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Drupalcon Portland was the first in-person Drupalcon event since 2019, boasting 1,300 attendees. Being back in person was invigorating because it reminded our team of how collaborative and friendly the Drupal community is.

As an Advocate sponsor this year, we loved having a booth and sharing our story. We also provided delicious Blue Star Donuts to our friends. If you had one, let us know what your favorite donut was in the comments—Chris’s was Blueberry Bourbon Basil, but the Apple Fritter was a very close second.

We had excellent traffic to our booth, and we enjoyed conversations with folks from many different organizations running Drupal. Most of their questions were about how to migrate from Drupal 9, how to deploy Drupal at scale at a campus or another distributed organization, and how to integrate Drupal with other systems. But we wanted to share the topics that caught our attention at this year’s event.

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Drupal is for Ambitious Site Builders

This year's overarching theme is that Drupal is for Ambitious Site Builders, as noted in Acquia and Drupal founder Dries Buytaert’s keynote speech, which is a deliberate shift away from ambitious digital experiences. Under this new theme, more emphasis is on the persona(s) at the center of site creation than on Drupal itself.

An ambitious site builder is someone who can build a website using contributed modules or themes in Drupal. They may not need to write any code—but if they do, they can augment functionality through Drupal’s hook or Event system. Drupal lets site builders do a lot with a little, and modifying behavior is a powerful aspect of Drupal that has been around for several major versions.

An ambitious site builder can build out most if not all a website's needs in this way and drive site builds/configuration through the Drupal admin. It was interesting to hear Buytaert talk in prime time about the fundamentals of content authoring that coincide with a lot of improvements and standardization of authoring and configuration methods in the last few releases. Site builder/content author experience in general was a hot topic. With so many competing options, ease of composability seemed to be an undercurrent.

A graphic explaining different types of people who work on a Drupal website. A developer who writes a lot of code and uses command line, has “Frameworks” as their tool of choice. An ambitious site builder works mostly through Drupal’s UI, writes some custom code, and has “Drupal” as their tool of choice. A content author/site builder drags and drops and doesn’t write code and has “SaaS solutions” as their tool of choice.
Drupalcon defined the ambitious site builder and differentiated their skills from other roles involved in creating Drupal websites.

Composability is something that Drupal has always been really good at. There was a bit of a slowdown for some with the shift in Drupal 8. Site builders felt somewhat left out as the foundational structure of Drupal changed from version 7.

The seismic shift from procedural code to object-oriented code powered on top of the Symfony framework was jarring. This step was necessary though to reframe the underlying framework of Drupal core. By replacing the plumbing and architecture, we’re now at a point where Drupal can (or is) returning to its roots by providing the tools you need to maximize extensibility no matter your skillset.

“An ambitious site builder can get a lot of things done by installing and configuring modules and using Drupal through the UI. But when needed, they can use custom code to make their site exactly how they want it to be. Ambitious site builders are the reason why Drupal became so successful in the first place.”
Dries Buytaert

This shift is evident if you look at how popular contributed modules like Webform evolved from where it was in Drupal 7 to where it is today—the modernization of core has made modules like Webform 1,000 times better for site builders (also thanks to its maintainer, Jacob Rockowitz). Need a custom handler to send a form submission into your customer relationship manager (CRM) or to notify an external service? A little bit of glue code can get you there if the solution doesn’t already exist in Drupal’s contributor space! This is the evolution that will bring the next set of features and initiatives to benefit everyone, not just developers.

Next, we’ll share some of the things we learned at the conference that proves Drupal is for Ambitious Site Builders. We’ll also reveal things you can expect from Drupal 10 and beyond.

Starter Templates

Starter Templates are simple and easy to use blueprints for sites. They work like installation profiles or Drupal distributions do now. Unlike install profiles or distributions however, Starter Templates are built for ambitious site builders. Starter Templates will find more composed or curated types of installs to help accelerate features or reuse. They will also decouple the installation from the upstream source, something that install profiles and distributions can’t do, which adds to their long-term maintenance overhead.

