DrupalCon Global 2021, which took place April 12-16, 2021, offered me the chance to get virtual face time with a lot of people in the Drupal community. I talked to them about their ideas, things they're working on, and what's going on in their lives. In these conversations, I spoke with people I wouldn't normally interact with outside of the Drupal Association Slack, which was exciting. I made a lot of new connections along the way.

Because Drupal is celebrating its 20th year, there was also a lot of reflection on where it has been, where it is now, and where it's going. Everything looks optimistic for the future of Drupal's platform, partners, developers, users, and consumers. As Drupal nears its 10th major release, there is a lot of excitement surrounding it — and for good reason.

The hottest topics this year were migrations, decoupled experiences, making Drupal easier, and the usage of different Javascript frameworks in Drupal — which was also reflected in the daily keynotes covering initiatives for Drupal 10.

Here are some of the biggest items covered at DrupalCon 2021.

Decoupled Menus Initiative

The decoupled menu initiative has made incredible progress. It's the first step toward decoupling Drupal core components, a common use case for nearly every project out there.

A presentation slide which shows decoupled menus progress in Drupal 10. In progress are making menus available as JSON over HTTP in core, making them easier to consume with a shared JS library, and documenting the solution.

In the process to create decoupled menus, the items done include non-module projects on Drupal.org, workflow or NPM, proof of concept, react component, Svelte component, and Menu Web Component.

Menus will be exposed over HTTP services as JSON and available in any way you want with the front end (Javascript). This means that you can bypass the Twig templating layer and create menus on Drupal or headless sites as a component in Javascript using whatever technology you're comfortable with.

There will be a few examples included as direction for others on how to do this themselves—one based on ReactJS, one based on Svelte, and one as a native Web Component. These are examples, developers can use Vue.js, Angular, or Next.js if they want, too.

The official Drupal website has also now opened up a way to post a "General Project"— or code that is neither a module, theme, nor distribution to make sharing Javascript packages easier with a workflow to tie it into the NodeJS NPM ecosystem.

As this initiative pans out, look for other core areas of Drupal to open up in future initiatives with JSON: API.

Easy Out-of-the-Box Initiative

Every major version of Drupal released works hard to make its "out-of-the-box" experience smooth for newcomers and site builders.

A presentation screenshot which shows easy out of the box progress, which includes the Claro admin theme in beta. There are still planning meetings in progress.

With Drupal 10, the aim is to take this even further. Work is underway to clear remaining issues so the Claro theme can get adopted as the new admin interface, retiring the Seven admin theme that has been in use for over a decade. Claro keeps with the tradition of Drupal admin themes by being clean, modern, and striving for full accessibility so it's usable for editors with disabilities.

The addition of Claro will also provide a new foundation for other admin themes to build off of, like the excellent Gin theme which we love at Velir. Hopefully, the popularity of both Claro and Gin inspire others to create other administrative themes for Drupal.

The Olivero theme is also going to replace the long-running default Bartik theme to give users a more modern-looking theme to start with. I have been using Olivero for quite some time now on my own site and will prove a worthy default starter theme for many users.

Along with these changes, efforts are being made to better integrate the Media library with the Layout Builder in Drupal, for better drag and drop management of media items into content pages.

» Learn more about what Velir has done to create flexible theming frameworks

Velir's DrupalCon Session

Velir presented at DrupalCon with our session "Migrating a 20 Year Old Perl Application to Drupal." We discussed the transformative path that the National Bureau of Economic Research project took to get to Drupal 8, sharing our experiences creating a migration solution to facilitate daily imports of data from their systems and to integrate it as content on their website.

From there, we demonstrated how a solid migration plan pays off with other features, such as enabling search with Apache Solr. Afterward, we answered a number of questions in our booth about migrations and Drupal 9 as a platform.

We will post our session as soon as they are publicly available!

Automated Updates Initiative

This is the big one! Automated updates have been a Drupal feature-ask for several years. Progress has been made to support it for both Drupal 7 and 8 with work in progress to support Drupal 9+. 

Automated updates will be a huge addition to Drupal for several reasons. Obviously, it enables users to keep their sites up to date automatically to avert any security issues that can arise from having an older install.

A presentation slide which shows progress for creating automated updates. Work is being done to get the feature into Drupal core for Drupal 9+, for Composer-based site installations, readiness check API, and signature verification with TUF.

