At OPTASY we’re big fans of Drupal. While we remain a technology agnostic firm and believe in matching organization needs with the best technology available, we believe Drupal is an excellent platform that addresses a wide range of web requirements. Now, with the recent beta version release of Drupal 8, the future of Drupal is incredibly bright.
Drupal 8, which is currently in beta mode and slated for full production release sometime in 2015, represents a large-scale reimagining of the core Drupal application. The result of this grand effort is a much more cohesive, flexible and integrated platform on which to build websites of the future.
Some folks have come to us and are already considering the move to Drupal 8 and are interested in becoming early adopters. However, before we get into specifics about Drupal 8, we want to highlight two key reasons we will likely continue to build on Drupal 7 for all of 2015 and into 2016:
- The true power of Drupal lies in the community modules that are available, and it will be at least 3-6 months until a critical mass have been upgraded and are production ready for Drupal 8. This timeline starts once Drupal 8 is released into production.
- In community development right now are a set of migration tools that should significantly ease the process of migrating from Drupal 7 to 8 at the appropriate time. This significantly reduces the reason to build on Drupal 8 out of the gate, and the majority of sites to start using 8 are likely to have been migrated from 7.
We would not support Drupal 7 if it was not a best-in-class application. That said, in building websites on 7, we have spent much time over the years on activities such as turning off unneeded features, applying a group of our favorite modules to streamline and improve the admin interface, and tieing in an array of symbiotic third-party tools for caching and performance. While this knowledge is great for an agency that works with Drupal constantly, it can be harder for non-expert Drupal users to get up to speed. The inclusion of many strategies we use for Drupal 7 natively into Drupal 8 will be great for getting sites up to speed quickly. We have also written about some of our other Drupal implementation best practices which may be interesting to those looking for a more technical experience with Drupal.
Drupal 8 Features We Love
1. Manage your site's content...from your phone. Anyone that’s ever administered a website knows that it’s best done while using a desktop or laptop. Much of the backend functionality simply doesn’t work, or doesn’t support mobile platforms. Enter Drupal 8, which is being built from the ground up with a focus on multi-device support. The core themes available for Drupal 8 will utilize responsive design, on both the front and back-end. Not only will visitors to your site have an optimized viewing experience for every device, your administrators will be able to manage the site from mobile devices as well.
2. Add new features to your live site with ease. Prior versions of Drupal store virtually all configuration settings in the Drupal database, alongside all site content (such as pages, menus, blocks, metadata and users). This approach greatly complicates deploying your updated site (e.g. code with new features) to your live site, as you can’t simply overwrite the live database without erasing your latest content and user activity in the process. In Drupal 7 we use the Features and Strongarm modules to build exportable packages of settings, Drupal 8 now stores these settings in files found in your library directory. This greatly simplifies deploying configuration changes such as new content types, fields or views from development to production.
3. Improved performance capabilities through modernization. As part of the overall transition to the Symfony framework, Drupal 8 offers an alternative to the unique "hook" system for attaching modules to Drupal core. Through the Symfony Event Dispatcher, application components can communicate with one another, allowing the system as a whole to run much more intelligently. What this means for the end user is that unlike the default with prior versions of Drupal, the system does not need to load every enabled module with each page request. And as many core Drupal hooks have been replaced, Drupal as an application is well on its way to potentially replacing hooks altogether in Drupal 9.
4. Integration capabilities significantly improved. Already one of the most flexible platforms when it comes to integrating with third-party applications, Drupal 8 takes the possibilities to an entirely different level. Using the new Rest & Serialization APIs, site builders will be able to output serialized data as JSON and XML from Drupal, almost as easily as they can normal HTML output.
5. Take your website around the world. Drupal 7 supports multi-lingual functionality, but not at the level that Drupal 8 will. Imagine translating your site’s content to any one of the 110 different supported languages with a few clicks. You’ll be able to not only translate a page’s content for a specific language, but also build views and determine what blocks should appear for that language. Translation updates will also be pushed to the site automatically to make sure your site has the latest dictionary.
Why We Love Drupal in General
1. Site management made easy with Drupal content types. One of the keys to getting the most benefit from a CMS lies in the separation of content from design and layout. The greater extent to which you can isolate these two site components, the more your graphic designers and content authors/editors can be freed to do their jobs without interference from one another. Drupal bakes this concept into its very core by making it quite easy to create numerous individual content types, each with it’s own collection of fields and possible field types. Gone are the days where authors are presented a blank slate for each page via a single rich text area. With Drupal your designers can easily ensure these fields get styled correctly and displayed in the right orientation, while authors are presented with simple fields to fill out and edit.
2. Scalability and flexibility galore. Drupal is one of the most flexibly platforms on the market right now and allows virtually unlimited customization in the front-end, backend, and everything inbetween. The key lies in the thousands of excellent off-the-shelf modules available at drupal.org. While some may require customization, they can be added on to core Drupal with relative ease. This ensures your site can grow and change as your organization does the same.
3. System administrator automation via Drush. Freely available for download and immediate use on all Drupal sites, Drush provides an awesome command-driven interface for managing Drupal. Admin tasks that require many clicks and page refreshes are easily reduced to a single command. For example, we find Drush most useful in the creation of new user accounts (especially if you need to create many at once), generation of system backups, application of core and module updates, and migration of content from other systems.
4. Robust security and overall support options. Software companies typically have dozens, or at most hundreds of developers working on support, bug fixes, new features, integrations. The Drupal community comprises over 180,000 active contributors. This facilitates rapid advancement for Drupal and establishes a very large population of modules and integrations.