News from DrupalCon 2017: Developments in Decoupled Drupal & Ecommerce

Written by: , Jun. 27, 2017

Acquia Releases the Reservoir Distribution for Decoupled Drupal & OpenEDU for Online Learning

DrupalCon North America, the largest and most important annual convention for Drupal developers, took place this year in Baltimore (April 24-28, 2017) with Drupal founder and Acquia CTO Dries Buytaert delivering the keynote address. One of the new innovations in the Drupal platform that received a lot of attention at the convention was the advancement of various strategies for decoupling Drupal in order to separate the frontend and backend processes in a manner that allows for content to be streamed to multiple devices via APIs, overriding the standard theme-driven system of publication. Use of JSON API & OpenAPI, as implemented in the recent Reservoir distribution from Acquia for decoupled Drupal installs, can turn the Drupal CMS into a publishing engine that can be used with IoT devices, augmented reality applications, voice recognition systems like Alexa, fitness wearables, AI chatbots, and other next-generation software platforms that extend beyond the web browser. The 2017 DrupalCon featured 12 main session tracks with 175+ seminars & featured speakers, as well as a convention hall with thousands of IT company booths, all representing the vibrancy of Drupal's open source development community.

 


DrupalCon 2017: Main Points of the Driesnote Address & New Developments in the Drupal Ecosystem

In the DrupalCon 2017 Keynote address, Acquia CTO Dries Buytaert discussed the main issues with Drupal 8 adoption under the consensus overall view that D8 is a much better product than D7. Buytaert, who founded Drupal in his dorm room initially in 2000 as a PHP message board based on the Slash CMS, opened his address with the provocative statement that he is "not sure if it is advised to use Drupal for a simple website." Rather, Drupal should be seen as an "ambitious, innovative platform" that is suitable for the most complex web projects where building new code for web/mobile applications, advancing support for new web standards, and programming custom solutions at scale for enterprise corporations are considered as the major goals. The module ecosystem is considered ready at this time for D8, although Dries acknowledged more work remains in porting modules and millions of D7 websites still need to be migrated. The Migrate module has been reported as buggy and lagging in development, leading to delays in automating the D7-->D8 upgrade process. Accordingly, Acquia has streamlined the Drupal update system where in the future websites upgrading to D9 will be no more difficult to administer than a Drupal 8.3-->8.4 path.

This coincides with a major change by Acquia from producing "big bang" releases every 4-5 years to 6 month release cycles (8.1-->8.2-->8.3 etc.) that add new features through continuous innovation while maintaining a smooth upgrade path. This new system of Drupal release cycles permits the addition of new subsystems with the simultaneous depreciation of older APIs so modules can use either the old/new API in the new versions (i.e., D 8.4). Developers are being urged to migrate their module code quickly to the new APIs because maintaining backwards compatibility can be difficult and expensive in terms of CMS core code resources required. Drupal 9 will be released as the last D8 version minus the deprecated code, so that if a module has no deprecated APIs in use, they will all work same on D8 to D9 with no further upgrades required. This will make the upgrade to D9 as easy as 8.3--->8.4 for module coders if no deprecated code is in use. Increase in D8 adoption has led to more bug reports from edge use and new deployments. Subsequently, Acquia has added many new talented people to their team to focus on work on core commits, usability, and Drupal platform upgrades.

Acquia Labs - 'Drupal is an open-source framework that powers the back-end infrastructure for about one in every 40 websites. Today its founder, Dries Buytaert, and his lab head, Preston So, are unveiling Acquia Labs to focus on research and development around the future of user engagement on the web. And from what they’ve seen, the next web may be a “browserless experience.” In an interview with VentureBeat, Buytaert and So said their company wants the web to become integrated with the physical and digital worlds. “We are moving beyond the page,” Buytaert said. “And for Drupal, we have had to think about reinventing ourselves.”' Learn More About Acquia Labs.

 

Drupal is considered as a powerful collection of tools, but all of the best features of the CMS are difficult to discover for new users, with a long learning curve required to use the platform effectively. One new idea proposed by Dries to address this is to add a magazine installation profile with some default content to core, as well as making Drupal more easy to use for media handling. The Media Initiative is one of the current top priorities of Acquia and came from the results of a comprehensive user survey in 2016. Keeping forms in core is another current issue of importance related to the need for inherent simplicity in CMS usability. "Beyond the page" represents a major transition to mobile websites, voice control, chatbots, etc. that operate outside of a traditional web browser using database content served by Drupal processing. One example introduced was a solution developed for the Louvre Museum based on an integration of the Facebook Messenger Bot created by the Whitehouse (Github) that integrates Drupal as an advanced customer service & ticketing agent via chatbot technology. This implementation used Drupal structured content & data modeling based on Rest API (a coupled approach) with further new solutions and applications based on decoupled APIs being considered much easier to build with advanced integration in Drupal 8.

