The University of Arizona

The question has been raised by some CALS faculty and units about moving to Drupal or starting a new site using Drupal. I wanted to provide, at least for this point in time, some comments about creating a web site using Dreamweaver versus Drupal. These two ways to create a web site are different. One of the big differences is that Dreamweaver sites are typically static HTML pages, while Drupal is an example of a content management system. Although a Dreamweaver and a Drupal site may look the same (in a browser), a content managed site is driven by records in a database stored on a server. Drupal pulls information from the database to display it on a web page. Changes in a Dreamweaver site are made to the individual HTML pages. Changes in a Drupal site are made in the database.

Comments about Dreamweaver

Dreamweaver is a commercial web development product sold by Adobe. A license for just Dreamweaver costs $135 for a UA department through the Bookstore. This is a copyrighted program and registration on Adobe is required to use the software.

At present at least two-thirds of the web pages on the College server are static HTML pages. Most have been created or are edited using Dreamweaver. There are other free editors like Visual Shell Express with online training resources, but Dreamweaver is the most commonly used program in CALS to create static web pages.

Because it is so commonly used, it is easier to find within the UA community people with Dreamweaver skills to develop or change an existing static site. There are numerous ways to learn Dreamweaver, including self-use training materials I have posted (cals.arizona.edu/ecat/dreamweavercs3) or online sources such as the International Webmasters Association (www.iwanet.org) or books and videos from www.lynda.com. An Adobe Users Group (tucsonadobeusergroup.org) also meets regularly on campus.

If you have a Dreamweaver site with a template behind the site, then new pages can be created fairly easily and text edits are not difficult, as long as you have permission to work with the posted pages. With a template, you can make a drastic change to the look or make minor changes like adding navigation links and the changes occur on all the pages, which have to be reposted.

Comments about Drupal

The Drupal program is an Open Source (no charge) system. That is one reason various University sites are moving to Drupal. They don't have to purchase Drupal. The Drupal program runs on a particular server. It is installed and available on the CALS server for people in CALS. Anyone with Internet access and who has been given logon rights to a site can use any computer to update that site. Drupal is only installed on the "hosting" server, not on individual computers.

Traditional static HTML pages do not exist in Drupal. Instead, a Drupal "page" is really a special layout into which content is inserted, by the system, at the time the page is requested by a browser. The basic Drupal install comes with the ability to create new pages and menus and allows multiple users to log in and (based on a user's permission) read, create or edit pages on the site. A Drupal site can be customized to include event calendars, wikis, blogs, and other interactive features through addition of modules available on the drupal.org web site. Like Drupal, the modules are Open Source.

All content that is created in Drupal (a page, menu item, title, paragraph, image, tables, etc.) is stored within a database. When someone visits a Drupal site, that information is pulled out of the database and is displayed on the screen to look like a web page. Access to the database can be restricted to one or two people or open to a larger group. Once the database is updated, the resulting web pages are updated. There is no posting of HTML files, as occurs with Dreamweaver.

Drupal also comes packaged with "themes." Themes allow you to select how your site will look. If the default themes that come packaged with Drupal do not fit the look of your web site, it is possible to use someone else's, develop your own, or pay to have someone else create a theme for you. Creating or modifying a theme can be the most difficult part in developing a Drupal site. This requires a strong understanding of HTML and style sheets. In most cases, Drupal developers will use a theme that has already been created. A UA Drupal theme is at drupal.arizona.edu/ua_framework.

You can find links to existing University of Arizona Drupal sites at drupal.arizona.edu/drupal_sites. The first large University site to use Drupal was the UANews site from External Relations, released in the summer of 2007. The top pages of the University of Arizona site to be released in July 2009 will be using Drupal.

Migrating existing sites to Drupal

Moving content from existing HTML pages to a Drupal site is not automatic. Each existing HTML page has to be opened and content copied into a new record in the Drupal database. If you have an existing site and limited personnel, and your site is large, you would need to prioritize and do the mostly commonly viewed pages first. If you wish to maintain the same "look," you will need to create a Drupal theme to match your existing site.

