Content is Important, but Menus are King in Joomla

Joomla's menu entries house more of the system's primary control features than many new users realize.

Move over, content - in Joomla country, menus are a contender for king of the Internet.You're probably used to writing articles. You probably understand that each piece of content on the Internet has a URL. But then you came to Joomla, and its SEF URL mechanisms probably confounded you, because they are not article-centric.

You may be used to controlling access to web pages and specific resources. You probably understand SEO meta tags - at least enough to know they're attached to a URL, which, by extension, identifies some content. Content, URL, meta-data fields - they normally go hand, in hand, in hand.

Those of us who've been around the Internet a while, expect our grasp of fundamentals, to carry us intuitively through Joomla. Little do some of us realize at first, that someone forgot to tell us about menus.

For those of you new to Joomla, please heed: menus are the boss. When options are duplicated or in conflict, menu options take precedence. The system cares little for any meta data or SEF URL alias you may set on a particular piece of content, if the corresponding menu item is also filled-out. If you want content publicly-accessible, but the menu item is secured or there's no menu item leading to it, it's nigh unreachable. If you want the content secured, but a corresponding menu item is public, then the public will see the link exists and know its URL, albeit, they'll get errors if they try to view the content.

It's true: without content, there'd be no website at all. But, if a Joomla administrator doesn't understand the menu item's many roles, that's a webmaster who's missing more than half the picture, even at a basic level.

A smart Joomla newbie takes time to explore the administrator site as often as possible. When creating or editing menu entries, pay special attention to the changes in options. As you pick different types of menu item, some groups of options will come and go, to reflect the options usable by that type of link. Hover your mouse over the labels for each field - they're always there as a reference, but orientation is key. Years from now, you'll be surprised how often you discover new features and options you'd never noticed before, or never thought about because the need hadn't yet arisen. 

The menu hierarchy, and the aliases of each item in that hierarchy, are the ultimate authority for Joomla's SEF URLs. Note that the specific menu is irrelevant to SEF URLs; a link in the Main menu doesn't get a /main/ prefix for being there, nor will any other link in any other menu be treated any differently just for being in a non-main menu. Nesting menu entries, by use of the Parent field, however, does give you this control.

It's a prime example of Joomla choosing power over user-friendliness or any shade of intuitive usage, but the power does yield results. Your content can be organized along different logical lines, than your menu. This comes in handy constantly - your seasonal content is easier to find in a category nest like:

Dated Content category → Seasonal subcategory → Summer subcategory

...but you don't necessarily want that structure to be forced into your URLs or menus. What seems like copious redundancy, to a newer Joomla user, is actually the means by which Joomla helps you automate more than just content publishing - it's also made for handling many aspects of workflow, for many kinds of organization.

Menu control is just one of the many ways in which Joomla's powerful, modular approach can confuse a newbie. From any other perspective, a link is just a link - you can litter your website with them as much as you like, so how critical can any one of them be? In Joomla, an individual menu entry always holds roughly 50% of the power over its target page, regardless of which component runs the target page, itself. 

So, yes: menus are the boss of Joomla. It's sometimes possible to sneak past this boss - a user can sometimes reach a component or piece of content by hand-crafting a link which bypasses the menu system, to reach content which has no relevant menu item. Your menu configuration - however complete and correct it may, or may not be - implements the logic of your site. The more fully you understand menu configuration, and the more completely and correctly you use that understanding, the fewer layout gremlins, behavioral quirks, and mystery search results Joomla will produce.

© 2018 Nathan Hawks

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