It remains to be seen how this will take shape, but one thought we had was that they could use Composer metapackages. This would be like how you can get Drupal via the core-recommended and core-dev metapackages with Composer. The first gives you everything you need to run Drupal, while the latter gives you all the packages you need to develop and test code in Drupal. With a single Composer command, you could pull down and install everything quickly.

This same idea could be applied to all types of sites—the metapackage would contain a requirement for Drupal and a set of contributed modules it would need to facilitate its “starter template” nature. Since it would be based on a composer.json file, this would allow users to add or update packages or remove things they don’t need. That’s not currently possible with install profiles or distributions which makes the idea of Starter Templates quite exciting.

Automatic Updates

Automatic updates have been one of the most requested features of Drupal for quite a while now. During the keynote we received a progress update on this initiative, plus a video demonstrating the functionality to date. Currently, a user can update their Drupal core installation with a few clicks. Extended functionality like updating contributed modules or themes is underway.

Automatic updates reinforce the ambitious site builder angle by providing an option to update your website without needing to rely on the command line. This change will ease long-term maintenance and lower the total cost of ownership of Drupal, it will invite more people to use the platform.

You can see a demonstration of all of this in the video below:

CKEditor 5

The default WYSIWYG text editor in Drupal 10 will be CKEditor 5. The new version of CKEditor boasts a rewritten modernized core and a host of new features. You can upgrade to this version right now in Drupal 9 and try it out.

The CKEditor integration in Drupal makes it possible for site builders to get a lot of mileage out of their text input fields without ever having to touch JS code to enable plugins or buttons for editing. Administrators can create several configurations for different needs which grant editors different toolbars in CKEditor depending on the need. That way they have all the editing buttons and format at their disposal in a familiar, word-processor-style interface.

We have maintained several CKEditor plugin integrations with modules over the years for Drupal 7 and up. We will continue to collaborate and do so for CKEditor 5, like the popular WordCount or Color Button module. Under the new editor codebase, we also look forward to exploring what kinds of new plugins we could make to integrate with new features or create our own for the community to enhance the site building experience.

Project Browser Initiative

Another initiative aimed at the site building experience is a feature currently dubbed Project Browser.

Project Browser will let you browse the thousands of contributed modules and themes on right from the admin section of your website. Think of it as having a similar purpose and interface as an app store on a device. Instead of trying to find your way around, you can search and browse all the various modules from your site. From there, you will be able to install them, too.

This will make it easier for site builders to be aware of their options for extending and adding functionality to their Drupal installation. More importantly, it will surface all of this for first time users; users who may not be aware that Drupal can be extended or know what their options for extending it are. In time, the Project Browser code will also be able to inspect your current installation to recommend modules you may be interested in, or ones that complement other features in your site. This will open the path for less technical users to squeeze the most functionality out of their site without needing a developer or a developer mindset.

A screenshot from the Project Browser initiative where you have the option to search and browse modules that can extend your Drupal website. There are filters by category, a search bar, and a list of placeholder modules with buttons that either day “Download” or “Installed”.
Drupalcon 2022 showed the Project Browser initiative where you’ll be able to browse the thousands of contributed modules and themes on right from the admin section of your website.

Lightning Talk: Key Takeaways from Drupal Migrations

We also presented at Drupalcon on a very popular topic—migrations into Drupal. In our talk we went over key things to keep in mind when doing a migration into Drupal no matter what the scale of your migration is.

We illustrated that you need to have a solid content migration plan covering all your content types and fields, and that you need to remember critical data like existing 301 redirects, meta tags, URL aliases, and taxonomy relationships.

We got to talk shop on migrations at the Velir booth afterward since many people are interested either in migrating into Drupal or migrating up from an older version of Drupal, two things we excel at here at Velir.

You can see an extended version of this lightning talk here from our presentation at Drupalcon 2021.

Looking to migrate your site to Drupal or to upgrade your existing version of Drupal? As an Acquia Gold Partner with an Acquia Certified Drupal Cloud Practice and a Triple Certified Drupal Expert, we’re ready to help you make the most of Drupal. Reach out to start a conversation with us.


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