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Getting Started With OpenACS

Welcome to the OpenACS community

This is my collection of links and resources for people that are getting started with OpenACS. But before we get started, I'd like to share some thoughts on how to best get information and get up to speed with OpenACS.

I think the first thing to realize about OpenACS is that it is not just a technology, it is a vibrant open-source community. The operative word here is community. You are coming into this community as a newbee, or a new person. The OpenACS folks are extremely helpful, more so than any other technical group I've seen. However, you should think about what your resources are for getting information.

The way communities work is very similar to the way a bank account works. You make deposits by doing things that are beneficial to the community, and you make withdrawals by doing things that take the time and energy of the community. The more helpful you are, the more people are going to be willing to help you out. If you have a pattern of being demanding and unhelpful, people aren't going to help you out as much. This isn't malicious, it's just the way people work in general.

What you have to offer?

First of all, let's look at what you have to offer the community. You're new, so you can't offer much in the way of technical knowledge. However, you do have things to offer you can trade for detailed technical help from more knowledgeable individuals:
  • If there is no documentation for what you're trying to do, then the single most helpful thing you can do is write documenation as you learn. That's what I've done in my OpenACS articles. I use it both to keep track of what I've learned for my own reference, and as a way of sharing that with others. But it is also something I can trade for the time of more experienced developers. They know that if they help me out, I'll write up documentation for it, and they might not have to answer that question again.
  • As you find bugs, you can file them in the OpenACS bug-tracker.
  • If you have a particular project in mind, or something you're planning on creating, then building that project and sharing it with the community is good incentive for people to help you. They may be interested in what you're building.
  • When a newer newbee asks a question you know the answer to, answer it!
  • As a newcomer, you have a unique perspective to OpenACS. You can often see deficiencies and areas to improve that old-timers might not even notice. Feel free to bring them up as suggestions. Remember that the OpenACS community is a community, not a company. It isn't their responsibility to fix things for you, or make them better. But it is often in their self-interest to improve things, and they will. Flames won't get you anywhere, but thoughtful suggestions will.
  • Even though you aren't proficient with OpenACS (yet), you may have other skills that are useful. For example, some people have UI design skills, others may have Linux administration skills, or a security background.
I write this not because you're going to have trouble getting help. On the contrary, I've seen people in the OpenACS community help out people that are being very demanding and troublesome. My main hope in writing this is to give newbees a guide to how to most effectively get information.

How to get help and find the information you need.

  • First of all, try to track down documentation for what you're looking for. The first place to look is in the official OpenACS documentation. Familiarize yourself with this documentation, especially the API browser, which shows you all the commands you can run. Look at the package documentation (and note that sadly, some of the packages don't have documentation). Notice that there is documentation not just for getting installed, but also for developing an OpenACS package. Try looking in the FAQ
  • Second, try searching on Google. Try your search, but include the word OpenACS in the query. This finds answers a surprisingly high amount of the time.
  • Third, look through the forums. Use the search functionality to try and find what you're looking for.
  • Fourth, if your question is a quick one, then try asking on the OpenACS IRC channel.
  • Fifth, try asking your question on the OpenACS forums. Make sure you clearly describe what your problem is, what version of OpenACS you're using, what you did before and after the problem, and what the error message is. Show relevant portions of your error log. If you want people to be helpful and take their time on your question, make sure you take the time to ask the question in a way that someone can give you a meaningful answer.
  • See below for more helpful resources

Introductions to OpenACS

Helping out with OpenACS

  • How to get started as a worker bee for OpenACS. This describes how you can contribute if you have time and want to learn more about OpenACS by helping out with simple tasks to improve the toolkit

History of OpenACS

After the installation

Writing a package

Data model


If you're using Oracle, this thread describes how to set up Aolserver so that you receive the entire error message from the Oracle database driver. If you get an error message starting with SQL: [too long], then you need to read this. Sometimes, for long error messages, your error messages are truncated, which makes tracking down the errors more difficult.

Other resources

Forum thread on getting started - Several posts on getting started with OpenACS

Nima Mazloumi's list of resources for newbees - lists a bunch of resources to use to get up to speed