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Expert Plone User Guide

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Plone User Primer

A significant proportion of this document comes from the Plone 4 User manual that can be found at I have just shortened it and made it suitable for small tutorial-like instruction.


Plone is a content management system (CMS) which you can use to build a web site. With Plone, ordinary people can contribute content to a web site without the help of a computer geek. Plone runs over the Web, too, so you don’t need to install any special software on your computer. The word content is meant to be general, because you can publish so many types of information, including text, photos, documents, news items, events, video and audio files.


Folders are essential to managing the content on your Plone site. They work in exactly the same way that folders on your PC can be used to structure data. Because you would like the structure of your web-site to be consistent and logical, it makes sense to invest some time planning what this structure should be.

You can imagine the following natural structure for your website describing your ceramics hobby:

 +-- Ceramics
      +-- Introduction
      +-- History of Ceramics
      +-- Videos
      |    |
      |    +-- Video1
      |    |
      |    +-- Video2
      +-- Picture Gallery
           +-- Pic 1

Some thought at the beginning of the process makes it easier for those who contribute content to the site to know where new material should be added.

Plone supports this folder concept, except that rather than placing documents into a real file system on a PC using the Windows Explorer or the Mac Finder, the content is added entirely through a web browser. This is called through-the-web (TTW) content management.

Visual Design of a Plone Site

This figure indicates the primary parts of any Plone website:


Each region has a different degree of control for the authors who contribute to the site. For example, the Main Area is where the principal content on the site gets shown, and authors are responsible for creating and editing this content. The Header Area, on the other hand, is more likely to be determined by the theme selected, and an author will not have the power to change anything there.

The CLT East web site, for example, has these regions mapped as shown below.

CLT East website regions


As hinted at above, Plone divides users into different categories.

  1. Un-authenticated. These are the general public viewing your site. They have no power to add content to the system at all, and will be restricted to seeing only selected content.
  2. Member. These users have an account on the Plone system so they can log in and be authenticated.
  3. Manager. These users have an account on the Plone system so they can log in, but they have more power than normal members.

Logging in

Assuming you have an account on the Plone-based website, then log in now, and the public view of the site should change to the authenticated view. Most elements of the page remain as they were, but the following green bar should be displayed prominently above the main content area. This green bar is divided into two parts:




The tabs are:

  • Contents - shows a list of items in a folder
  • View - shows the view an anonymous web surfer would see
  • Edit - shows a panel for changing a view
  • Rules - shows a panel for controlling how an item is created and managed
  • Sharing - shows a panel for setting rights of other users to see or edit content

and the menus are:

  • Display - shows menu choices for setting the display type (list view, summary view, etc.)
  • Add new... - shows menu choices for adding content items (images, pages, folders, etc.)
  • State - shows menu choices for setting publication state (private, public draft, public, etc.)


We have described the Plone CMS as a hierarchy of folders, so let’s confirm that now. Sometimes that hierarchy can seem lost in the details and views of the content, so to see what’s really going on, click on the Contents tab in the green bar.

You should see something now that looks more like a Finder/Explorer view of folders. You should also that:

  • the top level navigation menus of the site do appear in this top level folder.
  • there are some items in this top level folder that are not in the site’s top level navigation.
  • some items might appear in red.

These will all become clear, but it might be useful to click around the Contents of the site and see the real folders and items that exist there.

The important point to remember at this stage is the Contents tab is there to see what the real structure is, because there are views on this structure which can hide this from you.

Adding Content

As mentioned already, content should be added in a consistent and logical way based on how you wish your website to be structured. So to add a new item of content, first navigate to the place where this content should be placed, and then click on Add New....


The list of options here can vary from location to location on your site, and is also dependent on what extensions have been added to the website itself.

Collections are used to group and display content based on a set of criteria which you can set. Collections work much like a query does in a database.
An Event is a special page-like content type specifically for posting information about an event (such as a fundraiser, barbecue, etc). This content type has a function which allows the site visitor to add the event to their desktop calendar with either the iCal or vCal standard. This includes applications such as: Google Calendar, Outlook, Sunbird and others.
A File in Plone is any binary file you wish to upload with the intent that it can be downloaded by your site visitors. Common examples are PDFs, Word Documents, and spreadsheets.
Folders work in Plone much like they do on your computer. You can use folders to organize your content, and to give your Plone website a navigation structure.
The Image content type is used for uploading image files (JPG, GIF, PNG) so that you can insert them into pages or other page-like content types.
Also referred to as the ‘Link Object’; do not confuse this with the links you create via TinyMCE or Kupu, Plone’s visual page editors. The Link content type is often used to include a link to an external website in Navigation and other specialized uses.
News Item
This content type is similar to Event, only News Item is specifically for posting news. You can also attach a thumbnail image to a News Item, which then appears in folder summary views next to the summary of the News Item.
A Page in Plone is one of the most simple content types available. Use Pages to write the bulk of your web pages on your Plone website.

Managing Content

The Page content type is the principle content type that content authors will use to put information up on the website. It includes a rich text editor which allows for rich text layout to be specified.

When creating a new page, you will be asked to provide a title, which is required, and will actually be used to make the URL which refers to this page. The description field is optional, but can be a good idea since it acts as a “tag-line” to the page, can be seen in some listings which refer to this page.

The Catagorization tab shown when you are editing a page of content is very useful. The tags added can be used in searches, and visible in Tag Cloud extensions.


The editor of a page’s content is a reasonably sophisticated rich editor, and it can take a litte practice to get used to the way in which it works.

Usually is not a good idea to paste directly from a Word document into this editor. The reason is that Word attempts to re-create some of the formatting that it knows about into HTML that then goes straight into the mark-up that the Plone editor works with. There is sufficient difference between the use of HTML between these two systems that you will inevitably spend more time re-formating the mess than if you paste the contents in as raw text in the first place.


Inserting images into a page is so common, it’s worth considering these early in the tutorial. Inserting an image is easy, but you do need to consider that the best place for the image is to have it located on the Plone server itself so it can get downloaded to the user’s machine in a single download with all the other images on that page. So adding an image to a page often requires the following steps:

  1. Place the cursor where you would like the image to be anchored, which will become clearer later on.
  2. Click the Image Icon (a tree). A popup will ask you to locate this image. Since we haven’t got it uploaded to the Plone site yet, we need to chose a place where this image should reside on the Plone server first of all.
  3. Navigate through the folders shown to where the image should go. I tend to have a top-level folder, called Assets, which can be used for images which generally adorn pages for lookibg good. Sometimes, however, there might be a more logical place for the image, depending on the overal structure of the site.
  4. Click the Upload link.
  5. Browse to where the image is on your local file system, and then click the Upload button. You can leave the title and the description blank if you want to. The image will then be uploaded into that location on the Plone server.
  6. Before clicking OK, consider the options for Inline, Left, or Right aligned and the size of the image. More often than not I select Left or Right here because placing an image Inline is quite rare. For Left or Right, the image is floated either to the left or right of the anchor point, and text is made to flow around it.