide; I was all set it to buy it but then noticed the newest edition for 1.5 hasn't been released yet, and I don't know how helpful the slightly older edition would be (I've run into problems with tutorials telling me click on things that are no longer there). I will probably get the new edition when it comes out, but for now I've ordered this book just to have some sort of physical reference.

I am excited to get to a point where things start clicking into place. So far it's been a head-against-wall experience.

The answers here have been great!
posted by wundermint at 12:14 PM on May 5, 2009

Unless another revision is in the works, I'm pretty sure I have the latest version of Joomla! A User's Guide, fully updated for 1.5. It's the version plugged on the author's site (which offers a forum, templates and references mentioned in the book...as well as a link to the e-book version, if you prefer). Worth checking out if the book you ordered doesn't cut it!

Best of luck!
posted by prinado at 2:12 PM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: The amazon page for the 1.5 version says it's only available for pre-order and the cover is slightly different. I'm glad to hear the current version is helpful, though. I may end up getting it on my own. :)
posted by wundermint at 4:45 PM on May 5, 2009

« Older How long would a simple homemade dipping sauce...   |   How can my wife help these rural middle-class kids... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.