Drupal, one of the leading open source content management systems, is amazing. The more I learn about it the more impressed I am by the depth of thought (and amount of work) that’s gone into making it so powerful and flexible.
But, thanks to its complexity and to the large gaps and flaws in its documentation (poor documentation being a common problem with open source projects), Drupal can also be a huge time sink, frustration generator and spawner of traffic on the drupal.org forums. Now, though, comes relief: “Pro Drupal Development“, by John K. VanDyk and Matt Westgate, both of whom are key contributors to the Drupal project. If you’re thinking about doing anything beyond just installing Drupal and using its admin interface, get this book. It could quite likely save you weeks of trial and error.
For example: recent versions of Drupal provide a new Forms API, which reconceives web forms as nested arrays. The API abstracts the concept of a form, allowing, at the cost of a steep learning curve, all kinds of customized design and processing, plus a new level of security. To experienced Drupal developers, it’s no doubt obvious that the Forms API is a part of Drupal’s modules system, and that you should understand something about modules before you start with the Forms API. But if you just plunge into drupal.org’s Forms API Quickstart Guide, you won’t find any mention of the word “module”.
This is the kind of oversight that happens when documentation is written from a developers-out perspective, rather than users-in (again, typical of open source, since the most knowledgeable and active members of the community tend to be developers, not technical writers). By contrast, “Pro Drupal Development” does a good job of looking at things from the point of view of the new user, even though it was written by old hands. The chapter on the Forms API starts with a conceptual overview, takes you step by step through building a simple form module, and then teaches additional features by adding them into the tutorial. You may get through the whole chapter without having to resort to the forums. That’ll free up time for you - and, come to think of it, for Drupal’s volunteer developers, who, thanks to VanDyk and Westgate, may find themselves doing a little less online tech support.