Drupal is an open source content management system which you can use for free to build all kinds of sites. For an introduction, see the About Drupal page on the drupal.org website. It scores highly among open source CMSs in terms of its flexibility and the large number of available modules offering bolt-on functionality. However, this flexibility and vast choice of add-ons comes with a cost in terms of a steeper learning curve than some other systems. You will therefore probably need to do some reading before getting started.
I’ve recently been looking through some of the entry-level Drupal books to plan a project and this is what I thought about them:
Building Online Communities with Drupal, phpBB, and WordPress (Expert’s Voice in Open Source) by Robert T. Douglass, Mike Little and Jared W. Smith. (Apress, December 2005)
The oldest of the three books I looked at, this covers three web applications for the price of one – including a decent basic guide to the features of Drupal by Robert T. Douglass. If you’re using the latest version of Drupal (version 6) then you’ll need to hunt around the interface a bit for some functions which have been moved since this guide was written. However, I still found it usable and it’s an ok buy if you have a starter-level interest in all the three applications covered. An updated edition would be great though.
Building Powerful and Robust Websites with Drupal 6 by David Mercer (Packt Publishing, April 2008)
This is an ok choice if you want a straightforward manual-type run-through of Drupal’s functionality. It covers Drupal version 6, so is more up-to-date than the previous book. The declared audience is “people with little to now experience in website design, people who are not familiar with PHP, MySQL or HTML, and above all people with little to no experience in using Drupal.” For such non-experts there’s a nice introduction to concepts like building a site in a development environment before deploying it and good advice on maintaining back-ups. However, if you’re not new to Drupal or content management systems, then you will probably not get as much out of this.
Using Drupal by Angela Byron, Addison Berry, Nathan Haug, Jeff Eaton, James Walker and Jeff Robbins (O’Reilly, December 2008)
This is a big book (464 pages) and I haven’t worked my way through the whole thing yet, but its already my definite favourite and the Drupal book I’d recommend you get if you only buy one. It goes beyond being a simple manual that explains Drupal’s functionality and looks at case studies of the types of site you may want to build and how you would go about using Drupal to construct them, including choosing and configuring modules. The case studies include a job posting board, product reviews, a wiki, a photo gallery, a multilingual site and an online store.
The fact that its examples involve the latest versions of dozens of modules means that this book will no doubt date quickly. However the authors have foreseen this and do provide a more generalized discussion of principles for selecting modules which will stand readers in good stead in the long term. For the moment though, this book is an excellent snapshot of Drupal’s potential as well as having immense practical usefulness if you need to develop the types of site covered.
These are the three books I’ve looked at, but there’s a full list of currently available books on the Drupal site at http://drupal.org/books, including more advanced texts on developing Drupal modules and themes if you want more than just guidance on using Drupal effectively to run sites.
If you don’t want to spend money on a book, there are plenty of free resources for learning about Drupal on the drupal.org site. These include the Drupal documentation (http://drupal.org/handbooks), including case studies at http://drupal.org/cases. You can also browse the Drupal forums at: http://drupal.org/forum, especially the “Before you start” forum at http://drupal.org/forum/20. There’s also a listing of Drupal learning resources at http://groups.drupal.org/node/5674 (although it’s getting a bit long in the tooth and some of the links are dead).
Finally, Lullabot has a great selection of articles, videos and podcasts about Drupal at http://www.lullabot.com.