Last weekend I had the opportunity to check out the Drupal community in San Diego, during the 10th annual SANDCamp. SiteLock protects many Drupal sites in addition to WordPress sites, so it was a joy to meet everyone in the community and learn more about the current state of Drupal. I have been a fan of Drupal since before I even met WordPress, and continue to marvel at the amazing work being done in the Drupal world.
A DrupalCamp is similar to a WordCamp in that it’s a community event run by volunteers who work in the Drupal world. Unlike most WordCamps, however, DrupalCamps are highly developer-oriented, and most topics delve into advanced use cases and strategies for building complex websites with Drupal. As someone with a background in Information Architecture and a true passion for complex content websites, I was overjoyed to see all the amazing things people are doing with the CMS.
One of the most interesting things I learned is the difference between Drupal 7 and Drupal 8. Like the switch from 6 to 7, D8 presents a HUGE change to the Drupal platform. Everything from theming to backend development has changed dramatically. Drupal 8 makes a bold move from PHP Theming, like WordPress uses, to the Twig PHP template engine. You may already be familiar with Twig; it is a template engine for PHP and part of the Symfony2 framework. A few years ago, the TwigPress plugin was introduced in WordPress to integrate Twig templating into the WordPress flow, but it never quite caught on. Drupal, however, has embraced it wholeheartedly in version 8.
I spoke to many people this weekend about motivation behind the move from PHP theming to Twig, and everyone agreed it was mainly for security reasons: too many developers were performing insecure database queries in the themes, resulting in vulnerable Drupal installations. Adding the Twig layer prevents those types of queries from being executed in the themes, moving them to Modules (Drupal’s name for Plugins) where they belong.
I had the privilege of attending a full day workshop of Drupal 8 theming, and got a taste of the new process. As a frontend WordPress developer, I like the freedom of working with the many PHP theme functions we have in place; it has allowed me to understand more about how WordPress works, and how to write PHP in general. But I can see the allure of Twig. Many developers are coming from other programming language backgrounds, and the Twig abstraction makes it quick to learn and jump right in to theming in Drupal. The full day session was taught by some very knowledgeable Drupal developers, and it was exciting to see the room was 50/50 men and women. I love seeing more women developers out in the world!
Not everyone is excited about the changes in Drupal 8, however. In fact, so many people were keen to stay with D7 conventions, that a group of devotees have forked Drupal 7 to create the Backdrop CMS. Jen Lampton, one of the co-founders of Backdrop and a longtime Drupal core contributor, gave a talk about her work in Backdrop and how it compares to both 7 and 8. WordPress itself actually began as a fork of b2/Cafélog in 2003, so there’s no saying where this could go! Drupal is already an incredibly powerful CMS, capable of managing very large and complex sites. However usability has always been a sore spot, and has prevented Drupal adoption on a larger scale. With the Backdrop fork, many user experience issues could potentially be fixed, giving Backdrop the leg up it needs to surpass Drupal in terms of developer and user adoption. It will be exciting to follow their progress and see where it leads!
A highlight of my trip was meeting the core Drupal development team of Princess Cruise Lines. With 250 restaurants spread across 17 ships, serving over 1.7 million guests every year a constantly changing menu, Subbu Hariharan and his team run one of the largest food operations in the world. And what’s even more amazing is the Drupal system they built in a matter of months to power all of it. It is an understatement to say we were all blown away hearing about their DevOps solutions, the brilliantly effective user-centered development process that went into creating their food and beverage system, and a beyond-textbook use case of the COPE structured content system that organizes their entrees and ingredients for shared use across everything.
The Princess Cruise Lines crew will be presenting 3 talks on their work at this year’s DrupalCon, April 9-13 in Nashville. Oh, and guess what? I’m going to be there! And I will be catching these presentations again. I’m predicting the Princess presentations will be the talk of the entire 3,500+ person Con once everyone sees what they have done.
All in all, it was a pleasure to spend a weekend in the Drupal community, and I can’t wait to spend a full week in Nashville at DrupalCon, the largest Drupal event in the world. Stay tuned for more insider information on Drupal from a WordPress perspective!