How to Choose a Drupal 7 or 8 Distribution Package

Introduction: Acquia Distros & Drupal Installation Profiles

This Tutorial will discuss how to choose between authorized Acquia distributions of Drupal 7 & 8 compared to available Installation Profiles and the core Drupal platform release packages. Use a manual script install instead of Softaculous or Fantastico.

Drupal core is available in platform versions 7 & 8, where both will be maintained by Acquia until an “end of life” date in November 2021. Drupal 9 will be released in 2020.

Web developers can choose from authorized Acquia distributions or Installation Profiles to start building Drupal modules with an extra set of modules & themes.

Step One: Review Benefits/Disadvantages of Platform Choice

On a technical level, new site builders are recommended to choose Drupal 8 to begin, as there is no new code development for the Drupal 7 platform. Unfortunately, many Drupal 7 modules were not upgraded to Drupal 8 & were abandoned by programmers.

Drupal 8 has a different theme structure than Drupal 7 and the two platforms are not compatible. Some themes have two versions that can be used to upgrade websites.

Because of module & theme compatibility issues, some Drupal 7 websites cannot be effectively upgraded to Drupal 8 without losing functionality & requiring a code rewrite.

Choose Drupal 8 despite the more limited total choice of modules as this is where the latest development for the platform is concentrated with the most advanced new features. Drupal 8 also has numerous usability, performance, & functionality upgrades.

Also, select a good Drupal web hosting service (i.e., a host that supports Drupal).

Step Two: Acquia Drupal 7 & 8 Platform Distributions

When choosing a new Drupal website installation, most developers start with the “core” code package that is distributed on drupal.org & then add modules/themes to build a custom website according to the needs of a particular client project or business use.

Manual installation of the Drupal core files can be accomplished by using FTP, Drush, or Composer. When using manual installation, a distribution or installation profile can speed up the development process by including a wider range of modules & themes.

Below the Acquia certified distributions are listed. Acquia is the development company that guides the Drupal project and is owned by the founder of the open source project.


How to Choose a Drupal 7 / 8 Distribution Package

Drupal 8 (Installation Files):

This is the “core” distribution of Drupal 8 with the default modules & themes that are included with the package. All of the installation profiles are based on this distribution.

How to Choose a Drupal 7 / 8 Distribution Package

Lightning (Installation Files):

Lightning is an Acquia distribution designed to feature the "best of Drupal" & speed-up web development. Lightning is considered as an enterprise-grade release of Drupal 8.

How to Choose a Drupal 7 / 8 Distribution Package

Thunder (Installation Files):

Thunder is a Drupal 8 distribution intended for use by professional media publishers like magazines, TV, & newspapers. The distro includes modules from industry partners.


Note: Although it is recommended to begin with one of the Drupal 8 distros listed above, Acquia also maintains these Drupal 7 distros for specific use-case scenarios:

  • Drupal 7 (Installation Files): The official release, bundled with a variety of modules and themes. Codebase for all other Drupal 7 installation profiles.
  • Commerce Kickstart (Installation Files): A distribution with the module files for Drupal Commerce included in the package with the prerequisite files & theme.
  • DKAN (Installation Files): DKAN is an Acquia produced Drupal 7 platform for open data exchange intended for use by governments, nonprofits & universities.
  • govCMS (Installation Files): The govCMS distribution is built according to the official specifications required for the building of Australian government websites.
  • Open Atrium (Installation Files): Open Atrium is a pre-designed intranet script based on D7 with group/team collaboration utilities that is popular in enterprise.
  • Web Experience Toolkit (Installation Files): The WxT distro is for compliance with web standards for accessibility under the WET-BOEW jQuery Framework.

Summary: Unless there is a specific use-case requirement, web developers should choose the latest Drupal 8 distribution. Installation profiles can speed up development times. These certified Acquia Drupal distributions are the most secure & professional.

Step Three: Recommendations for Different Types of Website

Distributions allow web developers to choose a codebase that includes third-party modules other than those found in Drupal core. Installation profiles can be found with pre-configured module & theme settings that save download times & illustrate content.

Some of the main use case scenarios for installation profiles are: ecommerce, big data, API-first, headless/decoupled, theme-specific, Panels-specific, media, video, social networking, microblogging, experimental, official, content management, CRM, etc.

If your project includes any of these common niche-level use-case scenarios, search the installation profiles at the project distributions page on drupal.org for distros.

Step Four: Most Popular Drupal Installation Profiles

The most popular Drupal installation profiles are Commerce Kickstart, Panopoly, & Lightning. Open Atrium & Drupal Commons are popular for intranets, while Opigno. Open Academy, & Express provide Learning Management System frameworks.

Note: Use Reservoir & Contenta for headless or decoupled Drupal 8 running Node.js.

Other Drupal 8 installation profiles include:

Varbase (Installation Files):

How to Choose a Drupal 7 / 8 Distribution Package

Varbase is an optimized Drupal 8 distribution with an estimated 200 hours of time-saving pre-configurations for web developers like site builder & page editor.

BigVideo (Installation Files):

How to Choose a Drupal 7 / 8 Distribution Package

BigVideo has a custom theme & module combination for creating a home page or content types with embedded HTML5 Video that plays on page load for visitors.

Open Social (Installation Files):

How to Choose a Drupal 7 / 8 Distribution Package

OpenSocial speeds up the development of a complete social network that can be rebranded to any business or organization requirements with chat, user profiles, etc.

Although Drupal installation profiles do not offer a complete web development solution for site builders, the inclusion of custom module & theme packages can be efficient.

Conclusion: Save Development Time & Speed-up Installs

With “one-click” Drupal installations using Softaculous & Fantastico, the latest core version of Drupal 7 or 8 is deployed. Installation profiles and distributions form an alternative to the core Drupal package and can be used to speed-up web development.

It is recommended to use Drupal 8 for all new websites. Check the installation profile & distribution pages on drupal.org for popular projects. The Acquia certified releases like Thunder & Lightning are the most advanced current distribution choices for Drupal 8.

Check out these top 3 Drupal hosting services:

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