Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New Drupal web site for our research group

A few months ago we finished installing a new web site for our research group. The previous site was in Drupal 5, and we made an improved version in Drupal 7. You can visit the site here.


These are the most important parts of the site:
  1. Personal profiles for each researcher and professor
  2. A general list of publications and individual listings for each researcher
  3. Information pages for courses
  4. A news section

With respect to the previous version, we made several big changes:
  • We went back to a single language. Previous versions were in English and in Spanish (as we're located in Spain) but we decided to go English-only as this is the language of research. That removed the hassle of having to update profiles in two languages. We still have Spanish-only pages for the courses though, but we are not using the internationalization system anymore.
  • We removed any anonymous user input. There is still a contact form, but we removed the guestbook and comments on announcements.
  • Previously we used a custom-made publication management system. We now changed to the Drupal module Biblio. Biblio has some great out-of-the-box features like publication listings per author and several types of sorting.
  • We made more use of the views module and added some tighter interaction between the different content types on the site. We now have
    • news pages and news blocks showing up in several parts of the site;
    • a page for research projects, with links to related Biblio publications on each project and vice-versa;
    • an area dedicated to reproducible research / open science in which we post code to reproduce experiments from our papers (with links back from the paper pages) and several tools we are building.

Here's a short rundown of how we built the site.


The non-core module footprint was relatively small, since Drupal 7 comes standard with many features. The major non-core extensions we used are the following:
Sticky footer!


Apart from configuring the modules, there has been some getting our hands dirty in 3 areas:
  1. We had to hack the Biblio module as it doesn't allow for hooking / theming properly. Mainly, this was for sorting the publications by type with a custom order (not alphabetic) and some aesthetic aspects.
  2. The theme is a zen subtheme. The user profiles are built with Profile2 and some additional fields, and on top of that they have some CSS but no theming templates.
  3. Some of the views are using complex combinations of contextual filters and relationships, e.g. to show selected publications in our member profiles.


Drupal 7 was a good choice for our research group web site:
  1. The core of this web site is content management, and our content management requirements which were nicely met by Drupal.
  2. We kept the back-end clean and simple, and we didn't bother with any additional graphics or fancy buttons. For instance, text markup is done code-like with BUEditor which is perfect for us technical people.
  3. Drupal has some great extensibility in whatever direction, which meant that we could find almost any component we needed as a contributed module. It also came in handy for linking external services and doing experimental stuff.
The development took a few months, as this is something we did besides our normal research tasks, but we're very glad with the results. Now let's see if it lasts another 5 years.