Web Development for Android Devices: Mobile Joomla!

By Scott Clark

While many developers are actively working on an Android app for their client or business, others are going the web app route by creating websites that look and act like apps when viewed on mobile clients. If you're already using the Joomla! CMS, the Mobile Joomla extension will do most of the work for you, as we will show you in this tutorial.

Mobile Joomla is a free extension that works like this: if you visit a Mobile Joomla-ready website using your desktop web browser, you will see the site like you always do--a normal, standard Joomla! site. If, however, you are using an Android or WAP device, iPhone or iPad, you will see the same website appropriately displayed for your device. It allows you to redirect mobile users to a specific subdomain, or it can use a specific theme for each device. That allows Android users to see one thing, iPhone users another, and Windows Phone 7 users to see something altogether.

You can see it in action by checking out my own test site which I created as I wrote this article, AndroidWho. View it in as many devices as you have access to, and you will see an immediate difference (or, if you are using an Android device running the Dolphin HD browser, you can change the user agent to Android, Desktop, iPhone or iPad, and check it out that way).

Setting Up My Test Site: AndroidWho.com

For this tutorial, I created a site from scratch. I bought the domain name AndroidWho.com, and set it up with my webhost, 1and1.com. Once I had pointed the DNS records to 1and1.com, and created a home directory for the new domain, I created a new MySQL database to use with a fresh Joomla! 1.6 installation.

I won't bore you with the Joomla! installation details, as we have already covered the topic in detail here on HTMLGoodies. Suffice it to say, once you have created the MySQL database, it's pretty much plug and play (or fill in the blanks, more precisely). Here's what my fresh Joomla! installation looked like when it was installed on my host (and yes, I did install the sample data that's included):

Fresh Joomla Install

Since I am not the type of person who can just leave things in their default status, I looked around and found a Joomla! theme that looked more like something an Android nut like myself would like. It's called Modern Design and was available for both Joomla! 1.5 and 1.6, so I was set.

Again, we have already discussed how to install a Joomla! theme, so I won't go over the details, but once I was done installing the theme (and assigning modules to positions within that theme, etc.), the site looked a bit better:

Modern Joomla

Now we get to the installation of Mobile Joomla itself. Mobile Joomla is free to download, and the Mobile Joomla website includes ample documentation:

Modern Joomla

As I mentioned before, I installed Joomla! 1.6, rather than the 1.7 release candidate, because the folks at Mobile Joomla are still working out the issues of upgrading to support the new Joomla! release. They have their own release candidate coming out with support for 1.7, but we'll leave that for a future article.

Mobile Joomla Installation

Before you begin the installation, make sure that your webhost has the following features or configurations:

  • PHP 5.0 (but you need PHP 5.2.4 or higher to run Joomla! 1.6)
  • MySQL 5.0
  • Joomla! 1.5 or 1.6
  • GD2, a PHP image library for image scaling
  • Zip PHP extension
  • bzip2 (PHP bz extension for TeraWURFL device database, explained below)
  • mysqli (also for TeraWURFL)
  • 100 MB of database disk space
  • at least a 64 MB PHP memory limit

Also, one part of Mobile Joomla, TeraWURFL, takes up around 25Mb in the MySQL database, so you'll need enough space for it to be installed. TeraWURFL is where the information (the user agent data from just about every mobile device out there) is stored, and it's required for Mobile Joomla to function.

While Mobile Joomla works on most web hosts, GoDaddy is known to have issues, so be forewarned. Now, let's begin.

Once you've downloaded the Mobile Joomla file itself, you just need to un-compress it (the actual file you'll be using is a .tar file), and Joomla! enables you to simply upload it as is by using the Extension Manager, as shown here:

Extension Installation

Once it's installed, you can either leave it as it is, or further customize it. Here's how that same page we showed you above appears now when viewed by someone using an iPhone:

iPhone View

And here it is on a WAP device, such as a Nokia 6630:

WAP View

Here's what it looks like on a 7 inch Android tablet, through the default browser:

Android View

Changing the Mobile Joomla Configuration

To really dig into the Mobile Joomla settings, just to to the Joomla! Administration page, Components, Mobile Joomla!, Settings, as shown below:

Mobile Joomla Settings

Once you're in the Mobile Joomla! settings, you will see an interface with 5 tabs: Global settings, Smartphone (XHTML), iPhone, WAP and iMode. On the General settings tab, you can enable or disable caching, browser caching, and subdomain support (you can point each type of mobile device to a device specific subdomain, such as iphone.androidwho.com). On the iPhone tab, you can choose to select iPad support, image scaling, and the modules that are used for the iPhone display. You can see the iPhone tab below:

iPhone Settings

There are too many options to list in this article, but suffice it to say, you can style the display for each device however you want, and completely customize your website's appearance by changing the settings. By default it works very, very well, and I am looking forward to seeing the next version of Mobile Joomla!, as it promises to support the Joomla! 1.7, with updated mobile functionality.

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