Textpattern Solutions Book Review

Posted: July 16, 2007 Comments(8)

When it comes to running a website, you’re faced with many choices right off the bat. There are countless ways to get a site up and running, and it really helps to know which one will suit you best. One of the most popular solutions for many site owners is using WordPress to maintain the content of their site. WordPress powers Monday By Noon and personally I think it was a good choice to go with from the start. By nature, however, I’m always intrigued by the other ways to do things. It was a major reason for my interest in Linux and also the reason I’m constantly looking into various software solutions to see if they’ll help me out at all.

An interest in Textpattern

When it comes to content management, Textpattern has always caught my eye. I hadn’t ever had a chance to sit down and put a personal project together using Textpattern, but I’d always take time to read posts written about the CMS. How can you not be at least slightly interested when developers like Nathan Smith and Ben Gray write so passionately about it?

Textpattern Solutions book cover

I’ve been reading through Textpattern Solutions by Kevin Potts, Robert Sable, and Nathan Smith with Mary Fredborg & Cody Lindley, and I’m really excited to use it as my introduction to Textpattern. While I haven’t had the pleasure of speaking with all of the authors personally, I’ve had a number of conversations with Nathan Smith, one of the developers I have an immense respect for. He deserves the reputation he’s earned from the industry and I’m very thankful to have spoken with him as much as I have thus far. Nathan’s name stood out for me due to his many writings on Textpattern and the benefits of its use.

Textpattern Solutions is quite a large book weighing in at over 500 pages including the Appendix. The book is published by friends of ED, a publishing company that I know to produce books of great quality not only in their presentation, but in their content as well. I was really excited to sit down with Textpattern Solutions, and after reading through the piece, I’m even more excited to build a project based on Textpattern as soon as possible.

Part One – Getting Started

Chapter 1: Setting the Stage – The first chapter acts as an introduction to the software, including a history and some information on how Textpattern works. There are many online resources offered later in the chapter, showing that the Textpattern community is a great resource in and of itself.

Chapter 2: Installing Textpattern – This chapter explains the system requirements and installation procedure to get Textpattern up and running. Clean URL support is discussed as well as instructions on setting up a local development environment. The authors go into a lot of detail in this section, going over the entire process step by step for a variety of installation options.

Part Two – The Textpattern Interface

Chapter 3: Site Administration – In chapter 3, the settings of Textpattern are explained to ensure your installation is properly configured for your needs. Each setting is thoroughly explained and very easy to read.

Chapter 4: Basic Content Manipulation – Instructions on providing content for your website are provided in this chapter. A lot of detail about Textile is provided here, explaining how to mark up your content in the way you’d like. Each of the sections are also discussed giving some insight on their contents.

Chapter 5: Presentation – This chapter starts to get into detail about developing with Textpattern. A lot of information is provided regarding how to include various pieces of content in your template such as a list of recent articles or recent comments. The instructions are organized in categories, making this chapter a nice resource to return to while creating your first few sites with Textpattern. How to control the CSS of your website is also discussed later in the chapter as well.

Part Three – Customizing Textpattern

Chapter 6: The Textpattern Model – In this chapter, the overall design of Textpattern is discussed. The idea of keeping your style, structure, and behavior is explained well by discussing semantics. The chapter also explains how working with Textpattern adds a fourth level of separation to your work flow; a separation of structure and content.

Chapter 7: Creating the Content: Categories and Articles – The difference between categories and sections in Textpattern is explained next. The difference between using multiple categories and tagging is also explained as well. There are details offered about URL structure as well as information about composing articles. Images, files, and links are also discussed.

Chapter 8: Customizing the Presentation: Sections, Pages, Forms, and Style: This chapter explains how to go about building your Textpattern website from the ground up, including the creation of your (X)HTML and CSS and applying that to your Textpattern install to make templates for use. There is a lot of information about creating forms in Textpattern as well.

Chapter 9: Tying Content and Structure Together – When you’re building your Textpattern site, you’ll more than likely want to create a number of custom pages; this chapter will help you do just that. Instructions are provided which guide you to creating static pages, archive pages, a contact page, as well as details on creating a photo gallery. These real-life examples can be really helpful not only when you’re able to follow them step by step, but it helps to understand how things really work in order to apply the technique to other pages as well.

Chapter 10: Comments – There is quite a bit of information provided in this chapter regarding comments alone. How to enable or disable comments globally is discussed as well as working with comments linked to a specific article. Comment administration is a big topic along with how to deal with inevitable comment spam.

Chapter 11: Beyond the Basics – Error pages are discussed in this chapter, an area that is very important when working with dynamic content management systems. There is a lot of information provided about creating a number of error pages for various situations, but I like that advice is provided as to what content to include on the error page itself which can be helpful to your reader when they view the error page.

Part Four – Extending Textpattern

Chapter 12: Custom Fields – Custom fields can be a very powerful asset to Textpattern, which is illustrated by applying the feature using a real life example. Data interaction with custom fields is also discussed later in the chapter, showing what you can do with custom fields in place.

