Drupal 8 Makes it Easier
Since its launch, many have written about all the great technology that has been added to Drupal 8. You will find articles online talking about such added features as headless and responsive and accessible. You will read about modules that have been added to core, contributed modules once part of the standard recipe for configuring a Drupal site.
And, that's all good news if you are developer assessing building blocks and code. But, what if you are a business owner, marketing executive, or technical decision maker and don't speak Drupal yet?
You have a laundry list of features and functionality you want supported by your site and you just need to know if, and a little bit of the how, Drupal 8 is going to meet your needs. Although a planning workshop and Drupal builder course could help you gain a strong understanding of Drupal, you aren’t there yet.
Recognizing this might be you, this article:
- Shares some of the most common and not so common requirements that you might be facing, and
- Talks about how Drupal can help support your processes and goals.
Common and Uncommon Features Don’t Scare Drupal
Drupal is a content management system, content being the operative word. However, Drupal doesn’t see content as a blog post or an event. It sees content as data. Data comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. It carries multiple types of meanings, from the spoken word to value that triggers an action.
When it comes to identifying that which Drupal can’t do, this reviewer only has to stretch her imagination and a solution presents itself, often using existing functionality either from Drupal’s core or from millions that call themselves part of the Drupal community.
In order to demonstrate Drupal’s potential without the aid of video, the remainder of this article will address several capabilities - simple and a little more complex - in hopes that it will help you recognize that Drupal can meet your needs.
When working with managers such as yourself, requests often start out as, “I want …” and finish with one or more of the following:
- a mobile friendly site
- different types of content
- accessible content formatting
- to collect author bio data in their user accounts
- to categorize content
- to create and reuse blocks of content
- multiple languages
- to manage my content development
- to display clusters of content already added to the system
- an ADA accessible site
- to reuse content between my site and my app
- to keep my site update expenses affordable.”
A Mobile Friendly Site
You are likely one of the majority who surf the net using a mobile device like a smartphone and thus you know what it's like to visit sites that don't fit your screen. Perhaps you have decided that you don’t want to be that business that can't be easily experienced from any device.
Drupal 8 makes it easier than ever to make responsive sites. Responsive means your web pages flex and reshapes automatically to fit your screen. Although responsive functionality was available in previous versions of Drupal, Dries Buytaert, the inventor of Drupal, decided that Drupal 8 would bring mobile to the top of his improvement list.
One of the first steps taken to make this possible was making the jump to HTML5 in order to gain such advantages as engaging the applicable input device when a site is viewed on a tablet or smartphone.
Check out the screenshot showing Drupal 8 default homepage reduced down to fit on a smartphone.
Different Types of Content
This request often goes without saying and when it comes to Drupal, its response is, “Bring it on!” Any type of content you want, it’s yours. Plus, there is more than one way to get it done depending of the type of data you want to use to define said content.
Let’s consider an example. Story telling. This could mean that you have bloggers, new reporters, media reviewers, etc. At the core of this type of content, they are the same. It’s just the words and tone and organization that often makes these different.
If you want a separate form to collect each type of content, then you can do that. Even if all the data fields you define are the same in each, Drupal doesn’t care. You can also collect this type of content using just one form with an additional field that lets you categorize the type of content.
This is a very simple example, but hopefully it’s already making you think about how your content can be viewed as data collected in fields versus what you might be used to doing with MS Word or other content management systems.
Since Drupal 7, this type of functionality was part of Drupal’s core. In Drupal 8, the coding structure has changed, enabling your developers to tap into the objects that make this possible and invent unique content collection tools that integrate with Drupal’s permissions and other default features.
Accessible Content Formatting
There are two methods associated with formatting worth mentioning: field-based and manual application. When content formatting comes to mind, you likely think of making text bold or creating bulleted lists. That’s cool. Drupal 8 has that covered by default.
Drupal 8’s text formatting is better than ever. Style your content in MS Word and copy/paste it into your Drupal 8 content form. Don’t do this with previous versions of Drupal, you could end up with a mess of code. Also, Drupal continues to offer settings that control which content author can, for example, add images to their blogs, or not.
When it comes to using fields other than the traditional long text fields, you can apply styling via templates and CSS. Or, you can rely of the fact that Drupal 8 is WCAG 2.0 ready (likely to be 2.1 ready in the future) and much of the formatting you need is already in place.
Collecting Data Other Than Content
Drupal 7 not only added the ability to add fields for content collection forms, but it also added the ability to add fields to user accounts so that additional data can be collected and possibly displayed for your content authors. Drupal 8 continues this functionality but with the same object oriented strategies implemented for content.
Categorizing content is at the heart of Drupal. Each Drupal site ships with one Taxonomy that can host multiple vocabularies (containers that hold terms). You can have as many terms (words or short phrases that describe or categorize content) as you need.
Drupal 7 included the ability to add fields to terms so, for example, you can associate an image of an orange with the term: orange. Drupal 8’s contribution, besides better backend code, it a new display page. When someone clicks on a term, they land on a page that displays all content tagged with that term. Drupal 8 makes it possible for you to easily modify that display right out of the box.
Blocks are bits on content or functionality that can be added to a page. They typically appear alongside the main body of content, or below it, above it. Historically, you would create a block, for example that says, “Welcome to my site. Become a member …”. That block could be placed in one location, let’s say the right sidebar. By default, there wasn’t much more your could do without additional modules.
Drupal 8 has changed the block system. When this reviewer learned by how much, she couldn’t stop smiling. Okay, she might have shouted with glee.
