Drupal has come a long way, and with Drupal 8.6 upon us, it’s time to look at Drupal CMS evolution, present adoption and make up the balance before we look ahead to what improvements we can expect in the future for developers, marketers and content managers.
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Drupal 7 brought several enhancements to both developer and authoring experience: it got easier to work with a database layer and files, different content types could be expanded with fields much more easily, themes got an overhaul, among others.
However, the fact that not every functionality got ready in time for the "feature freeze" on September 1st 2009, meant Drupal 7 had a fixed feature set and a vast set of contributed modules (views, CTools, entity, media, etc.) were an external dependency for every Drupal 7 installation. This means a site builder/developer is completely dependent on the maintainers of these modules (with help of the community) to keep them up-to-date and secure. We had to hope they remained compatible between themselves, and we had a lot of overhead to enhance the basic experience of Drupal.
Since the start of its development, Drupal 8 got rid of this robust and hard model of having a frozen set of features for the entire version lifecycle. For Drupal 8, development switched to a semantic versioning system with releases every six months, meaning no more waiting a few years for new functionality to be released as the dates were set in stone upfront. There's only one rule: there should be no breaking changes. So, each iteration of Drupal 8.x should be backward compatible with previous versions with no removal of code and no changes in function names or whatsoever. On November 19th 2015, the long-awaited release of Drupal 8.0 was finally here.
Where is Drupal now?
Now, 2.5 years later, it's time to make up the balance and have a look at the present and future of Drupal.
Both as a framework and as a product, Drupal still tries to satisfy both sides of the spectrum and contributors keep working hard on both. At this moment, at least 1 million websites are using Drupal as the CMS. The majority of this (80%) is on Drupal 7, while Drupal 8 just recently passed Drupal 6 for a second place (10.1% vs 10%).
How come it took so long for Drupal 8 to surpass Drupal 6’s adoption? This question becomes even more intriguing if Drupal 6 has been succeeded by Drupal 7 already over 7 and a half years ago. The predominant number of Drupal 7 sites 2.5 years after its release is equally mind-boggling.
We’ll look at possible answers and recap the key improvements that made it into Drupal 8.
The complexities of selecting a new WCMS platform
When an organization is looking for a new website, Drupal is probably one of the WCMS they’ll consider. The Drupal Association just recently created dedicated pages with advantages and use cases focusing on the different potential user profiles (developers, marketers and agencies). Before, there was a lot of documentation available, but it was scattered and could be hard to find. In addition, the "Try Drupal" page, which allows users to experiment with the product, needs you to sign up to a cloud provider or set up a local installation, which requires technical knowledge.
As with any other enterprise software decision, getting professional help is an option worth considering. By looking at your content strategy, existing technology stack and processes, the right partner can guide you towards an effective WCM selection process. This investment in understanding your organization and your audience’s needs will pay off in the end with a solution that matches your business needs and budget.
The Drupal 8 learning curve
Even after successfully starting a project with Drupal 8.0, there were a few hurdles remaining. We already mentioned the conversion of long term releases (Drupal 6, Drupal 7) vs semantic versioning (Drupal 8.x). While this is an established pattern in software delivery, it was new in the Drupal community and it came with a learning curve along the process. During this learning period, there were issues impacting code stability, Drush (shell interface for managing Drupal) commands, dependencies on PHP versions and updates to new releases.
Retrospective and countdown to Drupal 8.6
With the new release method of Drupal (two releases per year), the Drupal core team is able to improve not only the existing codebase in a non-breaking way, but also to select core initiatives to be included in a future release of Drupal. This also enables the Drupal team to address concerns (like the issues mentioned earlier) way faster.
Some of the initiatives that managed to make it to Drupal 8 core after its initial release to improve author and developer experience include:
- Drupal 8.2: more flexible, drag & drop block placement content moderation workflows for editors, and enhanced web services.
- Drupal 8.3: Drag & drop in quick edit for images, updated CKEditor, BigPipe as a stable module and the (experimental) layout module that provides flexibility to content authors to create different layouts instead of a fixed/structured layout.
- Drupal 8.4: inline form errors, layout discovery API, media API supporting image/video file libraries and lightweight digital asset management, authoring improvements and updated migrations (multilingual, better UI, more source options and other revisions).
- Drupal 8.5: public media API, stable settings tray and content moderation, layout builder (experimental), BigPipe enabled by default, new out of the box Drupal demo (food magazine website called “Umami”) as well as PHP 7.2 support.
About the author
Kevin is Drupal Web Developer and Consultant at Amplexor based in Belgium. Kevin is an Acquia Certified Developer with over 6 years of experience in planning, development, maintaining Drupal websites and leading development teams in Drupal. He has also volunteered at the organization of the yearly Belgian DrupalCamp event.