First Impressions During a Drupal 8 Website Build

May 20, 2016 - 8:00am
Art Williams
First Impressions During a Drupal 8 Website Build

It’s Official!  We have finished setting up the necessary infrastructure and processes for building client sites in Drupal 8 moving forward.  A lot of that work was done during our first Drupal 8 website build, which is nearing completion.  What follows is a brief glance of my first impressions and future aspirations about Drupal 8 development.

The Project

As website builds worked their way through the pipeline in the first part of 2016, I was on the lookout for the right one to be our first D8 site.  The project I chose is a portal for this company’s contractors to log their daily activity out in the field.  The portal also generates various reports from the activity for our client to use.  This project is unique in a couple of different ways that makes it the clear choice for our first foray into Drupal 8:

  1. Since it is a portal, it required very minimal design and the site functionality could reasonably be built BEFORE the design.
  2. One of the client stakeholders has a personal connection to a Drupal developer, which made them open to using D8 even if 100% of their desired features aren’t currently available.  They were the ones who initially brought up the subject of using Drupal 8. (Most of our clients do not come to us looking for Drupal, they are just looking for a website.  So the decision about CMS technology is usually an internal one.)

I should also say here that I cannot provide links or show any screenshots since the site is a login-only portal.

First Impressions

Drupal 8 is a thing of beauty!  Granted it takes some time to wrap your mind around some parts.  And there are a lot of, “this isn’t the way Drupal 7 does it,” thoughts that go through your head.  But once those “first date” jitters are out of the way…WOW!

What is the right way to install D8?

Composer -  Dependency Manager for PHPThis is the first difference with Drupal 8 that jumps right out.  And the answer is not really clear.  After a lot of soul-searching (aka research: The definitive introduction to D8 and Composer, Composer Manager for Drupal 8, Goodbye Drush Make, Hello Composer) I determined that the approach that best fit our DevOps process and automation tools is the “sugar-free composer” route mentioned in Bojan’s article.  Even though Composer is a bit slow in installing new things, the flexibility to automate nearly all of the site setup, build, maintenance and deployment will pay huge dividends for us.

TIP: If you are building one site in D8 which doesn’t need DevOps automation, don’t bother with Composer, just download the zip or tarball and move on down the road.  You can always plug Composer back in later if needed.

Where is _______, that I use in Drupal 7?

The other main first impression I had is that there are a number of small, but sometimes critical, pieces missing in D8.  The gaps are being filled in rapid fashion, but some still exist.  For example, the Date field is missing an end Date and repeating dates at the time of this writing.  There are also some “critical” contributed modules that are still in alpha.  We are forced to use them and hope that nothing breaks whenever they go to beta or full release.  [Insert standard appeal to jump in the issue queues and help out.]  I found a number of patches to Drupal core issues which fix various bugs so some of this just needs testing and/or prodding of maintainers to commit them.  In nearly all cases I was able to work around, patch or do without these things.  But it was certainly helpful to have a client who was so understanding of the hurdles.  And none of these things would prevent me from starting a new project with D8 right now.

Installing patches when using either of the composer-based installation methods is super simple and easy to maintain.

Future Aspirations

With so many new parts to Drupal 8, we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible.  And with the new six-month release cycle, we can now expect improvements to come more regularly.  The future is bright!  

At Texas Creative, we love automation and Drupal 8 will become a snowball of automation that will build upon itself long into the future.  The advantage of this to our clients is that our time can be spent on planning, content strategy, and achieving higher levels of refinement in the site.  It eliminates the need to re-assemble all of the same components we do on every site before reaching the point in the process where true customization begins.

In time, those missing pieces from D8 will be built by us or you.  But in the meantime, there are few compelling reasons why you wouldn’t want to jump into the D8 waters.  Excluding e-commerce projects, Texas Creative will build sites going forward using Drupal 8.

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