Anyway, not only can one block be placed in multiple regions at the same time, - in a sidebar and in a footer and in the region that displays the main content - it can display something other than the text. You can now display an image via a field. Or, a video. Or, an attached PDF file.
Yes. You heard right. You can add fields to blocks, made possible by the same object oriented strategies put in place for content, users, and terms. You can also have different types of blocks, just like you can have different types of content forms.
But that’s not all! If you have a block intensive website and you ever want to get a list of said blocks and the content they content in one report, you can query the database and get that list by using the feature called Views. The Views module used to be a contributed module, a staple in 99.9% of all Drupal sites - in this reviewer’s opinion.
With each major release of Drupal, the ability to develop a multilingual site got easier. Drupal 8 has not disappointed. Where Drupal 7 required up to eight or so contributed modules to create a multilingual site that was 99% correct, Drupal 8 has four in its core to make it happen.
Coding practices that used to prevent text from being translated are a thing of the past if a module contributor wants their module to be accepted by the community.
It was possible in the past and even easier now.
Manage Content Development
It’s one thing to be able to structure your data as you see fit, it’s another to manage the development of said content or data. Aside from the creative nature of content development, you have the ever present need for copy editing. And, if you believe that your content authors can easily catch their own typos, think again.
It’s fortune that the Drupal community recognized the need to manage the process from “I have an idea” to a published work. Drupal 8 has jumped on the workflow wagon by including a workflow option you can turn on and configure.
Whether your authors compose in MS Word or in Drupal’s content form, the first, second, or even the third draft shouldn’t be seen by the public. You can tell Drupal to save as unpublished. You can collect copies of every draft version by default and switch between them until you are ready for editing.
With additional functionality from the community, you will be able to do things like send notices with draft content is ready for review. You wouldn’t be the first to have this requirement and users of Drupal have been making this happen for years.
Reuse Content in Multiple Displays
This is not the first mention of content reuse. Drupal is all about content reuse. Break your content into structured data and you can find and filter until your heart's content. And, you can then share your queries with the whomever you wish.
Views has been around since Drupal 4, but has always been a contributed module. There are good reasons for waiting to integrate Views into Drupal’s core and now that it is here, Drupal out of the box is that much better.
Most notable is the administrative pages. Hard-coded in the past, the pages that list content and blocks and users and more are now made with Views. They are database queries made into page displays and thus allow you to easily customize your admin pages.
ADA Accessible Site
Accessibility has been mentioned already, but if you didn’t notice, it’s worth mentioning again. Taking a mobile first perspective when designing Drupal 8 was only one priority. Accessible web pages was right up there as well.
The developers of Drupal 8 have taken accessibility seriously. They have reviewed WCAG 2.0 and W3C’s WAI-ARIA. The Drupal community wants your site to be easily read by assistive technology and ARIA was a big step in the right direction.
Deep down, you know how important it must be to make web pages that everyone can experience. What you might not have heard about is the fact that the number of lawsuits for non-compliance has increased and continues to do so.
It’s not just about federal government sites anymore. It’s all sites. Drupal 8 provides a strong foundation to creating an accessible site from the start.
One System, Multiple Frontend Interfaces
You don't want two systems: one that will present your information in a web browser and one that will present your content in a mobile app. Data reuse is a key feature in Drupal and Drupal 8 takes the next step.
Drupal is now what some call “headless” and others call “decoupled”. It doesn't matter which word you use as this functionality is a technical thing that your developers can take advantage of when they present your data through multiple interface frameworks.
What does this mean? It means you can serve up your content to an app who’s interface was created with a framework designed for mobile devices while at the same time, present content in a browser the traditional way. One blog post, two tools to manage said display.
This simple example does not suggest that you can only have two frontend interfaces to your content. If you are looking for a central repository for your digital content and you want to deliver it to multiple platforms, Drupal 8 makes it easier than ever before.
Wow, talk about content management. Create it and edit it once and use it over and over.
This might be the last topic, but that doesn’t mean it’s an afterthought. Like many software applications, significant changes occur from one major release to the next. Unlike many software applications, you don’t have to start over to use the next version.
For a time, you could actually upgrade your Drupal site to the next major release. This reviewer went from Drupal 4.5 to 4.7 to 5.0 to 6.0 before migrating to Drupal 7. Drupal’s backend restructuring to keep up with today’s technology introduced some challenges when it came to taking a Drupal site from version 6 to version 7 and the developers listened to the complaints.
So, Drupal 8 has a few features worth noting as they can impact the cost of managing and maintaining your site.
- Drupal 8 ships with a Migrate modules to help you tap into Drupal 8’s new functionality by making it easier to migrate.
- Drupal 8 ships with a Configuration Synchronization module that allows you to launch a version of your site and easily add new features as resources allow.
- Drupal 8’s path to Drupal 9 isn’t going to come in one giant leap like past major releases. Drupal 8’s development is taking semantic path with releases such as 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, and so on until 9.0 is reached.
These three strategies alone make Drupal more cost effective than ever before. Your development team will have a learning curve to come up to speed on the semantic coding process, but otherwise, they will find Drupal 8 to much more conducive to long term commitments.
If you want a system that can build just about anything, like one can do with LegosTM , then Drupal 8 is where you want to be. If you have a simple blog site or a content rich site viewed by the world, Drupal can handle it.
The advantages discussed above just scratch the surface of what is possible. Other requirements that Drupal can handle include:
- Advanced permission settings
- Powerful content development and layout options
- Integration with other systems
- Mash ups - pulling content from other sources
- And more
So, if your requirements are anything like what was discussed above, or if you have something truly unique, let us know. We love a challenge.