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Software The Internet Book Reviews

Drupal 6: Panels Cookbook 55

J. Ayen Green writes "When the request came for me to review Drupal 6: Panels Cookbook by Bhavin (Vin) Patel, I was excited. I've been a software developer forever, a Web developer for as long as there's been a Web, and a Drupal developer since D6 was imminent. I have two Drupal books myself, and am working on one about D7 Views, but with all that, one glaring hole in my self-education has been Panels; it would be my first chance to use it." Keep reading for the rest of J. Ayen Green's review.
Drupal 6: Panels Cookbook
author Bhavin (Vin) Patel
pages 220
publisher Packt Publishing
rating 9/10
reviewer J. Ayen Gree
ISBN 1849511187
summary contains step-by-step instructions for Drupal users to make optimum use of the Panels module
Panels is the big cousin of the Views module, and big brother to the Panels Everywhere module. All were written by Earl Miles, aka merlinofchaos, a deserving macha in the Drupal community and, in my opinion, a topnotch coder: all the more reason to look forward to the book.

I need to mention the parameters within which I formed this review. I first considered the book format, because it greatly influences my expectations. A Packt 'cookbook' does not have the format or aims of a standard computer reference or 'Bible' text. It is meant to give the reader a broad but shallow exposure to a topic by using a plethora of step-by-step examples. Basically, if you come away from a cookbook feeling excited by the technology and wanting to dive deeper into learning it, the author has done a good job.

Patel starts off the book with the obligatory chapter on installation and setup, though this one contains a bit more since it is a broader Getting Started chapter. Panels is a contributed module, and installing it will be a familiar process to Drupalers. He covers installing Chaos Tools (Ctools) as well, since it is a required module. There are instructions for those upgrading from a prior release of Panels, too. Having installed and set up the module, Patel then leads you through creating a basic Panels page and node, the building blocks of a Panels layout.

It was early on that I discovered a couple things that made using the book more challenging than it needs to be. Patel uses a non-American dialect of English. While it's quite understandable, at times the usage and sentence structure require one to stop, blink, and reread the passage. Some might find this to be annoying. I looked at it as reading dialogue written by Dickens or Twain, and was fine with it. The other thing is that the instructions at times seem to skip a step, going from point A to point C without a mention of the requisite point B. Again, this causes the occasional confusion for a few moments, but nothing one cannot get past.

Chapter 2 covers a number of topics related to navigating and making use of the Panels interface and related topics. One might be biting at the bit to start creating meaty layouts by now, but Panels is a fairly complex framework to use, so having these 'recipes' available is important. Keep in mind that a 'cookbook' is designed so that most recipes are independent of each other, so they can usually be skipped over, if desired.

This chapter also touches on the topic of context, the context of 'context' here being the circumstances in which a layout exists. For example, with the standard capabilities of Drupal, a block is a fairly independent piece of content. If you want the content of a block to be intelligently related to the main content on the page, it's a difficult nut to crack aside. It can be achieved to some extent with the crafty use of Views, more so by writing a custom module, but becomes pleasantly easy using Panels. This is a big and important topic, and though this is a cookbook and not meant to be deep, I think this subject could have done with a chapter of its own.

Theming is the topic of Chapter 3. Even though Panels handles much of the work, there will likely be the desire to (re)theme its output to varying degrees, and this chapter guides the reader through examples of manipulating it with CSS, adding it to a theme region, and other useful topics.

In Chapter 4 we jump into examples of what is expected from Panels, doing things like replacing the front page, overriding the node edit form, using Panels with feeds and even using mini panels, basically panels within blocks. In Chapters 5 through 9 we move on to using Panels with other common Drupal add-on functionality: organic groups, the custom content kit (CCK), the advanced profile kit, composite layouts and Views.

Chapter 10 builds on much of what was covered and what Panels excels in by creating an example of a travel industry web site. The travel tie-in really doesn't matter, though, as one can easily extrapolate the example to whatever subject matter the intended site will contain.

I enjoyed working my way through the book. I found Patel's recipes to be creative and useful, and they gave me a sufficient understanding of Panels and its capabilities to begin considering possibilities for its use on existing and upcoming sites.

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Drupal 6: Panels Cookbook

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  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @04:38PM (#34853464) Homepage Journal
    i didnt see any other cms that is more development-hostile. it is surely nice for 'oh hey, i installed a module with one click from admin' crowd, but, when you attempt to go deep down, you see a real mess. i had to deal with it because a client requested it, but when they have seen that their not-so-extraordinary simple design requests required code changes than simply changing template files (forms are a bitch in drupal compared to other apps for example), they changed their mind about it.
    • You might want to fix your GirlieGirlie link, or the website itself, as neither work. And if that is an indication of the work you to for that "codebase" ... no thanks.

