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Author Topic: Nucleus review  (Read 1505 times)
« on: February 12, 2011, 02:15:09 pm »

'Nucleus CMS is the software package that I use to publish this weblog. It's written in PHP and uses MySQL for storage.  I've been using it for a couple of months now so it's time to do a write up of how it performs. I use it as a simple blogging tool (which is what it's intended to be) without reader accounts and will review it as this.

I installed version 3.51 and upgraded to v3.62 so I will both review the installation and upgrade process. Besides that I will of course talk about the basic features, how it is in daily (well weekly) use and it's plugin and customization system.

Installation of Nucleus CMS 3.62 is a blast! Download and unzip the package, upload the contents and go to to install. This will show a page with a little bit of information on the installation, your php an mysql version and a couple of forms to fill in database, url/directory, weblog and admin account details. There's an option to set a table prefix so you can install multiple installations of Nucleus CMS in one database. The urls/directories are allready filled in and you only have to check whether they are right.

There's also an option to install the NP_Ping plugin but no description or link to find out what it does. I couldn't (easily) find this information on the Nucleus Site/Wiki or google so I installed it to check it out. Apparently it "can be used to ping many blog tracking services." In the plugin options page it shows 7 sites and the option to automatically notify these sites when you post/update an item (I guess). Three of these sites have "Doesn't work" with one or more question marks behind it.

After clicking the install button a confirmation page is shown, this contains the contents of config.php if it's not writable. Instructions to delete some install files and set config.php to not writable. Last but not least there's a little info about spam control.

In my previous post about Nucleus CMS I wrote that it had been a long time since it had been updated and development seemed to have stopped. This appeared wrong, recently two updates have been released as was brought to my attention by a message in the admin area. Besides reinstalling Nucleus CMS there's also an option to upgrade your current install to the new version.

After filling in your current version and the version you want to upgrade to a page will be brought up with 4 steps to complete the update. Step 1: Back up everything, Step 2: Update scripts, Step 3: Upgrade files and Step 4: Upgrade language packs. You can make a back up in the admin area, the other steps contain of downloading a package, unpacking it, uploading the files and go to a url. Nothing fancy if you were able to install the package. Upgrading my install went smooth and I didn't find any problems with the installed plugins.

Installing and updating is easy enough if you know how to use ftp, your database settings and can make an url. These are the basics for almost any cms and for most of these things there's a tutorial in case you don't know yet.

After installing Nucleus CMS you'll start with a basic framework. Available pages are: index, item, search, archive, category, search and member info. For syndication there are RSS and Atom feeds available. It's everything a weblog needs. The default pages are quite basic but complete and you can customize them as much as you want.

In the admin area you can manage your weblogs, items, comments, members, configuration, plugins, lay-out and ipbans. As said before you can also back-up and restore your database. Managing Nucleus CMS is easily done trough the menu and you can access your profile, items and comments there but you can only access other peoples comments and bans trough the blog list. Categories can be edited in the blog settings which wasn't where I was initially looking for it. Especially for systems with only one blog installed I think the navigation here can be made easier.

There's a special page with information about the nucleus install as well as the php and mysql setup which is handy for debugging info. Unfortunately the name and version of the webserver and operating system lack here. This would be interesting because some features are not available on all webservers or operating systems. Also there's a large difference in the access rights system between operating systems. There's also some packages lacking and no information about why you would need it (If you get something you want it all). For example I needed libcurl to check for new versions but it wasn't listed on the page.

If you add an item you get two textboxes, one for the main body and one for the extended body and a couple of options for publishing: disable comments, select a category and options for publishing (now, on a date, add to drafts). The text boxes have a view buttons above them for lay-out and adding links or media. When adding a link you can only specify an address but not the text to show or a title like in the default menu links. Adding media will show a popup window where you can choose an image to add. You can choose to show it in a popup, set a size and a title. I didn't find an option to add a thumbnail, it probably means you have to add two images, one normal and one in a popup.

For special lay-outs you'll have to know html, there are probably some special Nucleus CMS variables you can use too but there's no link to them in the add item area. A few extra buttons for underline, overstrike, sub- and superscript and headers wouldn't be a luxery here. The most lacking feature here however is a preview function which shows the item in the weblog's lay-out. (The plugin NP_AdminPreview" adds this functionality.)

On the index and item pages there's a link to edit an item. Clicking the link opens a popup window with the same option as in the admin area but there's also a link to preview the item. The item is shown as normal text on a blank page rather then using the item's lay-out. This bookmarklet can also be used to add items.

Comments can be made in plain text only, there's no support for HTML or bbscript. Also a requirement for cms's these days would be some means of spam control. This isn't available in the basic installation but there are quite some plugins written for this and these are advertised in the install script.

So the default install has most of the basics for a weblog but lacks two features: a preview area and spam control. Besides that there are some minor details that are lacking.

For Nucleus CMS is open source you can modify it as much as you want but there are two ways to make this easier. Skins control the lay-out of your site and plugins add extra functionality. Translations are available in a number of languages but most of the translations aren't up to date.

There's an extensive library of skins available for Nucleus CMS which can be previewed as screenshots or in the skin browser. Importing skins take two steps: uploading & installing the skin and changing the skin for your blog.

Editing a skin is a bit harder though, there are three levels you can edit: skinfiles, skins and templates. Skins make up the major lay-out and use a combination of code, skinfiles and template variables. The skinfiles are things like the header, footer and navigation. Templates are anything between the lay-out of an item and a date-string and can be entered into the skin or another template by using template variables and can be shared amongst skins. The skins and templates can be edited in the admin area. Nucleus CMS comes with NP_Skinfiles installed, this plugin makes it possible to edit the skinfiles in the admin area too.

The setup of files/skins/templates does make sense and allow for a lot of customization. However because of the three layers I often find myself looking into multiple places whenever I want to change something.

A very strong feature of Nucleus CMS is it's plugin system. Plugins can be downloaded and installed just like skins. In the admin area you can edit the plugin settings and it's possible for a plugin to have it's own pages. Plugins can subscribe to certain "events" and modify the outcome. Because of this they can be used for nearly everything: gathering user information, spam control, adding template variables or extending the admin area.

I hardly had any problems installing plugins, some things went a bit wrong when I tried to update them in a non official way. I think most plugins are written by the one who needed specific functionality so most plugins focus on one task only. I found some features missing like in NP_LatestPosts or NP_LatestComments where some variables could be shortened but others couldn't.

When looking at the code the plugins are a mixture of coding style and API use. This doesn't surprise me for different people with different skill levels who wrote them. I couldn't find coding guidelines and find it kinda hard to find good documentation on writing plugins. I didn't have much problems with the modifications when I understood the base structure of the plugin though. If you're not able to adapt the plugins yourself you can always put a request on the forum which seems kind of active. I didn't get into writing my own plugins (yet) so I can't say anything about that.

To sum it up the plugins are easy to install, use and configure and add a lot of functionality to NucleusCMS. The plugin might not be exactly what you're looking for though but are easy enough to adapt if you have some PHP knowledge.

Nucleus CMS has most of the basic requirements for a blogging only content management system. It would be better if it had a decent item preview, spam control and it could use some polishing. Major merits go to the skin and plugin system. If you know how to use ftp and make an url you won't have any problem installing Nucleus or any of the skins and plugins and enhance it's functionality to your own wishes.'
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