Sunday, May 16, 2010

New department website launched

Last week, the new website of my department, that I've been working on for the last few weeks, was launched. In its first week, it got about 1200 visitors.
Although not completely finished, I thought it had reached a stage were it could be made public. I consider it a starting point anyway, a basis to start improving on by adding new features.

The previous website was created about 4-5 years ago, and was in need of a face lift. I could just have replaced the css file, to refresh the layout, but the code running in the background was replaced as well.

After some comparing, I decided to use Drupal 6 as the CMF of the new website. I hadn't worked with Drupal before, but heard and read good things about it, being developed in PHP and strong focus on modules as strong points.
First, I started developing a custom theme that reflects the corporate style of my university. I didn't do this before either, so it took me some time to understand how a page is built in Drupal and what parts it consists of, but in the end I got it working.

The new website should be bilingual (English-Dutch), so I had to look for a way to do this. Luckily, Drupal provides some modules (Locale, Internationalization) to make a website multilingual, and tools to do the translation (core module Content Translation).

I wanted to integrate the login system into the single sign-on system (CAS) of my university, so that the users of the website wouldn't have to create yet another account with matching password for this website.
There is a CAS module available for Drupal, but I got a custom one from a colleague, which I modified further, to take advantage (through CAS) of groups that are defined in the LDAP system of my university and of groups I defined in a seperate database, and thus assigning the right roles to each user on login.

With the different roles defined and assigned, I used the taxonomy module (in Drupal core) to define different parts of the website. My department consist of three research groups, so each lab has it's own section within the website. All sections have a public and private (intranet) part, so by using Taxonomy Access Control access to these pages could be linked to the defined roles.

Some pages are just static HTML, being maintained using a WYSIWYG editor, provided by Drupal module CKeditor.
Others are dynamic, getting their data from a database table, using a PHP script to generate the page. Module Cache Exclude was needed to keep these PHP generated pages from being cached by Drupal. Otherwise changes made in the database, would not show.
And core module PHP filter, to be able to execute PHP code in a page.

As I mentioned before, I'm new to Drupal so I'm still discovering possibilities, new modules and ways to do things, every day. Things that are still on my list is learning how to write modules, find a way to integrate my current database management PHP code with Drupal, basically using the Form API, not only to insert data into a database, but also update and delete data, and expand the features of the new website (both on the intranet as on public pages). Luckily I've got a good guide for the upcoming developing journey.