Review: Building websites with ExpressionEngine 1.6
17 September 2008 at 2:54 pm
ExpressionEngine (EE) is the CMS system I use for Flashmagazine and other sites I build these days. While not related to Flash (as most of the content on this blog is), EE is a flexible way to create advanced websites fast. I review a lot of Flash related books for Flashmagazine and when asked by Packt Publishing to review a book about ExpressionEngine I felt that it could also be of interest to the Flash users reading this blog. Most of us build websites as part of our job and this book provides a basic introduction to a great CMS system.
There are not many books about ExpressionEngine. This is in fact the only book that’s listed on Amazon that covers EE exclusively so that’s certainly what one would call a competitive edge. The only other book that I’m aware of is Michael Boyink’s PDF book that I’ve also read.
TITLE: Building Websites with ExpressionEngine 1.6: A clear, concise, and practical guide to creating a professional ExpressionEngine website
AUTHOR: Leonard Murphy
PUBLISHER: Packt Publishing (August 8, 2008)
PAGES: 373 pages B/W
CD: Not required as the code is simple enough that you’ll just type it yourself
PRICE: £23.74 UK / $32.97 USA / $42.29 CAN
Click here to order
This is a book for the complete beginner. The only requirements are that you know a bit of HTML and CSS. The book is well written and throughout the book you’ll build a website that sells - guess what - Toast. While a fun example, this book does not dwell a lot on design but if you know your CSS you’ll have no problem building something that looks better looking than the example in the book. Not focusing much on design is probably a good move as well since that would detract from the main purpose of explaining EE.
The book starts off with a quick introduction to EE and what it can do. The next chapter explains setting it up on a Windows development machine. Here the concept of hiding “index.php” from the URLs is covered. Having that at the start of the book is an odd choice. I’d rather stick that in the Appendix as editing .htaccess files is not for the faith at heart.
Next up is the start of the main exercise in the book - building the Toast website. Working with weblogs and templates are well covered and important side-issues such as defining a custom 404 page and static pages are also explained. Chapters 6, 7 and 8 cover the modules for Members, Calendars and Galleries. Since I already know the basics of EE, these were the only chapters that I really learned anything from as I haven’t used any of these modules yet. Each module is well explained and I gathered that I’ll probably never use the Gallery module. Using custom weblogs with Lumis Image Sizer plugin is just so much more powerful.
The last chapter rushes through the concepts of Plugins, Modules and Extensions. It delivers brief explanations of the Discussion Forums, the E-commerce module, the Wiki, searching, status groups, categories and related entries. Up until this point in the book, everything is very well explained, but I feel that the end of this chapter is kind of a rush. Too many things are touched upon and not explained well enough.
What I am missing
The dynamic nature of EE is not well explained. Every EE user will be bummed at how this works initially and a little on this would be of great help for the beginner. Basically, the URL decides a lot when it comes to what EE displays, so when your URLs get long, some content may no show up as expected. This is usually solved by adding the “dynamic=off” parameter to your weblog:entries tag.
A very powerful feature in EE is related entries and reverse related entries. The book offers a good example of this, but it is not explained well enough. A quick search for “related entries” at the EE Forums will tell you that this is something that is hard to grasp.
The book provides little discussion around how to structure your site. Beginners are usually confused by all the new lingo and it takes a bit of explaining to get this all correct. When it comes to building sites, how you combine Weblogs, Templates, Template Groups, Field Groups will decide how flexible your setup is.
Embeds and Segment variables are explained, but only briefly. These are such an important part of building an EE site so more info on this would have been useful.
Another thing that I would expect in a book like this is some information on how to import an existing site / blog into EE. Many readers will come from a different CMS and while this is explained on the EE wiki, an example of importing for instance a Wordpress blog would be helpful.
This is a beginners book. It explains all the core features of EE and each feature is well explained. It provides insightful information on all topics and if you’re setting out to learn ExpressionEngine, this is a good place to start. The book could certainly do with more real-world examples and better explanations of the more complex things with EE (as mentioned above) but this is a solid book for a first time author.
In the next edition of this book (for EE 2.0?), I’d cut down on the last chapters that just rushes through features of modules such as the forum, gallery and e-commerce and rather explain more of the intricacies of the weblog module. This is after all where most of the work will be done and just rushing through provides little useful information.
A small introduction to online sources of information could be a good idea as well. Here one could briefly mention useful plugins/modules/extensions with links to more information.