Place for total coding beginners to learn how to customise?

I can see the richness of the resources on Meta but usually advice is aimed at people with some basic coding knowledge. Our community (a network of people keen to build a more sustainable food system in our city) is made up of entirely non-coders and, so far, forum hasn’t been used- but members have suggested some potential uses eg as a place to build a food strategy, and I want to show them all the features, but even changing basic configurations is a challenge for a beginner like me- I wanted to follow the instructions on how to make wikis look more obvious but when I C+P’d the CSS text in this thread and tried to save, it gave me error message: I don’t know where new lines, brackets, semi-colons etc should go and what they mean- is there a place on here where total beginners can learn things from first principles?! Maybe there are places outside of Discourse I need to be looking? I feel we’re hardly touching the potential of the forum…Humble thanks! Change the style of a Wiki post

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For the basics of CSS, perhaps start here:

That site is a pretty good reference even after you learn the basics, imo.


Yeah, meta is not a site focussed on teaching web development, so it is right to use other more appropriate resources on the internet.

There are excellent guides on here, though, start with: Beginner's guide to using Discourse Themes and Developer’s guide to Discourse Themes

If you don’t understand anything that looks ‘general CSS or HTML’ then stop and search for a guide on that aspect somewhere on the web.


Well, the problem is not learning CSS or learning how to program in ruby, but the structure of discourse itself, how its interface is organize, how the tree of display elements work (in order to find the correct name of elements to change css styles), etc.

For learning css and ruby programming there are plenty of sites, although links to good learning sites are always welcome.

Thanks for the links to the guides, I am interested in making basic css adjustments and some basic components and plugins.

Are there similar guides to theme components and plugins?


You know how to use the inspector in Firefox or Chrome, right?

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Yes and it is of great utility, but does not provide a clear view of how the interface is organized, you need to navigate deep in the html to get it.

I will read the tutorials posted to get a global idea of how discourse works and is designed.

Honestly, Discourse is a pretty complex app – more complex than a few written tutorials can teach. I highly recommend getting a solid base of understanding on Rails and Ember.js, then digging through the codebase, tracing codepaths as best as you can (though I will say this is not easy at first). Also be sure to look at plugins to see how they tie into Discourse (as there are good ways and bad ways to do this).

@angus wrote up a fantastic beginners guide on the basic knowledge you’ll need to get started.

Of course, a lot of this is going to seem like a foreign language until you start to build and experiment further. I’ve been developing on Discourse for 1.5 years now and am only now feeling like I have any sort of understanding how the app works.


This is interesting. Would you tend to suggest that Discourse is best for communities whose members include some coding knowledge, or would you say that at its most basic, it can work well for groups whose members have none (but didn’t want to use Facebook)? The wiki function, for example, is something our members would like to use to shape documents like a charter, but the default settings make it quite hard to tell that it’s a wiki, hence wanting to customise it according to the suggestions in How to change the style of a Wiki post and finding that the instructions for many customisations assume a basic level of coding capacity and knowledge of terms.

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Definitely does not require coding knowledge to use! Facebook is not the only UI people can and should get used to. That said, with flexibility comes some increased complexity.

It’s just a question of how much you want to customise things. If you want to go beyond what the rich settings provide you, you need to learn some basics.


I don’t think the OP was asking about writing plugins?

Ah you’re right — I reread and realized I’d skimmed over the detail about @charlie_spring wanting to change some CSS. That’s pretty straightforward to do so sorry if I discouraged them from doing so!

I’ll revisit this to see if there’s a way I can help on Monday :slight_smile:


This is how the subject digressed :slight_smile:


Ah, I knew there was a reason! :laughing:

@charlie_spring – have you looked at this theme component?

It’s posted in the topic you linked in your original post, and you can find instructions on how to install it here: How do I install a Theme or Theme Component?

It doesn’t have friendly settings to change colors and the like, but the theme component gets you part of the way there at least!


Thanks @justin. The trouble with advice like that is that it expects you to know how to ‘change the background colour by editing the CSS in the theme compoment edit panel’. My original post was about being an actual total beginner (the ones who got nothing about coding in school etc) so to ‘edit the CSS’ is not obvious. I don’t know what needs to go on a new line, whether to use spaces etc. When I cut/pasted the ‘theme components’ into my custom panel, it certainly didn’t set the wiki panel green and I don’t have the basics to know where I’ve gone wrong. For now, I’m just avoiding this stuff and using the basic settings, but some in our community (ie no techies) are keen to create collaborative documents on the forum and Wiki function seems perfect- but the basic settings are v subtle. Might just link people to a google doc for now…