The new Drupal release is coming soon. What does it mean for your website?

Posted on January 31, 2015

With Drupal 8 slated for release this year, we’ve spent some time figuring out what our existing and potential clients need to consider when planning a new site or migrating an existing site. There are plenty of exciting changes with Drupal 8, so we’ve decided to highlight what the new features might mean for a few different audiences.

For Content Strategists

If you’re a content strategist looking for a system that has good content modeling and structure, as well as tools for maintaining those structures, Drupal 8 is the system for you. Furthermore, this upgrade includes additional improvements in multilingual support over its previous versions, making it substantially easier to administer multilingual content.

For Content Authors

Although the architectural structure changes in the new Drupal 8 have gotten more press, it is important to note that a lot of work that has gone into making incremental polishes to the front-end user interface. The administrative user interface in Drupal 8 has been greatly improved and is now fully responsive: this gives content admins the flexibility to manage content from both their mobile devices and their desktops. Additionally, the new Drupal 8 finally has a WYSIWYG editor included in the core application.

For Developers

In previous versions of Drupal both site content and site configuration are stored in the database. This makes changes to the site code and configuration difficult to separate from each other. Developers use modules like Features (https://drupal.org/project/features) as a means to deploy code to a live site without disturbing content, but even these workarounds are time-consuming and painstaking. Drupal 8 attempts to address these concerns with the Configuration Management Initiative (CMI). Site configuration settings are no longer stored in the database, but are instead stored inside YAML text files. This method gives developers the ability to control version settings. For instance, if something goes wrong, developers can always roll back to a previous version of a specific configuration file rather than restore all of the database tables, potentially losing content that has been created in the meantime.

The code behind Drupal 8 also enforces cleaner separation of logic and presentation. This should make it very adaptable for seasoned developers. An example of this is the new template engine, Twig. Twig offers more security on the theming level by prohibiting PHP code from being mixed into the template files. Many developers are guilty of writing PHP logic code in their template files, which often makes it harder for front-end developers to move their markup around. Twig allows developers to move that logic to the preprocess functions file, which then supplies variables that can be used in the markup templates.

This all sounds great! Should I upgrade now?

Our answer for this is no, you don’t have to upgrade to Drupal 8. Because Drupal versions are supported for years even after the newer version has been released, you can expect your Drupal 7 site to be supported for the next two to three years. This means that unless you are anxious to take advantage of the new features, there is no pressing reason to move to upgrade. Drupal 7 will still be supported and new updates addressing security and stability in core platform and contributed modules will continue to be released.

If you still want to take advantage of the Drupal 8 core, the new and improved content editor experience, and mobile use-cases, you might want to think of the site upgrade as a whole new development project, since you will probably have to restructure your site. This could be seen as an opportunity for improvement, treating your existing site as a prototype and taking the lessons learned into the next iteration. Josh Koenig covers some of those issues in his blog post: “Drupal 8: Upgrade Planning and Best Practices”.

The key factor right now is time—it will take a few months after the official release for many of the contributed modules to have a stable version compatible with Drupal 8. If your site requires functionality not provided by the core modules, you may want to wait. Long-term, however, we’re excited about many of the improvements that Drupal 8 will bring.

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