What alternatives are there for Drupal 8

The CMS Drupal: Open Source for Enterprise

Drupal is one of the most widely used open source CMSs worldwide. With a huge developer community and a large organization in the background, Drupal is one of a handful of open source systems that are also used regularly in the enterprise sector. Drupal places a special focus on accessibility and community functions.

Drupal was initially developed by the Antwerp student Dries Buytaert and first published in 2000. A year later, Drupal became an open source project. Today the Drupal organization is one of the most influential voices in the open source movement. The Drupal community has over a million members and around 100,000 active supporters. Countless well-known companies and organizations use Drupal for their web presence.

Given the age and size of Drupal, there is of course no lack of criticism. One of the most critical points in the past was the lack of downward compatibility with new Drupal versions. In addition, there are, for example, deficiencies in usability and, especially in summer 2018, massive security gaps that made hundreds of thousands of Drupal installations vulnerable. In September 2018, a new version of Drupal 8.6 was released, which is considered the most extensive update in recent years. Drupal 9 should appear in 2020 as an upgrade from Drupal 8.

#Drupal for content managers

Compared to newer systems, the Drupal admin and authoring interfaces seem rather old-fashioned, but the UIs are barrier-free and completely responsive. As with all large systems, Drupal also has to solve the challenge of accommodating its enormous wealth of features in an intuitive user interface. In addition, Drupal ensures sufficient performance to ensure effective work with content.

Drupal offers two editing modes for authors: a classic form-based approach in the author dashboard and inline editing in the front-end preview. The front-end editing is, however, comparatively cumbersome, since the mode has to be activated again with several clicks for each change. At least with the local test installation, the performance in the front-end editing mode was only mediocre, so you should test the practicality again before the mode is rolled out for a complete editorial team.

Either way, authors are more likely to switch to the traditional form view for major changes, which is also intended for creating new pages. The structure of the forms is in turn freely configurable and can be individually adapted to the requirements of the page. This very flexible field management is not known to systems such as WordPress in this form, but is very common in more recent systems such as Craft, ExpressionEngine or Statamic.

A special feature of Drupal has so far been the lack of a media library. Drupal has remedied this shortcoming in version 8.6 with a functioning media management system. It remains astonishing, however, that a system of this size has for so long been without such a central feature for the authors in the core version.

While Drupal's authoring tools are not necessarily a revelation, the system unfolds its full strength under the other menu items: Under "Structure", for example, Drupal offers a very flexible, but also complex system to structure a page depending on the theme configure. An admin can use the interface to place the content as desired and assign it to various page areas such as the footer, the header or the sidebar. The system is somewhat reminiscent of the WordPress widget system, but is less intuitive. Recently there is also an experimental layout builder, which has to be activated separately and which allows page types to be laid out in WYSIWYG mode.

Of course, there are countless other features such as a theme selection, a module area for extensions, an extensive role configuration for users and various standard reports. The complexity of the system means that authors and administrators first have to understand how Drupal works.

Drupal is well aware of its weaknesses in the author experience and in the UI design. Since version 8, the focus has been on the authors as a target group, there are initiatives for the modernization of the admin UI and the new media library has also emerged from the increased importance of the user perspective. Looking at the market, however, one has to realize that many other enterprise CMS have made this change of perspective much earlier.

#Drupal for developers

Drupal now uses a large number of libraries from the PHP framework Symfony and therefore wants to adapt its release cycles to the Symfony cycles in the future. With version 8, Drupal introduced Twig as the template language and YAML for configurations, while Drupal relies on the widespread Doctrine library for database queries. For the front-end technology, Drupal also uses JQuery and Backbone.js. However, there are strategic initiatives that work towards modernizing the UI based on the React framework. In addition to the classic LAMP stack with Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, Drupal can also be operated with Nginx, IIS, PostgreSQL and SQLite. For an acceptable performance, the PHP module PHP-OPcode-Caching is recommended.

