“Connecting Open Minds” may have been the official slogan of this year’s DrupalCamp in Vienna, but the unofficial slogan was “Drupal 8.” The stable 8.0.0 release had been issued just a few days previously, which explained the large crowd of participants and the wide range of talks on the topic. D8 was also the hot topic of conversation in discussions throughout the community. It took five years to develop D8, and the innovations are plain to see: faster release cycles, a state-of-the-art architecture based on Symfony components, a wide range of new APIs, “headless” installations, and much more.
The sold-out event attracted 400 attendees and was held at the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien. Ruben Teijeiro’s lecture on “Headless Drupal” introduced the new REST API modules included in D8. These can be used to enable rapid provision via HTTP of the data structures created in Drupal, and to work without the Drupal frontend if required, for example, via a web app in AngularJS or React. Drupal can therefore be used as a drop-in replacement for the NoSQL databases that are otherwise so popular within the JS community (MongoDB etc.). The advantage is that the data is logically structured and the load-tested system can be used in live operation at a reasonable cost.
Another exciting innovation for Drupal is GraphQL, a technology developed by Facebook that joined the React family at the beginning of the year. The lecture by Sebastian Siemssen gave an introduction to the GraphQL module for Drupal 8, even though it is currently still in development. GraphQL delivers a host of advantages over the traditional REST system, especially when large quantities of data and numerous data models are involved. For example, it queries data selectively rather than simply “consuming” the interface (regardless of whether or not all data from the JSON/XML is needed). For more information on this topic, visit:
The “State of Contrib Modules in D8” lecture given by Josef Dabernig provided an overview of the current status of the key contribution modules. These are already highly effective for small to medium-sized sites, although there are a few annoying deficiencies (e.g. the Rules module) that still redirect certain projects to D7. The updated Google Docs list indicates the current status and can be found here: Drupal8 modules
The Configuration Management system is another new feature in D8 and was the subject of a fascinating talk by Fabian Bircher. He started by explaining that this did not signal the end of the familiar Feature module for D7. Instead, it was going back to its roots by bundling software features within Drupal. Configuration settings now belong in the new system, ensuring a stricter segregation of configuration and content than was possible with Features. It also allows deployments between different instances on a website. Configuration settings are stored in .yaml files, allowing much cleaner versioning. It is also possible to overwrite configuration parameters “on the fly” using the configuration API.
Theming a Drupal site has also been made much easier. Twig, which has long been familiar to the PHP community, is now the default for all frontend applications. Gone are the days of complex logic in templates and countless rendering variants. All theme functions from Drupal 7 have been converted to Twig templates, and will be marked as “deprecated” in one of the upcoming minor releases. This should help frontend developers get to grips with Drupal (partly thanks to the reuse of familiar frontend tool chains), while providing increased performance and security.
One of the key questions is whether someone who is new to web development should opt for Drupal. And the answer is probably not. The dynamic JS community is likely to be the first choice, with its ever-expanding range of tools, frameworks and libraries. Drupal 8 makes the platform attractive to new developers, since it no longer feels like an exotic solution that bypasses all the standards of the PHP community, which is also growing increasingly progressive.
The DrupalCamp 2015 in Vienna was a good indicator of upcoming trends and the direction in which CMS is moving. The community was honest, enthusiastic, and extremely happy with the latest release and the future of the “Blue Drop.” We would like to commend the community and the organizers for such an interesting and well-run weekend. See you next time!