In the process to create automated updates, the contributed module includes Drupal 7 and 8, for non-Composer-based site installations, update readiness checks and API, and signature verification with PHP Signify.

It also provides a service for teams who may not have the technical skill or a developer on hand to maintain versions or apply updates.

There is a lot of care and consideration going into this. Automated updates won't just be a handful of blind FTP operations like other content management platforms. Currently, there is support for non-Composer-based websites with numerous underlying checks and verification that mainly do two things: check that the existing setup won't break from an update and do secure code verification before downloading anything to prevent acquiring code from malicious actors. The next step is integrating this workflow for Composer-managed sites.

The Drupal Security Team does an amazing job curating core and contributed module code for security issues and handling them effectively. Combining their efforts with signature verification and the Drupal code registry on GitLab will go a long way to making automated updates a welcomed addition for many users.

Drupal 10 Readiness

With Drupal 10 slated for release in June 2022, there are numerous large changes being made to the codebase to get ready for the release.

A presentation slide which shows progress for Drupal 10 readiness. In progress are Symfony 6, CKEditor 5, and jQuery UI removal.

In the process to create Drupal 10 readiness the tasks done include PHP 8, Symfony 5, Composer 2, and Upgrade Status.

Firstly, the codebase will be PHP 8 compatible from day 1. Developers will be free to run PHP 8 on their servers without issue in Drupal and develop code using PHP 8's new language features. The Drupal project is also tracking the Symfony release timeline and aims to support Symfony 6, keeping it aligned with the current version (at the time of release). Future major versions of Drupal will also likely be dictated or influenced by this timeline.

jQuery UI has been deprecated and is in the process of being removed from the core codebase entirely. CKEditor 5, a very popular WYSIWYG editor, is on track to be part of Drupal 10 core, replacing CKEditor 4. It's possible to run CKEditor 5 today in Drupal 9 as a contributed module if developers want to preview it.

The planned core development dates are below, with version 10 development starting in earnest later this year.

A calendar showing planned release dates for Drupal 9.2, 9.3, 9.4, and 10. There are two weeks to get something into Drupal 9.2 and six months to get something into Drupal 10.

Drupal 10 will begin development later this year, slated for release next June.

Another item of note was how many modules were Drupal 9 compatible last summer when released. This trend is extended to continue and improve leading to the release of Drupal 10. There are various automated tools provided in the Drupal.org infrastructure for testing code and community authored tools like drupal-check and drupal-rector that help developers quickly locate any compatibility issues with their code so they can get them updated today.

A graphic showing how Drupal 8 readiness for top 10 Drupal 9 modules happened 17 months after release and for Drupal 9 it happened 10 months after release.

The Drupal module ecosytem is updated faster than ever. 90% of the Top 50 Drupal 8 modules were ready for Drupal 9 just 10 months after release!

This is great news because we can see that the stabilization of the codebase is paying dividends in the long run. This chart was also shared, showing the overall impact of these automated tools on the ecosystem at large. What we can see is a shrinking number of projects needing some manual review that could not be auto-corrected by compatibility tools.

A chart showing the progression of projects ready for Drupal 9 and a decrease in the number of projects needing some manual review that could not be auto corrected by compatibility tools.

Drupal's automated code checking tools keep getting better and better.

GitLab + Tugboat Integration

Another big announcement was that Drupal.org will be integrating modules with the Tugboat service. This is a big step forward in improving the online collaboration between developers worldwide and it adds another layer of value atop the current integration with GitLab for developers.

Tugboat will enable modules or themes to spin up preview environments for code changes and review, freeing contributors from needing local environments running to review changes and provide feedback. This provides a public URL for that version of code and is removed automatically when done. 

The logo for Tugboat, a QA Tool for Drupal

We're excited to see how Drupal's integration with Tugboat will improve developer collaboration.

This will lower the points of friction between feedback / review / merge cycles and hopefully convey more context in proposed features on projects beyond reading code patches or screenshots of concepts. Not to mention, it will finally allow non-technical people to help provide feedback, not just people who work on code alone.

All in all, we had a great time attending DrupalCon and are excited to see the positive changes happening for Drupal 10. Have questions about any of these upcoming Drupal features or functionality? Start a conversation with us to talk about migrating your content, boosting your site with Solr search, integrating with third-party services, or any other Drupal-related needs today.