In summary, Dries stated that in his experience with enterprise clients, people want both coupled & uncoupled solutions, i.e. traditional websites as well as support for mobile & new IoT extensions. Consequently, an "API-only" approach is not considered as the best choice for most organizations. Much that Drupal as a CMS provides from generations of development is lost with a decoupled approach. (See: API First Initiative) Major platform changes advance in IT on 10 year cycles, with the last big platform shift to mobile with HTML 5 & responsive design evolving as critical aspects. These new technologies enabled the reimagining of user experiences & business models (i.e., Uber/Lift), where chatbots and Amazon Echo represent a growing new ecosystem. Much of the advantages of chatbots in customer support is obvious (24/7 support, chatbot with perfect product knowledge). Apple, Facebook, Amazon, & Google are already heavily investing in these platforms and Drupal can power these transitions with the ability to serve data to applications "beyond the page." When Dries started Drupal, he ran the server and did everything personally, then created Drupal Association & Community Working Groups through delegation. Drupal governance continues to be an issue of major importance, evolving the community governance model to the next stage, adding "checks & balances" while working on diversity issues in IT.

 


DrupalCon Baltimore 2017: Keynote Address

Driesnote - "Belgium born Drupal founder, Dries Buytaert is a pioneer in the open source web publishing and collaboration platform space. Dries is passionate about technology innovation, social media and photography." Learn More About DrupalCon 2017.

 



Drupal Open Source Development Community: Session Pathways & Featured Partner Companies

Drupal in 2017 is estimated to be used on around 2% to 2.5% of all websites on the internet, compared to WordPress at approximately 25% market share. Drupal made a major announcement in 2016 of a partnership with Magento to expand enterprise-level ecommerce resources on the platform. Amazon is a major investor in Acquia and Drupal is the main service provider for Whole Foods, which was recently acquired by Amazon. The Acquia Cloud is also built on AWS datacenter hardware. Consequently, the DrupalCon 2017 convention was a major opportunity to showcase custom development solutions created with Drupal for enterprise organizations. Some of the presentations of advanced ecommerce implementations of Drupal being showcased at the 2017 DrupalCon in Baltimore were:

  • Ecommerce: Quicken, Obermeyer
  • Government: Mass.gov, U.S. Commission
  • Higher Ed: Cornell University
  • Insurance: BlueCross BlueShield
  • Manufacturing: Rinnai
  • Nonprofit: YMCA, Score.org, Sierra Club
  • Technology: Pinterest, HID Global

The DrupalCon events provide an excellent opportunity for anyone to learn about best practices and new innovation that is being created in the Drupal developer community. The DrupalCon session pathways show the major organization of the information being presented:

  • Being Human: managing geek issues in software development & complex business teams
  • Business: international expansion, innovation, product support, brand identity, & marketing
  • Coding and Development: high performance at scale through quality code & teamwork
  • Core Conversations: design, user experience, usability, workflow, & platform security
  • DevOps: continuous development, integration, & versioning with Ansible, Chef, Puppet, etc.
  • Drupal Showcase: best practices & new code innovation from large budget sites in enterprise
  • Front End: Twig templates & Drupal theme requirements for D8 vs. other libraries & frameworks
  • Horizons: mobile apps, VR, chatbot, car tech, websockets, MQTT, IoT, Apple TV, & Google AMP
  • PHP: best practices for coders, object-oriented methodologies, SPL, REST, Guzzle, & Composer
  • Project Management: Agile, code sprints, collaboration, distributed teams, & work stress
  • Site Building: Views, Panels, Blocks, Themes, Modules, Forms, Search, & Ecommerce with D8
  • Symfony: using Symfony & Twig with D8 to construct complex websites and mobile applications
  • User Experience and Content Strategy: GUIs, UX design, web accessibility, & CMS publishing

An overview of all of the seminars presented at the DrupalCon 2017 convention in Baltimore shows the vast influence of the CMS across a wide range of social sectors and industry, including education, governance, non-profits, and enterprise. This has led Dries and others to consider conceptualizing Drupal as a "public good" with an economic function similar to street lights, roads, and other utilities.

 


Steven Cole, Vice President at Unleashed Technologies - "I was impressed with the variety of sessions offered. There were sessions for developers, designers, project managers, business people, and just some extra ones about self-improvement. As a first-timer, I tried to attend an assortment of sessions to get a feel for what DrupalCon had to offer. The speakers were all very good, the presentations (mostly slides) were easy to follow, and the topics were relevant. I know the sessions were hand-picked from a long list of submissions, and you could feel the effect off that policy. I especially appreciated the sessions that were focused on a specific topic or tool. Those sessions were the most productive and gave me some good takeaways." Unleashed Technologies at DrupalCon 2017.

