10 Joomla extension modules for easier and better websites

If you're using Joomla to develop and administer your website, these tools can help.

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CDN for Joomla

Developer: NoNumber

Version tested: 2.1.2

Certified for: Joomla 1.5/2.5

Price: Free (Basic); 30 euros or $39 (Pro)

The business of handling website traffic is a tricky one. Most days, your server is just chugging along nicely, handling orders, displaying content and doing all the other things websites do with no muss and no fuss.

Then Oprah mentions she loves your latest product in a live television interview. Suddenly your Web server is about as useful as the melted piece of slag it's about to become.

It doesn't have to be as dramatic as that. Sometimes it's a random DDOS attack probing your site's defenses. Or you have a seasonal store that does a lot of traffic at certain times of the year and is quiet at all the other times. Whatever the reason, you don't want your website to slow down or, even worse, come to a screeching halt -- especially if it's your business at stake.

The trick to handling a lot of traffic is sharing the load. The one-server-trying-to-do-it-all model will only go so far -- for the really heavy lifting, your site needs more machines to handle the incoming requests for content. That's the very essence of content delivery networks (CDNs): In times of heavy traffic, these sites will take over serving parts of your site so your core site's database and e-commerce engine can function properly.

These CDNs are separate services for which you have to sign up. Once you have your bona fides established with a CDN like MaxCDN, Amazon CloudFront or CloudCache, then you can use the CDN for Joomla extension to connect your site to your chosen service.

CDN for Joomla comes in two flavors: the Basic version is free, while the Pro version costs 30 euros (about $39). The major difference between the two versions is that the Pro edition will support secure https transfers as well as multiple CDN roots. Having multiple roots is a very handy thing for larger sites, since you can have one CDN handling your multimedia content, another handling your images, and so on. The free version is also ad-supported.

CDN for Joomla
CDN for Joomla helps you connect to your content delivery networks.

Configuring CDN for Joomla is a snap: After obtaining the relevant information from the CDN service you are using, you type the information into the plug-in manager. You can then set the file types you want the CDN to actually start grabbing when traffic gets heavy.

CDN for Joomla works for CDNs that support pull zones -- meaning that you don't have to upload any files to the CDN's servers; the CDN will "pull" the content types you specify up to its servers as the need arises. This set-and-forget elasticity is what makes CDNs so nice to have, and a plug-in like CDN for Joomla so useful.

Community Builder

Developer: Joomlapolis

Version tested: 1.8.1

Certified for: Joomla 1.0/1.5/2.5

Price: Free (Add-ons extra)

There are lots of community-oriented packages out there for Joomla, with many different approaches to introducing elements of community site management into a site. For flexibility, Community Builder from Joomlapolis seems the current favorite.

It's not that I don't agree with this assessment, but you should be very clear about what you're getting with Community Builder versus other modules in this category. If you're expecting a rich, full-featured everything-you-could-ever-want-in-a-community-site package, then you're probably going to be disappointed.

Until you realize that Community Builder is offering something better.

What Community Builder delivers is a framework for a community site, not the entire pantheon of community site tools. So instead of getting a package that includes a blogging, forum or messaging system that you have to live with, Community Builder essentially enables you to use many of the tools you prefer to use already and -- this is the best part -- gets them to talk to each other.

Anyone who has put together a site that has a range of complex tools knows that the worst thing to deal with is the requirement for users to sign into one part of the site and then have to sign in again when they use another part of the site. Single sign-on is the Holy Grail for such sites, and you can pick and choose add-ons within Community Builder for many modules that will enable you to do just that.

Right out of the box, Community Builder starts setting up the single sign-on process by seamlessly integrating with your site's existing base login system. From there, it's just a matter of finding the right add-on for the tool you're already using or planning to use.

Community Builder
Community Builder neatly replaces your site's default user management system with something more robust.

There are some drawbacks to Community Builder; for example, installing it is not a simple upload and go process. A total of four packages have to be installed, and then there a number of additional configuration steps you have to take to get things set just so. (The good news is this is all laid out in the README file in the downloaded package, and there's a lot of other documentation available on the Community Builder site.)

And then there's the bit with the add-ons. Community Builder is free of charge as delivered; it comes with its solid core features and the framework is all there. But to get the add-ons, you will need to upgrade to one of three additional subscription plans: Advanced, Professional or Developer. Those plans cost 65 euros (about $84), 95 euros (about $124) and 295 euros (about $385) annually, which isn't exactly cheap if you're running a small site.

There's a lot of high-grade integration in this framework, which makes this a strong candidate for your site. Just be sure it can do what you need at a price you can afford.

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