fromMarch 2013
Column:

Drupal in Context

Getting Help
2

The Way to Drupal Answers Isn't Always Clear; Here's How to Find It

They say “everyone starts as a beginner,” but that’s not quite true. Pianists easily apply their training to transition into conducting or composing; carpenters and stonemasons become sculptors. Likewise, former programmers intuit Drupal's inner workings on sight. Some beginners simply start out “more equal than others” — leaving the rest of us scrambling to catch up.

Commercial software incorporates the cost of training, documentation, and support into the product’s price: Without an easy “on-ramp,” the product will fail to gain new adherents and, eventually, fade away. Core Drupal, as a free, open source product, lacks this support-system advantage, so help must come either from volunteers or from the third-party market. Alas, volunteers are sometimes unreliable — or unavailable when needed — and the third-party market requires money. And so a “knowledge gap” has developed between those who hold information and those who need it.

But it's not hopeless, because the Drupal ecosystem has grown and diversified so much that those two sources of help can now serve just about everyone, including you — if you know where to look.

Getting Answers Fast

When problems grind your project to a halt, speed is of the essence. Your best bet for free, emergency support is the #drupal-support channel of Internet Relay Chat (IRC), staffed by helpful volunteers. Sadly, the demand for help there far outstrips the supply, so many questions go unanswered.

More reliable are the commercial offerings. These are sometimes provided as part of a subscription program, the best-known of which is the Acquia Network, where direct, ticket-based support starts at $2,500 per year. (Forum-based support is available as part of cheaper packages.) But Acquia is far from the only player, and http://drupal.org/drupal-services lists over 100 companies that offer some form of support.

Sources for Drupal help

If you have a little more time, turn to the discussion boards, which fall into two categories: general help boards (such as those on http://drupal.org/forum), and task- or subject-specific boards (such as the issue queues connected to individual modules). But remember to look beyond Drupal.org: Drupal distributions such as Drupal Commerce (at DrupalCommerce.org) often have their own support sites, and general tech sites such as stackexchange.com also host discussions.

Help That Helps

No matter where you seek help, a few tips increase your chances of getting what you need.

  1. Understand your helpers' technical limitations. A high level of expertise comes from specialization, so a Drupal themer might not know much about your system configuration issues.
  2. Understand your helpers' resource limitations. Someone offering free help usually can't give the sort of full service you'd get from a paid provider.
  3. Do your homework. Record the steps that led to the problem, and try to solve it yourself before looking elsewhere. Even if you're unsuccessful, the process will give you valuable details that will help others help you.
  4. Use search engines wisely. In Google, add the term site:drupal.org for results that are often better than Drupal.org will give you on its own. And searching for the text of an error message (enclosed in quotes) is the fastest way to find others who have solved the same problem.
  5. Give to get. People who offer help eventually get to know each other. When you pitch in, you become part of this community of helpers, and have access to better resources when your own problems crop up.

Drupal sometimes gets a bad rap for its support, but that’s unfair; Drupal support is no worse than what you can get from commercial products. The big difference is that the “official” help channel (the Drupal community) is free. For those willing to ask the right questions — or sometimes pay — the solution to every problem is out there.

Comments

You mention stackexchange.com, however it is worth mentioning the specific drupal.stackechange.com because a lot of people still post drupal specific questions to others like stackoverflow.com but it is better if drupal questions are in the drupal sub-site as much as possible. Plus you generally get faster and better responses for drupal questions in the drupal stackexchange.

Very useful -- I should have given the Drupal-specific URL. Thanks!

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