Cooperative Extension at the state level has decided to move the main Extension site and the 4-H site to Drupal. The main Extension and the 4-H sites will probably be released to the public in early summer. Contact people for this project are Kelly Arizmendi and Robert Armstrong. Questions about how soon other Extension programs and county sites will move over to Drupal can be directed to Kelly Arizmendi.

Creating a new Drupal site

The CALS Networking Lab can get you started with a new Drupal site. They will provide you with a web folder with a default Drupal site, the default modules and themes, a database, and a web address. Complete this form to request a Drupal site on the CALS server: cals.arizona.edu/ecat/web/drupalrequest.html. At present, the Lab is unable to provide additional assistance in developing and maintaining your Drupal site or installing and configuring additional Drupal themes or modules. You must have someone with some knowledge of Drupal to administer and develop your site. For such an administrator/developer, there are additional advanced skills which are useful but not necessarily required. These include an understanding of PHP programming, Unix commands, and MySQL database.

Although other content management systems are used on the UA campus, Drupal is the one supported by University Information Technology Services. At present UITS offers hands-on workshops for content providers and also people who want to be administrators of a Drupal site. These are listed at drupal.arizona.edu/workshops. There are also a variety of tutorials about Drupal on the Internet, including drupal.org and www.lynda.com.

Once a site has been set up, entering information into a Drupal site takes less training than working with Dreamweaver. But the initial set up can take weeks, particularly if an existing theme or database structure is not used.

There are various fee-based sources that you can use for Drupal development, including the Networking Lab (lab@cals.arizona.edu), the College of Medicine Information Technology Services (griffith@arizona.edu), and the University Information Technology Services web development group (jknight@email.arizona.edu). Also external consultants such as www.fergusonlynch.com can be used.

Things Dreamweaver and Drupal have in common

Both methods of creating web pages require resizing of images used on the web page. Most digital cameras and commercially purchased images are too large and have to be "sized down" to fit on web pages. There are many programs that let you change images for the web, including Photoshop and Fireworks as well as free programs like GIMP.

The specific look of pages (such as the background color, text color and sizes, width of the content) is determined by a list of rules called style sheet rules. The same set of rules can be used on a Dreamweaver site and on a Drupal site. If you are willing to make your look the same as another site, you can take someone else's rules and use them on your site. However, someone familiar with style sheet rules may need to help you tweak the coding.

Other comments

If you have an existing HTML site and don't make that many updates a week, and are happy with site, then you should probably stay with Dreamweaver at present. If you are starting a new site, particularly a site with a lot of content, or you plan to have many contributors, you should seriously consider Drupal. If you are willing to go with an existing Drupal or Dreamweaver look and structure, then developmental time would not be as high. If you don't have people in your unit with knowledge of Dreamweaver or Drupal, you should plan on paying developmental costs for either option.

One of the big issues affecting a Dreamweaver versus Drupal decision is the pending budget cuts projected in July 2009. Both Dreamweaver and Drupal will continue to be used on campus. However, it is not clear how much free web assistance will be available.

In summary

  • Both Dreamweaver and Drupal are tools for developing web sites.
  • Both require training to create a site and enter information into a site.
  • Depending on how the site has been set up, adding new content does not require knowledge of HTML, but it does require understanding of the tools being used in either Dreamweaver or Drupal.
  • Both can deliver the same end product (that is, you cannot tell just looking at a page if it is a Drupal site or a Dreamweaver site).
  • Drupal is driven by a database. The fields in a database (such as events) can be used in multiple parts of the site, and only have to be entered once. If there are a lot of updates to a site, it is better to have a database behind the site.
  • Because anyone with Internet access can be given access to a Drupal database, with the approval of the administrator, more people can be involved in providing direct input into a Drupal web site, without purchasing software. Input to a Drupal site is done through a web browser. Special software does not have to be on the local computer.

Document created by Linda Ffolliott, ECAT, Originally posted March 20, 2009. Last updated April 13, 2009
Input from Matt Rahr, Kelly Arizmendi, Robert Armstrong, Wolfgang Grunberg, Anne Thwaits, Mike Griffith, Tracey Hummel