Today we’re going to take a look at Dropplets, a flat file CMS, built on PHP and made specifically for blogging. Weighing in at less than 1Mb it’s very lightweight, but does it live up to its promises? Let’s see.
Dropplets is developed by Jason Schuller and claims to provide an “Easier Way to Blog”, as stated on its homepage. Dropplets lets you write posts in markdown, after which you simply upload the file to the web server to publish. There are also a few templates available which you can download from the Dropplets marketplace directly within your install.
Dropplets boasts that it can be installed in 30 seconds! My installation took 37 seconds, but I guess that’s good enough. As mentioned, you’ll need to run Dropplets on a PHP server, either locally or online. Follow these steps to get Dropplets installed, using cPanel.
Download Dropplets here, then head over to your web host/server and log into cPanel. Go to the online file manager:
Once there, upload the .zip file.
Now extract the .zip file.
With that done, you need to access the url you just uploaded your files to, for example “example.com”. Dropplets is quite a simple CMS, you don’t even need a username; just set your password.
Dropplets is installed!
After installation, the rest of the setup process is relatively simple. The developer, Jason, feels that Dropplets “Isn’t a CMS, it’s just for pure blogging and nothing more”. To log in, click the button in the top right corner. Enter your password, then click the green check to log in. There, you can change the options for your blog, amongst which you’ll find:
Some would say this aspect of Dropplets is quite limiting, others welcome it, but in order to write a post you have to create a Markdown file. Any text editor will work fine to edit markdown, even notepad, however one of the easiest ways to write a post in Markdown is to use an online Markdown editor such as Markable.
Click the green “Try it Now” button to compose an article, then click Export > Download Markdown to download the .md file. If you have never written a post in Markdown before, check out Markable’s cheet sheet here.
Dropplets requires all posts to be saved in a particular format, each file starting with some specific metadata:
# Your Post Title - Post Author Name (e.g. "Dropplets") - Post Author Twitter Handle (e.g. "dropplets") - Publish Date in YYYY/MM/DD Format (e.g. "2013/04/28") - Post Category (e.g. "Random Thoughts") - Post Status (e.g. "published" or "draft") Your post text starts here.
After you have finished creating the markdown file for your post, it’s ready for publication.
A static blog is all very well, but what if you wanted to do some of the other things that a (for example) WordPress blog does, such as inserting ads, contact forms, author bio boxes, track stats, or allows Paypal purchases? Let’s go through how to achieve every one of them.
Leveraging ads in a Dropplets site is the most straightforward of the examples here. Ad networks (such as Adsense and Chitika) provide you with HTML code to insert into your sites. Remember the “code injection” fields in the Dropplets dashboard? You can use these to insert HTML code in the header or footer. Keep in mind that the code you insert in the header/footer shows up on both the homepage and all the posts.
You can then use a snippet such as the following for inserting your ad code in the desired place:
<div align=right> //ad code here //aligns ad to right of page <div> <div align=center> //ad code here //aligns ad to center of page <div> //default: aligns ad to left of page
Other than coding the whole thing in HTML, another option would be to use this free author bio box widget creator, which generates HTML and CSS that you can paste into your site.
Most stat trackers, such as Google Analytics give you a snippet which you can then paste into the header or footer. Posting it into the header gives you more accurate analytics, so I’d recommend you take that approach.
Paypal offers you a simple “Buy Now” button creator, which you can access here. It generates HTML code which you can then paste on the header or footer. You can also purchase a premium solution here or here, or create your own using HTML.
At the time this article is written, Dropplets ships with one free template by default. If you would like to make your site look even better, you can purchase a premium template, of which there are currently three. Paying for them requires a credit card; the payment form pops up and allows you to pay directly. Additionally, you can see some custom templates created by the Dropplets community on GitHub.
You can also create your own theme. There isn’t much documentation about the theming process at the moment, but developers can easily edit and modify the free theme that is included with Dropplets. If you’re familiar with WordPress or PHP, the templating system won’t throw any unwanted surprises your way. Syntax such as this:
<h2><?php echo($post_title); ?></h2> <?php echo($post_content); ?>
describes clearly what’s being inserted in the page.
Also, just like WordPress, Dropplets has plugins (though not quite as many) at your disposal, such as Pagelets, which enables setting up custom pages.
Updating Dropplets is designed to be non-destructive. Download the updated files and replace everything in your home directory, except for the post folder and the config.php file. Similarly with backups, you need to backup the post folder and the config.php file.
Dropplets might not be the best WordPress alternative out there in terms of functionality and capability, but it surely is a great CMS if you are interested in blogging and blogging only. It serves as a “no gimmicks” CMS, using a minimalistic approach and structure. This does mean, however, that if you’re looking for something more extensible and capable, Dropplets probably isn’t the platform for you.