Fri, April 9, 2010, 07:08 AM under Blogging

Some people like blogging on a site that is completely managed by someone else (e.g. http://wordpress.com/) and others, like me, prefer hosting their own blog at their own domain. In the latter case you need to decide what blog engine to install on your web space to power your blog. There are many free blog engines to choose from (e.g. the one from http://wordpress.org/). If, like me, you want to use a blog engine that is based on the .NET platform you have many choices including BlogEngine.NET, Subtext and the one I picked: dasBlog.

In this post I'll describe the steps I took to get going with the open source dasBlog (home page, source page).

A. Installing

First I installed dasBlog on my local Windows 7 machine where I have IIS7 installed. To install dasBlog, I started by clicking the "Install" button on its web gallery page. After that I went through configuration, theming and adding content as described below.

Once I was happy that everything was working correctly on the local machine, I set this up on a hosting service. I went for a Windows IIS7 shared hosting 3 month Economy plan from GoDaddy. The dasBlog site lists a bunch of other hosts. You can read the installation instructions for dasBlog, and with GoDaddy I just had to click one button since it is available as part of their quick-install apps. With GoDaddy I had a previewdns option that allowed me to play around and preview my site before going live.

B. Configuring

After it was installed (on local machine and/or hosting provider), I followed the obvious steps to create an admin user and logged in. This displays an admin navigation bar with the following options:

1. Navigator Links: I decided I was not going to use this feature. I manage links on the side of my blog manually elsewhere as part of the theme. So, I deleted every entry on this page and ignored it thereafter.

2. Blogroll: Ditto - same comment as for Navigator Links.

3. Content Filters: I did not delete (or add) these, but I did ensure both checkboxes are not checked. I.e. I am not using this feature now, but I may return to it in the future.

4. Activity: This is a read-only view of various statistics. So nothing to configure here, but useful to come back to for complementary statistics to whatever other statistical package you use (e.g. free stats as part of the hosting and I also use feedburner for syndication stats).

5. Cross-posting: I did not need that, so I turned it off via the Configuration Settings discussed next.

6. Configuration Settings: This is where the bulk of the configuration for the blog takes place and they are stored in a single XML file: Site.Config file. There are truly self-explanatory options to pick for Basic Settings, Services Settings and Services to Ping, Syndication Settings (this is where you link to your feedburner name if you have one) and Mail to Weblog Settings (I keep this turned off). There are also "Xml Storage System Settings" (I keep this turned off), "OpenId Settings" (I allow OpenID commenters), "Spammer Settings" (Enable captcha, never show email addresses) and "Comment settings" (Enable comments, don't allow on older posts, don't allow html). There are also Appearance Settings (I checked the "Use Post Title for Permalink", replaced spaces with hyphen and unchecked the "Use Unique Title"). Finally, there are also Notification Settings, but they are a bit of hit and miss in my case, in that I don’t always get the emails (still investigating this).

C. Adding Content

You can add content via the "Add Entry" link on the admin navigation bar or by configuring the "Mail to Weblog" settings and sending email or, do what I've started doing, use Live Writer (also the team has a blog).

Another way to add content is programmatically if, for example, you are migrating content from another blog (and I'll cover that in separate post sharing the code). What you should know is that all blog content (posts and comments) live in XML files in a folder called "content" under your dasBlog installation.

D. Theming

There is a very good guide about themes for dasBlog, there is also a similar guide with screenshots (scroll down to "So how do I create a theme") and the dasBlog macro reference.

When you install dasBlog, there are many themes available; each theme is in its own folder (representing the folder name) under the themes folder. You may have noticed that you can switch between these via the "Appearance Settings" described above (look for the combobox after the Default Theme label).

I created my own theme by copy-pasting an existing theme folder, renaming it and then switching to it as the default. I then opened the folder in Visual Studio and hacked around the HTML in the 3 files (itemTemplate, homeTemplate and dayTemplate). These files have a blogtemplate file extension, which I temporarily renamed to HTML as I was editing them. There is no more advice I can offer here as this is a matter of taste and the aforementioned links is all I used. Personally, I had salvaged the CSS (and structure) from my previous blog and wanted to make this one match it as closely as possible - I think I have succeeded.

E. If you run into any issue with dasBlog...

...use your favorite search engine to find answers. Many bloggers have been using this engine for a while and have documented issues and workarounds over time. One such example is ScottHa's dasBlog category; another example is therightstuff where I "borrowed" the idea/macro for the outlook-style on-page navigation. If you don't find what you want through searching, try posting a question to the forums.