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5.2 How to Learn Joomla

In the previous article, we provided evidence that the Debian operating system is much more secure than Windows and that the Joomla Content Management System was much more secure than Wordpress. In this article, we will provide an introduction to some of the terms and concepts that taken together make up the Joomla Content Management System.

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Why Joomla uses a Database
In the next article, we will create a Joomla website. One of the first steps in this process is the creation of a database. The reason Joomla needs a database is because Joomla is capable of doing a lot of different things. For example, Joomla can take the same content and display it on a web page in many different ways. How it performs this Magic Trick is by storing the content (such as images and blocks of text) inside a series of tables. This series of tables is called a Database. Other database tables include different types of users, different types of menu items, different types of web pages, different types of content boxes (which Joomla calls Modules) and different type of function tools (which Joomla calls Components). Components you can add to the Joomla Core Components include form builders, newsletter creators, slideshow creators and online shopping carts. Joomla offers literally thousands of free components.

In addition to Content Creation tools, Joomla also offers a wide range of Appearance Creation tools. While Wordpress calls these appearance tools “themes”, Joomla calls them Templates. Templates in turn are often based on website page building tools called Frameworks. Each of these functional layers requires the addition of new tables to your Joomla website database.

All of these terms can seem a bit overwhelming when you are first learning Joomla. The complexity of Joomla is one reason many beginners make the mistake of just setting up a Wordpress website. Wordpress is a little easier to learn than Joomla. But Wordpress is easier to learn because Wordpress is lacking many extremely important features – features whose functions and purpose only become apparent over time as your website content grows.

A good way to understand the difference in structure between Joomla and Wordpress is to imagine that your website is a house or building that your online business will live in for the next 20 years. Initially, you may only need one or two rooms in the house. But over time, you may need a dozen rooms on the main floor and many more rooms on the second and third floors. It is essential to plan ahead by building a strong foundation underneath the house. Joomla provides this strong foundation for your business website. It provides a lot of tools that you are not required to use – but tools that will be there if and when your business grows.

The Underlying Difference between Joomla 3 and Joomla 4
To understand the difference between various versions of Joomla, you need to understand about a program called PHP. PHP is a scripting language that is used to control Joomla databases. Scripting means that single words of code can stand for much more complex blocks of code. For example, the words “Moby Dick” can be used to refer to all of the text in the entire book Moby Dick.

PHP was first developed in 1996. PHP version 5 was used to create the initial version of Joomla 3 in September 2012. However, PHP 5 had several security holes and was replaced by PHP 7.0 in 2016 with the release of Joomla version 3.5. Currently PHP version 7.4 is being used to create Joomla version 3.10. Joomla version 4 was released in August 2021 after about two years of development.

Joomla 4 is also based on PHP 7.4 but has support for PHP version 8. Newer versions of PHP are more secure and faster than older versions. Joomla 3 will be supported until August 2023. Joomla 3 will therefore have a total life cycle of 11 years. This is a remarkable period of time given the rapidly changing nature of the modern internet. In the next article, we will build and configure a Joomla 3.10 website before we build a website based on Joomla 4. Given that Joomla 4 is based on a better and newer code base that Joomla 3.10, why bother learning about Joomla 3.10???

Many Components are not yet ready for Joomla 4
There are practical reasons to learn Joomla 3.10 before learning Joomla 4. For example, many components that work well in Joomla 3 are still being developed for Joomla 4. These components include the Form Building tool we recommend and the Shopping Cart Building tool we recommend. It could be several months before all of the components we need for our online store are ready for Joomla 4.

Joomla 3 has a better menu structure than Joomla 4
The most important reason to learn Joomla 3 first is that Joomla 3 has a better menu structure than Joomla 4. This better menu structure makes it easier to learn Joomla 3 than to learn Joomla 4. Joomla 3 has a single top menu that is structured like the Table of Contents of a book. There is a clear division of categories with fixed drop down menu items. Here is the Joomla 3 Control Panel Top Menu

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Joomla 4 uses an expandable side menu that makes it appear to be similar to the Wordpress Back-end Dashboard. Most of the complexity of Joomla is hidden from the simple side menu in a very complex Settings page. This side menu structure may fool some people into thinking that Joomla is just like Wordpress. But it is not a good way to learn about or use Joomla for the long run.

Here is the Joomla 4 Control Panel

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Here is the Joomla 4 Systems screen

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Thankfully, it is very easy to convert the Joomla 4 back end dash board (which we will call a Control Panel) back into the Joomla 3 top menu structure. We will show you how to do this after we install a practice Joomla 4 website.

9 Steps to Learning Joomla

We will divide the process of learning Joomla into several steps. These steps include:

#1 How to Use Hestia to Install Joomla.

#2 How to Add a Custom Template to Joomla.

#3 How to Create a Joomla Category Folder Structure so that the structure of your website matches the category structure of your website folders on your Home computer.

#4 How to create an article with images on your Home computer.

#5 How to transfer an article with images from your Home computer to your Joomla website.

#6 How to Create Menu Items to display your website categories and articles.

#7 How to add boxes of content called Modules to your website.

#8 How to add Components such as Forms and Newsletters and Calendars to your website.

#9 How to manage your website over time.

Learning about VPS Functions in addition to Learning about Joomla Processes

In addition to learning about Joomla, we also need to cover several important functions needed to run a Virtual Private Server. These functions include data transfer, email management and automated backups. Because these skills are best learned by actually doing them, this is a bit like building an airplane while you are flying it.

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We will therefore introduce Joomla basics in this chapter and then get back to VPS skills in the next chapter.

What’s Next?

Now that we have a clearer idea of the Joomla learning process, in the next article we will review how to use Hestia to create a Joomla 3.10 website.