This year’s DrupalCon was one of the community’s most well-attended events to date, with more than 3,000 people converging in Seattle, Washington for the conference. We’re longtime DrupalCon participants and have been excited to witness its evolution both in terms of the topics discussed and content shared, as well as the diversity of the attendees.  

Numerous industries were represented at DrupalCon 2019 including higher education, healthcare, government, B2B, and associations, showcasing the versatility of the platform and its ability to solve enterprise digital challenges no matter the business vertical or niche. The conference featured 3 different tracks – builder, agency, and content and marketing – providing a wealth of knowledge applicable to both seasoned Drupal experts and newcomers to the community.

Speakers and panelists covered a range of topics during the week-long event from theming and development, security, and accessibility to user experience, business management, and content strategy. This year’s DrupalCon also offered an insightful look into a few of the exciting changes coming to the platform soon.

Let’s take a look at some of these key highlights.

Drupal Updates and New Features

JSON:API – Opening Drupal Up to External Applications

One of Drupal’s core strengths is that it allows new content and data types to be created quickly and efficiently through its administrative interface. However, while these data structures can be referenced easily enough from different classes and methods during development, until now there has not been a standardized way of accessing them from a uniform public API for integrations with decoupled or external applications.

This will all change with the release of Drupal 8.7 in May 2019, as this new version will ship with the JSON:API module integrated into core.

WHAT ARE JSON AND THE JSON:API?

JSON:API is a specification that outlines how to build APIs with JSON (Javascript Standard Object Notation).

JSON is based on a subset of the JavaScript Programming Language but is language independent and uses conventions that are familiar to many programmers.

It is easy to read (for both machines and humans) and serves as a lightweight data-interchange format. You can read more about it here.

With this new update, developers can now communicate with Drupal and receive a response that is consistent with the JSON:API specification. This means the only implementation knowledge they will need to have is how to go about this communication to get the information they require, rather than having to understand the intricate workings of Drupal on the inside.

Drupal 8.7 will support all the features of the JSON:API 1.0 specification out-of-the-box, which means that developers can get started right away and write decoupled apps with no extra configuration or setup needed.

For example, if a request was made to a URL like “/articles/123”, the response back would look like:

{
  "type": "articles",
  "id": "123",
  "attributes": {
    "title": "Velir's Key Takeaways from DrupalCon 2019"
  },
  "relationships": {
    "author": {
      "links": {
        "self": "/articles/123/relationships/author",
        "related": "/articles/123/author"
      },
      "data": { "type": "people", "id": "456" }
    }
  }
}

In addition, content access controls, content revisions, and content translations will all also be supported out-of-the-box. This opens the door to creating a variety of solutions and implementations that are not built directly in Drupal but can communicate with the platform all the same, tremendously extending the utility of each solution built on it.

"With JSON:API, developers or content creators can create their content models in Drupal’s UI without having to write a single line of code.

They will automatically get not only a great authoring experience, but also a powerful, standards-compliant, web service API to pull that content into JavaScript applications, digital kiosks, chatbots, voice assistants and more."

dries buytaert, Drupal founder and cto of acquia

Layout Builder: Empowering Content Editors and Marketers

Another exciting feature that was rolled out is Layout Builder! This new addition is a culmination of over a decade of different ideas, thoughts, and approaches on how to support in-page, visual content editing – being able to drag and drop content onto a page, change layouts within a visual editor, and maintain a rich semblance of structure behind the scenes.

Layout Builder empowers editorial and marketing teams with greater control over their content, allowing them to create and publish sophisticated online experiences that engage their target audiences.

If you’ve ever wanted to create a free-form landing page, tweak your homepage layout, or add a whole new section to a page without needing to write any code, then Layout Builder is for you. The visual editor allows you to create sections, add content to them, and preview in real time to see how things look.

With Layout Builder now a native part of Drupal, it will also integrate with language translation services, revisioning, content moderation workflows, and content personalization services, like Acquia Lift, providing a more intuitive avenue to work with these various tools.

Layout Builder comes with an API that allows developers to create as many layouts as they need and already has a growing ecosystem of contributed modules that add or enhance functionality. These include defining what types of content are allowed in layout areas, adding visibility control to items placed in the layout, adding a new dashboard to see ‘global’ content in use across layouts, and scheduling items to show or hide in the page.

A robust visual editor has been one of the most requested tools for the platform and we’re excited to bring this new capability to our clients across our Drupal projects this year.

Evolution of the Platform and the Drupal Community

In addition to learning about these significant platform updates, DrupalCon 2019 also gave us a firsthand opportunity to interact with the Drupal community and get a sense for its more intangible facets. Beyond being able to support large-scale digital solutions for our clients, being a part of an ecosystem that aligns with our growth strategy and values is important to us and what we experienced at the conference confirms that the platform is headed in the right direction.

Support for a Variety of Business Verticals

One of the things we found to be especially significant was the increased representation, both in the content and attendees, of different industries. From healthcare to higher education, nonprofits, and government entities, case studies and lessons learned were shared that paved the way for more in-depth conversations around how to solve business challenges that are unique to these different verticals.

Our own work on the platform is a reflection of this evolution, as we now serve clients across many similar industries from higher education (Harvard Library, Yale) to government (Mass.gov) and non-profits (Results for Development, National Bureau of Economic Research).

A Growing Focus on Inclusion and Diversity

Another aspect that we were very encouraged to note is that the Drupal Association has taken marked steps to improve the diversity of its developer and user base. For example, starting at DrupalCon Baltimore in 2017, there has been a specific focus on improving the participation at the event from a diverse set of speakers and attendees.

This year, there were numerous summits geared to bring voices of underrepresented groups to the forefront ranging from Connecting Women in Drupal, Drupal Parents, Drupal Rainbow, People of Color & Allies in Drupal, Drupal en Español, and Drupal Diversity & Inclusion.

drupal association - diversity and inclusion stats

(image source: drupal.org)

Drupal owes a lot of its success to its large set of contributors worldwide who are passionate about contributing to a platform and community that values them. As more and more voices come to the table, the solution itself will incorporate the thoughts and ideas best suited to serve audiences from a wide variety of backgrounds, once again ensuring that the platform has far-reaching scope and potential.

Looking Ahead to 2019 and Beyond

We continue to be inspired by all the changes and growth that we are witnessing in the Drupal space and look forward to these developments taking shape in the coming weeks and months.

Later this year, we will be participating in and sponsoring the 2019 Acquia Engage conference. We have deep ties with Acquia and are a certified partner within its community. We look forward to seeing everyone there in November in New Orleans!

In the meantime, if you are contemplating re-platforming to Drupal 8.7 or have questions about the latest offerings, we’re happy to share our insights and answer your questions. Join the discussion by commenting below or reach out via twitter or email.