Full steam ahead for Drupal 8

Today sees the launch of Drupal 8.4.0 - the fourth major version release of Drupal 8 as the D8 platform nears its second birthday in November. Like many other Drupal agencies and developers, our shift towards Drupal 8 as our default platform has largely happened over the past 6 months, with Drupal 8 now our first choice version over Drupal 7 for all new project developments going forward.

Here, Adaptive's Head of Client Services, Steve Allen, and senior developer, Matt Burke, reflect on D8's current status, the pros and cons that we've found so far in working with it and why we're now full steam ahead with Drupal 8 development after a lengthy wait…

Both before and since the first fully supported release of Drupal 8 back in November 2015, we've been exploring this latest version of the powerful Drupal platform in earnest. Our early findings were similar to our experiences from when we first adopted its predecessor, Drupal 7, and before that with the first releases of Drupal 6 and 5 back in the day.

With D8, as it was with the prior major version releases, the key issue was that, while the core platform was stable and ready for use there and then, the lack of D8 versions of a high number of key contributed modules made D8 unsuitable for commercial projects in its earlier days. Read our blog post from when Drupal 8 first launched for more on our earlier thoughts.

However, that was then and this is now - and we're pleased to say that Drupal 8 is now very much viable for use on large-scale commercial projects and that, as a result, we're full steam ahead with various new project developments in Drupal 8!

At last week's DrupalCon Vienna, the key note speech from Drupal creator, Dries Buytaert, included findings from the 2017 Drupal Business Survey, which showed that 38% of Drupal businesses are now building solely in Drupal 8 while a further 25% are mostly Drupal 8 but with some new projects still in Drupal 7.

Findings published during last week's DrupalCon Vienna presentation by Dries Buytaert

At Adaptive, we'd put ourselves into that latter 25% at present, although there now have to be strong, specific and compelling reasons as to why a particular new project shouldn't be started in Drupal 8.

Our first public D8 website - for the Joint Office of Gas Transporters - went live earlier in the year but we'd already launched a number of internal sites and projects in D8 prior to that, including phase one of our new internal project and client management system, JIM. (More on that soon!)

Our first publicly-launched Drupal 8 website for the Joint Office of Gas Transporters

Our findings from the projects we've worked on in Drupal 8 so far, along with our own R&D on the platform, have been largely positive in recent months. We're now seeing numerous benefits with the D8 platform, both from a development perspective and also from the end users' point of view.

Key benefits have included:

  • Quicker and easier "out of the box" configuration of standard Drupal builds - through a combination of increased functionality integrated into Drupal Core along with better use of Composer and Drupal Console - enables us to get the basics of a new Drupal site up and running in even less time than before.
  • Theming based on the Twig templating engine is proving to be much quicker (learning curve aside) and also much more structured.
  • Multilingual tools are now part of Drupal core, resulting in a much more seamless and integrated approach to language translations, without the previous need to add multiple additional modules to satisfy all translation needs.
  • Improved Panels/Panelizer tools, along with the D8 Paragraphs module, have added many improvements in terms of both speed and ease of use. Together with new core editing tools like Quick Edit, these are making it easier and easier for us to provide functionality via the CMS for end admin/editor users to be able to build up page layouts in a much more flexible and free style, still without having to resort to manually writing HTML/CSS code.
  • The new Drupal Console toolkit enables developers to write, test and debug custom code for Drupal in a much more efficient and structured way. This means more consistency in code structure from developer to developer, and agency to agency. It also allows for easier overriding of standard out-of-the-box Drupal layouts and logic where needed, while still avoiding manually 'hacking' core or contributed Drupal code.
  • Use of Composer together with new Drupal 8 Configuration management tools has provided a host of new options for improved deployment systems, enabling us to roll out code and site changes more efficiently between development, staging and production environments.
  • The MVC (Model-View-Controller) structure of Drupal 8 makes the whole platform so much easier to integrate with other services and tools. Current Drupal 8 projects that we are working on are integrating seamlessly with ReactJS for front-end UX as a result.

In terms of the challenges that Drupal 8 has presented us with so far, the repository of contributed modules for D8 has typically still been much smaller than for D7 - understandable given the community nature of Drupal development and the dependency often on individuals to give their time for free to migrate their previous work into Drupal 8.

However, the State of Drupal presentation at DrupalCon Vienna showed that there are now 1,400+ stable modules available for Drupal 8, compared to fewer than 100 at launch in November 2015. We're also now increasing numbers of very useful new modules which have been released for Drupal 8 only, so the tide is definitely turning with regards to module availability for D8.

As we develop more and more in Drupal 8, we're also taking the opportunity to either help to patch up existing modules which are in Alpha/Beta testing and, in some cases, build alternative modules ourselves to replace missing contrib modules from Drupal 7. We hope to be releasing several of these into the Drupal community soon.

In terms of our active Drupal 8 projects, we're currently working on three new Drupal 8 developments for three very different clients - a customer portal for a multi-national construction materials manufacturer, a tourism website for a local authority and a sales and marketing website for a small local business. We'll look forward to showing off the results of these builds in the coming weeks and months.

So, like many other Drupal agencies, we've purposely bided our time when it's come to Drupal 8 adoption but we're delighted to now be using the platform to its full potential, confident of its suitability for large-scale commercial projects and are looking forward to many years of D8 development to come.

To talk to us about us building your next website project for you in Drupal 8, call us today on 0800 321 3187 or email us via contact@adaptive.co.uk and we'll talk more about how we can help.