 


DrupalCon Baltimore 2017: Drupal in the Public Sphere

Who Develops Drupal & the Sources of Sponsorship - "This session will propose a theoretical framework that accounts for the complexities of our contributions that cannot be easily measured. Drawing from a wide range of public sphere theory -- including the work of scholars such as Jürgen Habermas, John Dewey, and Nancy Fraser -- this session will describe Drupal as something more than just individuals, organized groups, institutions, or markets. We'll consider how proposals in the Drupal community are deliberated, how change is enacted, and who influences these processes, taking into account various sites of collaboration, such as IRC, issue queues, local user groups, DrupalCamps, and DrupalCons. We will dig deep into the Drupal community, how it relates to the broader public, and how our community contributes to the public good."  Learn more about Drupal Development Sponsors.

 



Identifying Trends in Drupal Web Development - Twig, Symfony, Magento Integration, & JSON API

The DrupalCon events are one of the best ways to follow new innovation in the Drupal platform, as all of the seminars are pre-screened and vetted through an application process that favors the most advanced development teams. Some of the seminar topics covered at the DrupalCon 2017 in Baltimore were: Building NBA.com on Drupal 8, Front End Development, DevOps Skills, Scrum, BlackMesh, Webform, Symfony, Scaling & Sharing, Layouts in Drupal 8, Open-Source PHP Libraries, Platform.sh, Pantheon, Agile Drupal Sprints, Phase2, Angular 2, FFW, Continuous Integration, Advanced Debugging Techniques, Artificial Intelligence, Dependency Injection, Magento, Machine Learning, Digital Transformation, Twig Files, SEO, New Typography, Drupal 6 End-of-Life, MadouPDX, Rearchitecting, Static Analysis, Continuous Deployment, Efficiency/Scalability, Digital Ecosystems, Automating Build & Launch Tools, React, GraphQL, Atomic Design, Pattern Lab!, Bootstrap, JSON API, Custom Themes, Solr, JavaScript, EmberJS, Ethereum Blockchain, Incident Command, Electron, Unicode, Multilingual, Websockets, & Collaborative Project Management. Some of the major featured sponsor companies included:

  • Signature Partners: Acquia, Adayax, FFW, OPIN, Open Social
  • Party Sponsors: Axelerant, Kalamuna, Manati, Mediacurrent, Lingotek
  • Platinum Sponsors: FFW, Pantheon, BlackMesh, NewTarget, Phase2, Platform.sh

Drupal platform development extends across the Fortune 500 to the WhiteHouse with independent software development firms in Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, North & South America contributing to the code base. Although there may be concerns that the Drupal 8 migration cycle is leading to further client transition to WordPress and loss of marketshare, there continues to be significant uptake of Drupal as platform of choice across corporate IT, government, education, non-profit, & ecommerce sectors, aided in many ways by the strategic partnership with Magento and continuing custom development of new modules for D8 extending web standards. Website and software development for Drupal is very different from WordPress, but literally trillions of dollars worth of economic activity is being managed by the platforms internationally when the full assets of the companies and organizations using both CMS scripts for web operations are combined. The diversity of the companies exhibiting products and services at DrupalCon 2017 shows how open source software development can succeed in collaboration across a wide variety of technical requirements to build new sharable/scalable business solutions, e-government applications, entertainment products, and web publishing tools.

 


DrupalCon Baltimore 2017: Decoupled Drupal and Angular 2

Angular 2, TypeScript, & Decoupled Drupal 8 - "With decoupled Drupal gaining more steam by the day and unprecedented approaches entering the mainstream, the need to keep abreast of current front-end technologies has never been more paramount. Angular 2, released last year, is a significant leap forward for the Angular ecosystem with TypeScript usage, a built-in command-line interface, and a focus on "develop once, push everywhere," including web, mobile web, and native. Though the framework has evolved drastically away from Angular 1's versatile yet sometimes unwieldy developer experience, the Angular 2 team has endeavored to ease the transition by providing a graduated transition path from Angular 1 to Angular 2 applications. Angular has an enthusiastic and large community with ample surrounding tooling. It's an excellent candidate for integration with a decoupled Drupal back end, whether you're using JSON API or Drupal 8's built-in core REST API."  Decoupled Drupal Distros.

