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June 17, 2010

Expression Engine

Blogging became very popular in the last 5-6 years. So was there a need for a Weblog CMS. Yes, the answer is Expression Engine. Thanks to EllisLab for making such a fantastic CMS with powerful features. Expression Engine is a Content Management System which is flexible and feature rich. With powerful features like the SQL Manager, etc it becomes the best weblog publishing system. Expression Engine (EE) is developed using PHP and MySql. The latest version of EE is developed in Code Igniter which is again an Open Source framework for Web developers and developed by the same team EllisLab.

Something for the beginners, a Weblog or a Blog can be called as your personal account/story published on the internet. Ok, let’s not drift from the main topic. First and foremost Expression Engine is not FREE. You have to buy the license. But don’t get disappointed because thousands of people who have EE licenses don’t feel sorry to have paid for the service. They think it’s the right thing they have. Let’s see why.

We come to most important part of EE which is the WEBLOG module. This forms the core part of EE for publishing content. Using this module we can create weblogs. There is no limit on how many weblogs you have created. Once a weblog is created we can start adding posts to it. Adding the weblog modules code in template lets us display our posts in the site front-end.
Add/edit the form fields for every weblog. Different form fields group can be created for different weblogs. The best part is that when creating fields you can also write the “help text” for the field. It will look something like below:

Please enter the name in BOLD letters.

In the above example “Name” is the field label and the help text is below it.

Same goes for categories. Content can be added in different categories. Category Groups can be created.

Some more feature of EE:

  • Templates:
    There are no physical files for templates, CSS, etc. All of them are stored in the database. EE has its own template language for building powerful templates. This can be done from the EE admin. Templates can be of any type a normal template, a CSS style sheet or a JavaScript file.
    You can create different types of templates groups (set of templates). You can assign any template Group as the default for the site and also use any others available. Tools like “Revision History” saves the template history of the template you are working on. This history is stored with time you saved it. So to find what code you had in the template 4 months back is very easy. This also helps in reverting your code back to the previous template if you there is a bug in the new code you added in the template.
    Fantastic EE documentation site helps in understanding the optimal use of the template tagging language.
  • Query Module:
    This module in EE lets you write MySql queries in a more simple way and thus access the Database values in the template.
  • Member Manager:
    This is the core module for managing users in EE. Before handling this- thorough knowledge of how EE works is a must. This module takes care of everything a user management system should do. It by default installs member templates which become an integral part of the user pages. Registration form, member profile, etc. And did you think you have to open some IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and then open the member templates in it to make it look like your site? This time you are not correct. Member manager gives you the tool to design these templates from the EE admin. So here EE takes care of the developers here by developing template editors inside the admin panel itself so no need for any IDE.
  • Simple Commerce:
    Simple Commerce is a module in EE which looks after online payments in the website. It uses PayPal IPN (Instant Payment Notification) for the payment. With the help of this module you can build up nice website shops for users to buy items. And yes it beautifully connects with the Member Manager to keep tabs on the members making payments. This makes it more secure. On Payment -well formatted emails are sent to the users. These email templates can also be altered from the EE admin.
  • Wiki Module:
    Wiki module takes care of user content and forms a community on the site. As soon as a new content is added on the site a site admin gets a notification from the system for moderation of the added content. So creating your own WIKI community on your site has never been so easy.

For the Developers:
Now that we have seen some features of EE we will look into the development side. Modules and plug-ins can be developed in EE. There is in-depth documentation on this on the EE site as well as the Wiki version of EE. A module can be installed or deleted from the “Modules” page in the EE admin. Files for the modules are kept inside the “system_folder_name/modules/module_name” folder.
Plug-in is also called an Extension. We too have an Extension Manager for managing the plug-ins.

What’s our say on EE?
EE is a well structured Weblog CMS with strong backend features and powerful modules. It lets you create custom modules and plugins to build great websites.