Drupal 101: 10 Tips for Drupal Beginners

You often hear people say that the learning curve for Drupal is steep. They aren’t kidding – it is. I remember when I first started Drupaling, I had so many questions: How do I do this? How do I change that? What are Views? How the hell do I get images into my content? How do I theme? The Drupal documentation and community has come a long way in the few years since then, but even still, diving in to Drupal can be a bit daunting. In an effort to help remedy this, I’ve thrown together some quick-tips to steer all you beginners in the right direction.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask.

If you’ve got something you’re not sure of, or can’t quite figure out how to handle the “Drupal way” just ask! Here are some ways to get help quickly:

  • post a question to the forums at Drupal.org
  • send a tweet with the #drupal hash tag
  • hop on the the Drupal IRC channels and start a convo

2. Google It.

It’s kind of a no-brainer, but I had to throw it in. Often times, I’ll just copy/paste the error or warning that Drupal is throwing right into a Google search. More often than not, someone else has had your problem before and figured it out.

3. Theme with Zen

At least when you get started, use the Zen Starter Kit as your theme base. It has everything you’ll need to get started. All of the basic template files, theme regions, preprocess functions, etc. are ready to go right out of the box with this kit. Its the best place to start as a new Drupal themer/developer.

4. Read “Pro Drupal Development”

Seriously, this is Drupal bible if you ask me. The second edition covers just about everything you’d need to know about Drupal 6 and how everything works under the hood. If you’re looking to start developing with Drupal, this is a must read. This book has a permanent spot on my desk. Buy it here

5. Keep Contributed and Custom Separate

Drupal doesn’t care how you organize your modules within sites/all/modules – but as a rule of thumb, keep contributed modules and custom modules separate (folder for each). This will help you (and other devs working your project) keep it all straight.

6. Use these Modules

I use these modules on just about every Drupal site I build. In fact, I use Drush to install these automatically when I set up a clean install locally. I’ll be talking more about Drush and all its glory in an upcoming post. Get friendly with these modules and you’ll never look back.

  • Views – create customized lists of content as pages/blocks
  • CCK – add custom fields to your node types
  • ImageCache – resize images on the fly
  • Token – makes tokenized variables available to other modules (like PathAuto)
  • PathAuto – automatically create URL aliases from custom rules you specify
  • PoorMansCron – automatically run cron at specified intervals (no coding required)
  • WebForm – create custom forms (with data storage and email delivery) without code
  • Devel – adds some awesome development tools to your install
  • Admin – adds a gorgeous admin theme and some handy inline editing links for blocks/menus

7. Experiment

The best way to learn anything new is by doing. Just start working on whatever it is you’re trying to do. Start small, just do! I like to keep a “Drupal Playground” on all of my local machines for this exact purpose. Just a clean install where I can test module, side projects and ideas.

8. Attend Drupal Events

There are so many community events out there happening all over the world, there’s bound to be one near you. Find one and go! The community is really the best resource there is for Drupal. Use it. If you have the means, sign up for DrupalCon 2010 in San Francisco. DrupalCon has something to offer to all levels!

9. Use Firebug

This is more of a general web development tip than a Drupal-specific tip, but it still applies. I don’t know how I worked before FireBug was released. It is an invaluable tool for theme development and debugging jQuery of other JavaScript. Download it here

10. Follow these Ninjas on Twitter

Follow these tips and you’ll be on the right path to your Drupal black belt! Drop me a line on Twitter or in the comments below with your own tips.

Happy Drupaling!

Other Tips from Tweeps
  • From @unrealnighthawk – Admin / admin menu are givens. WYSIWYG module + fckeditor is easy and a huge hurdle for newbs.


I recommend this tutorial from Symphony: Master Drupal in 7 hours: http://www.symphonythemes.com/content/drupal-tutorial-master-drupal-7-hours It's useful for beginner to learn Drupal.

really useful post, thanks!