 


Decoupled Drupal - Angular II, TypeScript, ES6, JSON API, Ember, Node.js, React, & REST APIs

Decoupled Drupal distributions, also known as "headless" due to front-end/back-end separation or "API-first" due to use of APIs to generate & display content rather than Views, Panels, Blocks, & Drupal Themes, are designed to enable completely new use-case scenarios by transcending what is installed and run through Drupal core. Rather, Drupal is used primarily as a Node.js content engine to serve data to a myriad of devices under different standards and formats as required by the device. Decoupled, headless, & API-first Drupal installations can use Angular 1, Angular 2, or the JSON API, as well as TypeScript, ES6, Angular 4, OpenAPI, Rebilly, etc. to create complex solutions for clients that advance innovation in web software solutions. Angular II has a CLI as well as a "one framework" approach which means that mobile, web, & desktop apps can be created from a single code-base to run native on all devices. Atom TypeScript, ES6/ES-2015, Ember, React, Drush, Devel, Angular CLI, JSON API, etc. can all be used to generate content & users via command line rather than Views, Panels, Blocks, & Themes which creates a smaller Drupal code installation with less PHP strain on the server for processing complex queries through the modules.

  • Contenta CMS: can be used with Elm, React, Ember, or Angular for the front end
  • Acquia Reservoir: a lightweight, decoupled Drupal distro based on Angular II & TypeScript

While developers are using decoupled Drupal to build entirely new categories of software applications that introduce additional layers of innovation to the web, mobile, & IoT, in many ways Drupal is just following what has been already been developed by other platforms with this approach. Calypso is the WordPress decoupled installation released by Automattic which permits streamlined management of the CMS with Node.js, React, & REST APIs. Keystone JS includes the auto-generation of web content, nodes, blocks, etc. through React components. The Django CMS also is experimenting with a headless/decoupled architecture. Some proprietary CMS applications based on the "Content as a Service" (CaaS) model that have been developed under proprietary licenses include:

  • Contentful: a developer-friendly, API-first CMS with integrated Global CDN
  • Prismic.io: customizable API-based headless CMS for developers & marketers
  • Cloud CMS: headless, API-first CMS for scalable, multi-device support
  • Kentico Cloud: cloud-first headless CMS for publishing to any channel/device via API
  • Built.io: enterprise-grade digital business suite - iPaaS, MBaaS, & Headless CMS
  • Contentstack: unifying headless CMS for mobile, web, & IoT applications

Decoupled Drupal can be used for immediate previews on content authoring, as Lullabot displayed at DrupalCon 2017. A smaller Drupal install with web applications built under a Symphony framework with JSON API used for dynamic client-side rendering is already being used by many professional PHP & JavaScript developers with Drupal who may prefer these solutions to coding on the core theme template system. Another problem with decoupled solutions is with standardization & adoption of web standards in a fractured ecosystem. The large variety of competing APIs, CLI tools, SDKs, JS versions, etc. could ultimately lead to forking of Drupal project to complete, but installation profiles are currently being used to solve this issue with GitHub offering developer project support independent to Drupal.org.

DrupalCon Baltimore 2017: Decoupled from the Inside Out

API First Drupal: Contenta & Reservoir - "Since the very beginning of Drupal, one fundamental assumption has underpinned the development and evolution of Drupal: its monolithic architecture. Drupal was created in a time when web and CMS technology was burgeoning and when API driven applications were rare in this space."  Learn more about the Contenta CMS.

 


Future DrupalCon Events: Vienna (September 26-29th, 2017) & Nashville (April 9-14th, 2018)

Developers, businesses, designers, and publishers interested to attend the next DrupalCon gathering can plan ahead for DrupalCon Europe in Vienna in September of 2017. There does not appear to be a formal DrupalCon Asia planned for this year, but there are always local Drupal Association gatherings of community members scheduled on a rotating basis in local markets. Otherwise, the next DrupalCon North America event will be in Nashville, scheduled for April of 2018. Follow DrupalCon on Twitter.

 

Develop, Design & Support the Drupal Platform- "Vienna, the city of music, art, culture and fine food is the beating heart of Europe. Vienna is old, Vienna is new. It is proud of its imperial heritage and at the forefront of the world's arts and creative industries once again. DrupalCon Vienna will be held at the Messe Wien Exhibition & Congress Centre from 26-29 September 2017." DrupalCon Europe 2017.


The Most Important Drupal Conference - "Welcome to Music City. Nashville has always been about music. It runs through the life and soul of the city - and its people. And it exhilarates everyone who travels to hear it. But it’s not just about music. From Symphony Hall to Capital Hill, you can find unique experiences that connect with everyone. DrupalCon is a unique event that brings together thousands of people from across the globe who use, develop, design, and support Drupal." DrupalCon Nashville 2018.

 

Author:
Eliran Ouzan is the Co. Founder and designer of HostAdvice and also owns Moonshot Marketing LTD, a leading web design & development firm and was a member at GreenPeace.

Widely known for his pixel-perfect and high conversion rate web designs. Over the course of his web experience he experimeneted with over 200 web hosting companies and have a superior knowledge on what defines a good hosting company.

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