Drupal is a high-quality open source content management system. The software owes its quality to the large community of developers supporting it, who are contributing modules and maintaining existing ones.
Drupal 8, the latest version of the system, has been released on November 19, 2015 after nearly five years of development.
This ebook will focus on some of the major new features and improvements, and some of the questions and concerns you may have if you have a Drupal-built website.
is Drupal ready for your website?
Drupal 8 Core was released on November 19, 2015. The power of Drupal, however, lies not only in its Core, but for a large part in the incredible amount of free functionality to be found in the modules contributed by the community, the contrib modules. Those modules are gradually being upgraded to support Drupal 8 by the Drupal developer community. Not all contributed functionality that was available in Drupal 7 is available in Drupal 8 yet.
Over the years, many companies have chosen Drupal as their content management system. There are four compelling reasons to choose Drupal as a CMS:
1. It’s an open system
2. There are no licensing costs
3. It allows easy prototyping
4. It has a fast time to market
1. easier integration for third parties, such as cRm, marketing automation tools, mailing tools
Drupal encourages marketers to use the marketing software they know, love and work with. With the extended integration possibilities with third party tools in Drupal 8, marketers get to pick which tools they want to work with (such as a marketing automation platform or CRM of their choice).
The idea is that the Drupal CMS functions as the backbone of a digital marketing approach with a varying constellation of marketing tools chosen by the marketer himself.
When Drupal encourages marketers to keep using the marketing software they already know, they’re pointing out the fact that Drupal 8 uses REST web services.
Web services provide a way for applications to gather and update information from or to your website, while REST is a method of including those web services on your site. It means that applications have the possibility to communicate in the background via a standardized protocol.
In Drupal, that makes it possible to offer content immediately to other applications from the website’s back-end, but also for other applications to change content in the back-end. It makes it very easy to plug in lightweight applications, specialized campaign sites and third-party applications to address certain parts of the Drupal database.
2. not just mobile-friendly, but mobile-first
There’s one specific property that makes Drupal 8 ready for modern publishing. From the ground up, it has been designed not only to be mobile-friendly, but to be mobilefirst in theming as well as in how it deals with images.
All built-in themes in Drupal 8 are responsive. Administration pages are easy to use on a mobile device, so you can manage your content on any device. Tables shrink properly, and the new admin toolbar is mobile from the start. HTML5, key to making your website compatible with mobile screens, is now fully supported in Drupal 8.
Besides that, Drupal now resizes images based on device screen size. Badly managed images slow down the loading of your website on a mobile device as the page struggles to load the full size image - which the device then needs to scale, on the fly, to a proper size. Still, as mobile devices sport ever-better displays, you certainly don’t want to strip the website of all graphics or serve them tiny, blurred images.
Enter the responsive “picture” element. Simply add one large image, regardless of its use on the page, and Drupal will automatically size it according to the resolution of the device accessing the image. Viewing, editing and working with pictures has never been easier.
3. improved back-end for more convenient authoring
Drupal 8 includes a brand-new back-end. Even though the back-end has been completely rewritten, it will still look very familiar to current Drupal 7 users. The concepts have remained the same, but the functionalities are greatly improved.
The toolbar is a lot more flexible and compact. It’s fully responsive and configurable, so you can add only the buttons you need to it and use it on your mobile device. Most of the bigger, more complex websites probably won’t make use of this function, because for them content changes will always be more complex – not to be done on-the-go.
For smaller, simple websites, however, this mobile-friendly back-end will offer a lot of opportunities. It also offers potential for quick editing of small mistakes in the text.
Content editing pages
The content editing pages also received a makeover. The options and metadata information are now bundled neatly on the right hand side of the page. Tagging, a means of categorization within Drupal, can also be included in the pane on the right hand side of the screen.
Content preview allows web editors to take a look at the web page they have created or made changes to without publishing it.
In Drupal 8, although it hasn’t received much attention in the existing literature, this preview feature is a very promising new feature. The presentation of the new web page corresponds perfectly to what the actual page will look like. This was not the case before; the preview was generated in a standard theme.
While previewing, Drupal 8 also allows you to switch between templates, e.g. regular page, teaser text or list view, so you can see what your edited content looks like in different contexts. What’s more, the preview also shows you what the content will look like on different screen sizes.
In older versions of Drupal, it wasn’t possible to show previews of navigation items. That is now achievable in Drupal 8; an unpublished menu item can be shown in the preview mode.
Inline editing means that you don’t have to switch from the front-end to the back-end to make changes to the content of a website. Instead you can edit directly on the front-end, which saves a lot of time. Editors can click on any content and work on it straight away. Once the change is saved, it appears on the web page. And you don’t need a separate preview, as you can see changes immediately in the frontend. Content editing made easy.
4. Multilingual support
Multilingual support brings huge improvements for your Drupal developers, users and your website visitors. This is certainly the case if you are building a website which targets visitors from different countries or language regions. Say you are marketing products in several West-European countries, each with their own local site and country extension. With Drupal 8 it is very easy to enable this from one central CMS platform, with for example the possibility to have different language versions of the same content and using the same picture assets with localized content.
Multilingual support also means the back-end ‘speaks’ the language of the user, even if there are different users from different countries using the CMS.
To obtain this functionality with previous versions, you needed to install extra modules, sometimes up to 30! That was a lot of extra work (and cost). However, in Drupal 8 multilingual support is available out-of-the-box.
5. Faster load times for website pages on mobile devices
Let’s say you have a certain webpage that you’re trying to reach on a broadband connection versus on a smartphone with a 3G function. That page is 860kB in size. With a broadband connection, it would take 150ms to load, while on a 3G connection it would take 1.500ms.