Similar to many other content management systems, Drupal has switched its architecture to services and a REST API in recent years, so that Drupal headless distributions are now also available.

Installing Drupal is amazingly straightforward. You download the system files, create a database, go to the URL and fill in the forms for the installation. In addition to the minimal version and the standard version, Drupal 8.6 now also offers a demo installation with a rather elegant cooking theme, with which the features of Drupal can be tested.

Installing Drupal is straightforward, but it takes time. On localhost you should therefore increase the execution time for scripts significantly, 5 minutes is the minimum. The entire process can easily take 15 to 20 minutes, which already reveals the weight of the system. This impression is also strengthened later with the admin interface, which does not provide the necessary performance for effective work with a local installation without OPcode caching.

Drupal themes require a special folder structure and need at least one file. The file contains meta information such as the name of the theme, the description, the supported theme regions (such as sidebar, header, footer, etc.) or the libraries used. The templates from Drupal again follow the well-known Twig syntax:

Using a variety of popular technologies, getting started with Drupal shouldn't be too difficult for developers. However, the system is complex and, like many other CMS from the PHP area, has to deal with numerous legacy loads.

#Drupal for non-developers

The basic installation and administration of Drupal do not require any programming knowledge. The large number of free themes and extensions are further arguments for using Drupal. However, the Drupal universe is not as big as that of WordPress and the presentation of the themes on the Drupal website also suggests a focus on the developer community. Nevertheless, thanks to the very high flexibility of Drupal, it should be possible with some effort for non-developers to create their own and partly individualized Drupal website.

For code beginners, Drupal should be a good, but also challenging, starting point. The development of the system is clearer and cleaner than many other legacy systems. Compared to WordPress, however, it is also more complex and can hardly be adapted using simple helper functions and hacks.

#Roadmap

The release of Drupal version 9 is planned for June 3, 2020. Drupal 9 should be based on Symfony Version 4 or 5. The transition from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 is planned to be smooth and backwards compatible, with old functionalities receiving the deprecated status with the introduction of a stable new version. Due to the smooth transition, there will be no highlighted feature changes with version 9, but the changes will be gradually incorporated into version 8. Details about the current, planned and just completed initiatives can be found on the Drupal website.

#Prices

Drupal is completely free and open source. All themes and modules are also free of charge. There is only one marketplace for services through which agencies, consultants and freelancers offer their Drupal services. The largest provider of services and products based on the Drupal framework is Acquia, a company founded by Dries Buytaert that regularly appears in Gartner and Forrester WCMS analyzes.

#Recommendation: Where does it make sense to use it?

Drupal is a complex and mature system that is suitable for use in medium-sized companies and in the enterprise sector. There are numerous commerce plugins and extensions for online shops, so that the business area and retail are well covered. If accessibility is a requirement then Drupal should be a very good choice. However, the weaknesses of Drupal in the author experience are also obvious and there are now numerous newer alternatives, especially for medium-sized companies, that cut a significantly better figure in the UI. However, many enterprise features, many years of experience and widespread use are still strong arguments for using Drupal. Drupal is too complex for simple websites.

Drupal is used by a large number of medium and large companies and organizations. Examples are Fox, Oxfam, Lamborghini, Weather.com, the BBC store or the Bermuda government.

#Alternatives to Drupal

There are comparatively many content management systems for larger medium-sized companies. The classic alternatives from Drupal include TYPO3, Joomla, WordPress and Redaxo. Among the more recent systems, for example, Neos, Sulu or Craft come into question. When converting to a new CMS, however, a change to a different architecture or an upgrade to a more complex CMS is also conceivable. All of this depends on the specific application scenario in the company. CMSstash can provide an initial market overview. However, an individual analysis is necessary for a successful selection process. If you want to rely on external support, you can contact our cooperation partner SUTSCHE. SUTSCHE is one of the few service providers that does not implement and can therefore accompany the CMS selection independently in the interests of the customer.