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SouthEast LinuxFest 2010: Drupal Theming for Beginners

by Mediacurrent Team
June 22, 2010

 The presentation started with an explanation of what Drupal is. Simply put, Drupal is a system to manage content on websites. Drupal is a content management system that has boundless possibilities of uses. Drupal has the flexibility to be used on all types of projects from small brochure-ware to robust information architecture sites like a newspaper or magazine.

Getting started on a Drupal theme is quite simple, but before building begins there is some terminology that one should be cognizant of.  The most important theme centric terms to be familiar with include: hooks, preprocess function, base path function, taxonomy, region, nodes, blocks, delta, template.php, settings.php, and menu system. 

  • Hooks: How modules and themes interact with other modules and themes in Drupal.
  • Base Path: URL to the top directory in file system.
  • Taxonomy: is a way to organize content or associate content with other content on site.
  • Template Files:  Files ending with “.tpl.php” are used by Drupal to manage the display of content.
  • Region: Where content is place on the page
  • Nodes: Where most content is stored once added to site.
  • Blocks: A method of displaying content inside of regions.
  • Preprocss Function:  The ability to add content or information to other functions or process on site.
  • Template.php: This is where special functions and information related to themes is place to be processed by Drupal.
  • Settings.php: This is were base path and connections to the database is set.
  • Menu System: This how Drupal displays pages


The easy way to get started building a Drupal theme is to either download a contributed theme from the Drupal community or copy one of Drupal’s default themes, packaged with the CMS. I recommend copying the Garland theme and renaming all the files and wording related to Garland to the name of your new theme.

The key to a Drupal theme is the “” file, which should be located inside of your theme folder.  This file sets the name, regions, css/javascript files, and features to display within a Drupal theme. Any changes made to this file must clear the theme registry in order to be recognized by the Drupal system.

There are many places to get help with your Drupal theme. The best way to learn more theming is by trial and error. Whenever possible, it is always a good idea to work with a professional while you build your website, because they can help avoid the most common mistakes and save you time and money. 

See slideshow here

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