      • And if that is an indication of the work you to for that "codebase"

        above sentence is incomprehensible.

        link works. what doesnt work, is the complex seo friendly language virtual subdirectory rewriting mod_rewrite rules that are on the site .htaccess, due to apache 1 - apache 2 difference.

        it is an open source project. i will fix those rules when i have the time. anyone who is smart enough to google girigiriphp is free to acquire the thing from sourceforge and use it without language virtual subdirs on apache 2+ or with them on apache 1.x for now.

      • WFM
    • So what other apps do you think do a better job? I'm about to undertake a site renovation for a drupal installation, and we're currently trying to decide whether to keep drupal or use something else. We've talked about wordpress, mediawiki, and a few others, but really knowing which offers the blend of power, flexibility, and ease of use that we're looking for requires a lot of in depth knowledge about each platform. It's a bit overwhelming, and none of us are particularly deep in our expertise.

      • some knowledge of a particular app is inevitably necessary. after all, apps gain their own life after their codebase grows over a certain level.

        but, some apps are restrictive, and require more effort from the developer to get to know them, and also make development more time consuming for them and/or restrict them, even if they are very familiar with the app.

        in that drupal fails. it may have started with the best of intentions, however the point it ended up in the spectrum has been far from those inte
      • by Gramie2 ( 411713 )

        It's REALLY hard to answer that without knowing what the website does. For simply presenting content, WordPress is fast and easy. If you want to link to other databases, use complex logic, etc., Drupal lets you create custom modules that can do anything, but still fit within the CMS framework.

        My question is why the review for a Drupal 6 book when Drupal 7 was just released. I know that version 6 will be around for a long time (certainly on several websites I maintain), but I would be willing to bet that Dru

    • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @06:31PM (#34855044)
      I've used Drupal for a few websites and cursed it every time. It is just about adequate for non-technical users to add content to a finished website, provided you have installed, configured and documented a HUGE number of extremely complicated and interconnected modules - all of which teeter on the verge of unsupportability.

      However, the development process is awful. Just the simplest change to an existing template requires intimate knowledge of HTML, PHP, DOM, sometimes Javascript and CSS. The level of module documentation is appalling and vast numbers of key modules appear to be whimsical products of amateur enthusiasm, written as a hobby and supported sporadically (I've got bugs I reported 2 years ago that have just been added to ever-lengthening queues that authors have apparently lost interest in) or not at all.

      Like most open source software that's written for fun, most of the contributions are far too complicated and appear to be intended more as a monument to the authors' obscure programming techniques than as a clear, properly designed and thought-out addition to enhance the job of a web designer. Maybe with some iron-willed leadership the package could ber whipped into shape in enough time, but until that process is complete it will really only ever be a toy product - for used by people who like to tinker with its internals than those who just want a clean, properly implemented website.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Wow what a worthless review even by Slashdot standards. Could this person have any less content or meat to this review? Packt, yes this is for a Packt Publishing book, is getting sloppy in their shill reviews by pushing out this one.

  • The reviewer complains about the author's dialect, and then writes:

    >'s a difficult nut to crack aside.

    • by Desler ( 1608317 )

      Not to mention that the review sounds like it was chunked out in 5 minutes by a half-literate 8 year old.

  • by rokstar ( 865523 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:37PM (#34854330)
    There hasn't been a book review on drupal in over a month on here. I was getting worried there for a second.
    • Seriously though. What is the deal with this? How many people actually use this thing that I've still never heard of outside of Slashdot?
      • by abbub ( 253205 )

        Along with Wordpress and Joomla, I think it's probably one of the most used CMS systems on the web. lot of people actually use this 'thing'.

      • Seriously though. What is the deal with this? How many people actually use this thing that I've still never heard of outside of Slashdot?

        You probably do, without knowing it. It's the code behind 1% of the World's websites. Including a lot of government and local government websites.

  • by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) * on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:54PM (#34854576)

    For those not in the know, Drupal 7 was just released. Not sure how much of this will apply to the new version, so you should check before spending money on this.

    • by mugnyte ( 203225 )

      A religious war surrounds Drupal regarding efficiency, transparency, supportability and eventually scalability. It does not offer methods to consolidate query results and can suffer from chattiness against data stores, only alleviated by elaborate tiered caching schemes.

      One should evaluate a large list [] before picking any CMS; Drupal is not the only successful system in use.

    • Buying a book on panels seems kind of crazy, it's a module designed to prevent you from having to construct pages yourself. I had it on my site but I wasn't making new layouts enough to actually need it, so I just scrapped it, installed insert_block, had insert_view already.

  • No, you haven't.

    Great start to the article, really made me want to read the thoughts of someone with a reading age of ten.

"To take a significant step forward, you must make a series of finite improvements." -- Donald J. Atwood, General Motors