Chapter 13: Using Plugins – Plugins are often a very big benefit to any piece of software, not just content management systems. They’re a great way to expand the functionality of an application in just the way you’re looking for, and many are given away completely free. Textpattern plugins are explained in great detail in chapter 13, including the difference between public-side and admin-side plugins. You’re also given some advice on locating Textpattern plugins for your use. Plugin installation is also detailed as well as how to activate or uninstall them.

Chapter 14: Writing Plugins – When you become very comfortable working with Textpattern, this chapter will be very helpful in explaining how you can author your very own plugins from the ground up. There is a lot of detailed information provided in this chapter and I can see it being very useful to me when I become more of a veteran with Textpattern.

Part Five – Textpattern Site Examples

Chapter 15: Multiauthor Weblog – Multiauthor websites are very common throughout the web. Dedicating an entire chapter on the subject was a great idea in my opinion. Lots of information about common things you’ll run into when managing a multiple author site are discussed here, which can be very helpful when you find yourself in a jam or looking to implement a specific feature.

Chapter 16: Case Study: PopularWeddingFavors.com – Textpattern Solution again uses a real life example to illustrate the power of Textpattern. This particular example includes details on using Textpattern to power an ecommerce website; something that isn’t easy by nature. By the end of the chapter, the authors have explained details down to the checkout process as well as which plugins they used to get things done.

Chapter 17: Case Study: BoiseCityEats.com – This chapter is another application of a real life example using Textpattern. Boise City Eats is well suited to use custom fields tailored to the information it provides. Using a case study for custom fields was a great idea, as it can be a very powerful feature when implemented properly.

Part Six – Appendixes

There is an extensive resource in the back pages of Textpattern solutions which makes it a great resource to keep on your shelf while mastering Textpattern. There is a tag reference as well as plugin developer resources including very detailed information that will continue to be valuable long after finishing the book.

Overall impression

As an introduction to Textpattern, Textpattern Solutions by Kevin Potts, Robert Sable, and Nathan Smith with Mary Fredborg & Cody Lindley is a fantastic way to learn how to use Textpattern. I’m very glad I was able to use this book as a guide. The language used is very easy to read, and the book was well thought out and detailed.

I really like that Textpattern solutions found a happy medium in writing technical copy as well as providing real life examples to support the topics. Another feature I really like is that the authors, when applicable, provided instructions not only for Windows and OS X, but also took the time to include Linux as well when outlining a specific process. This is a great decision on the part of the authors as Linux continues to prove itself as a fantastic operating system. All in all, I thought Textpattern Solutions was a fantastic read, and I can’t wait to build my first website using Textpattern.

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Comments

  1. I have experimented quite a bit with Textpattern and I like it a lot. It’s light, simple, and standards-compliant. The only drawback is that Textile feels a little more “technical” and has a steeper learning curve than does TinyMCE. So for clients that want to update their own site but aren’t very savvy, Textpattern may not be the best choice.

  2. @Julie Hathaway: That is very good advice. Personally, I don’t have any experience trying to show clients Textile so knowing your opinion is very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  3. There’s a TinyMCE plug-in for Textpattern. I think it’s called hak_TinyMCE, if you google it you will find it.

    I like Textpattern alot, It’s pretty scaled down out of the box, but that’s a good thing. With the right combo of plug-ins and some custom templates you can produce some great sites.

  4. @Scott: Thanks for the tip about that plugin, I’m actually just starting my first client site using Textpattern as they’d like to provide their own hosting. I’m taking all the tips I can get! Thanks again for commenting.

  5. Hi, I just came across your site when searching for an image gallery (found your suckerfish lightbox work — great job!). I recently developed the website http://www.resource-mn.org for a non-profit agency client using textpattern. I took existing graphics & colors from their designer, worked out the CSS and did the initial set of content, and now they’re doing the maintenance/updating themselves (frequent new job postings and the occasional update to content). They are happy with the ease of use of the interface. Textile isn’t always intuitive, but most of the time they can use other articles that I developed as examples and figure out what they want to do. I would use Textpattern again for a similar project. (BTW, I had never done a site with CSS or a content management system before so from that aspect it was easy to learn as well.)

  6. Just picked up the book after reading this (I forgot to use your link to go to Amazon, sorry) and some other info on the web. This looks like the ticket for developing sites that allow the client to control the content. Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. I just got a copy of Textpattern Solutions as well. It is quite intuitive and easy to follow – great job by the authors. I have only just begun doing CMS sites and after months of research and assessing mine and my clients needs, Textpattern certainly fits the bill. Upon initial review, clients seem to like it alot – so far they seem to get it and understand the user interface.

    Hope to see more and more community involvement with it.

    Kudos to the Textpattern development team, plugin developers, and template developers. Keep up the good work as it is greatly appreciated.

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