Drupal 8 resizes the images based on the device’s screen size. If a device’s screen is smaller, such as for a smartphone, Drupal 8 shrinks the image and makes the actual image file size much smaller. If you’re connected to a 3G network, that can improve your load speed from 1.500ms to 474ms (68% faster).
That functionality is customizable, so you can choose how the platform resizes the image.
FOR YOUR DEVELOPMENT TEAM
Drupal 8 focuses on enterprise marketers, yet it hasn’t lost touch with the people actually developing solutions. The platform offers many improvements for your development team.
1. Integrated training
Drupal 8 offers integrated training, which means that your implementation partner can now build a step-by-step tutorial in the back-end instead of writing separate documentation.
2. Fast deployment of new features
Typically, with changes which need interventions from IT or a developer, there’s a team that needs to integrate code at some stage, and that code has to be tested on a test environment before putting them on the live website. This is a complex process which might take some time. In Drupal 8, things are sped up by combining packages of changes and uploading them immediately to a server.
3. Wider developper audience
Up until Drupal 7, the Drupal community built every part of Drupal itself. The only library available in previous versions of Drupal was jQuery. Drupal 8, on the contrary, complies with industry standards such as Symfony, objectoriented programming and HAL. That is useful because a lot of programmers have knowledge of object-oriented programming, even though they might not have knowledge of Drupal. The need for specialized Drupal knowledge decreases.
4. Migration support built-in
Before Drupal 8, a module had to be installed to do migrations; now it is built-in. There’s even a migration path to go from Drupal 6 to Drupal 8. It’s easier to migrate from version 6 or 7 to Drupal 8, but it’s also easy to migrate from any other CMS to Drupal 8.
Other new features in Drupal 8
There are many other new features in Drupal 8. The popular Views module is now built-in, making it easier for nondevelopers to create items such as lists, galleries, tables, and more. Block management is improved, so that content administrators can manage footers, sidebars and other webpage elements with less effort. Drupal 8 also adds extensive support for accessibility standards, including WAI-ARAI, which makes your website a better experience for visitors with disabilities. Semantic HTML5 and required alternate text (alt text) ensures everyone can enjoy your content.
Upgrading or rebuilding?
There are two options - upgrade or rebuild:
Upgrade: keep the content and keep the functionality
Rebuild: reworked or migrated content and new functionality
In a pure Drupal upgrade, all elements of the website (Drupal core, Drupal modules, any custom code and the content) are upgraded in three steps. First the Drupal core and modules are re-installed in the newer version. Then the custom code is ported to the new system and adapted if necessary. Afterwards, the content is migrated, with or without changes.
What should I do if I have a Drupal 6 website?
If your website is currently running on Drupal 6, there are a number of scenarios to choose from, depending on the size of your website.
If you have a small website, one that for example consists only of a few pages, some custom code and minor integrations, you can choose to upgrade your site. That means you’ll have a functioning, Drupal 7-based website which can last until the support for Drupal 7 drops. Upgrading your small website from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 won’t take much time, since the elements of the site (core, modules, custom code and content) will be limited in size.
If your small Drupal 6-based website no longer fits your needs, it’s advised to rebuild it in a more recent version of Drupal. If a website isn’t aligned with your current business goals anymore, a rebuild is advisable in any case: you should reanalyze your website structure and content. If you’re starting a rebuild now, it should be done in Drupal 7, or in Drupal 8 if your project can be put on hold until the release.
If you have a large, complex website, i.e. a website that consists of a lot of pages, custom code and integrations, but it is one that still fits your current needs, the advice would be the same as for a small website: upgrade it to Drupal 7. Upgrading a more complex website will take a considerable amount of time: the number of modules and the amount of custom code will most likely be higher than for a smaller website. Migrating the content will also take up more time.
If your complex website no longer aligns with your business goals, you should rebuild it. Bear in mind that this process
will take a lot of time, starting with an extensive design phase, during which your requirements are analyzed, a content architecture is set up – in short, during which the foundation is laid for a successful project. Given the probable duration of this phase, this leaves you with two options: build your new website in Drupal 7; or build it in Drupal 8. If you decide on Drupal 8, your project might be finished later, as not all modules will be available in the new version until about 6 months after the first release. This could delay your current plans considerably.
One note here is that you could always keep your current Drupal 6 website and rely on unofficial support, which in most cases is paid (and very costly) support to fix bugs or security issues. Amplexor would always advise you to upgrade your system.
What should I do if I have a Drupal 7 website?
If your website is currently running on Drupal 7, you can keep your current website until the support for Drupal 7 drops. However, companies usually rebuild their websites every 2 to 3 years. A rebuild within that time period would also entail switching to Drupal 8.
What if you currently have a small, Drupal 7-based website? You can rebuild it once all the contributed modules you need are available, within a timespan of about four years until the next (estimated) release of Drupal. If you have a big, complex, Drupal 7-based site you wish to rebuild, it would also be advisable to do so once all modules you need have a Drupal 8 version.
Some things to consider
The impact of the release of Drupal 8 will greatly depend on your website’s profile. Factors such as the size of your website, the complexity, the modules used, and the integrations made should all influence your decisionmaking process. It is always advisable to reduce the amount of custom work. When upgrading a website, the upgrades that have to be made to custom modules or code will always take up the biggest chunk of time. If possible, use out-ofthe-box features.
Out-of-the-box basically means the default possibilities a solution offers, without additional development. Some further modification or configuration might be needed, but the base function is present in the software. To make future upgrades easier, invest time in researching and using standard Drupal content structures, such as taxonomy, menus or views. Using standard structures will make the upgrading or migrating process run a lot more smoothly.