Backdrop: Forking Drupal

Update: Nathan Haug has posted a link to backdropcms.org, with much more info.

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In Open Source Software, forking is considered a feature. Nevertheless, the Drupal community has generally frowned upon forking. We’ve been a fairly cohesive community. We work together, share what we’re doing (even while we compete with each other), collaborate with each other, offer help, contribute patches, all in support of the commons we love: Drupal.

Enter Backdrop

Unannounced officially, but discovered and tweeted about over the past couple of days, is Backdrop, a Drupal fork.

The README as of today states:

Backdrop is a fully-featured content management system that allows non-technical users to manage a wide-variety of content. It can be used to create blogs, forums, image galleries, social networks, intranets, and more.

Backdrop aims to provide:

  • A full-featured CMS that puts editorial and end-users first.
  • A system that can be utilized out-of-the-box.
  • Code that can be learned and easily developed.. [sic]
  • Extensible APIs.

…Backdrop is a fork of Drupal.

It’s all on Github, so people are free to examine the code.

Whence Backdrop?

I look forward to Nate’s motivations for starting Backdrop on Github. The name itself, though, provides a hint. (Backdrop = the Drop stepping back?) The name seems to have been coined in a Twitter conversation a few months ago.

A clearer indication may be embodied in the commit for Issue #1, which was to remove the Symfony framework.

(There has been a bit of debate in the Drupal community about how Symfony and the refactoring of core to follow object-oriented programming principles is affecting Drupal, but that’s a topic way too big for one blog post, and something better addressed by the participants themselves.)

Whether Backdrop

Already there is quiet (if not dispassionate) debate happening about whether Nate’s public fork is a good move.

One interesting perspective comes from Amy Stephen, who lived through the acrimonious forking of Mambo into Joomla in 2005.


Forks photo by Leslie Erin

Forking is a feature in open source. Photo: Leslie Erin (creative commons) http://www.flickr.com/photos/hopeleslie/4608991939


The Joomla fork itself caused quite a stir at the time. (For background on that, see the Wikipedia entry for Joomla. On Drupal.org, long-time Drupal community member Gunnar Langemark wrote:

In my opinion forks often happen when the leading developers get tired of people fighting for power and influence - and decide to take the code and walk away (in good compliance with the ideas that Richard Stallman preaches..). This is what it means when we say that “software wants to be free”.

It happens when a project grows and becomes so succesfull that the community cannot stay one. When forces driving people away from each other, overpowers the opposite forces.

What can we learn from these events? Drupal has not yet experienced the pains related to such a fork. But that does not mean it will not happen. Can the Drupal community prepare itself for this?

Whither Backdrop?

So where is Backdrop going? Is this a step towards #smallcore? Or Drupal 7-plus?


smallcore stickers

One of the early movements in Drupal core development was for "smallcore", to make Drupal (7 at the time) lean and modular. When it didn't happen, we all moved on, but the word comes up periodically.


On the Backdrop repository, there is a note for developers:

It is an experiment in preserving the legacy audience of developers who value ease of use and ease of learning over architectural flexibility.

Will Backdrop succeed? Who can say? This blogpost itself may be making way too much of this endeavor.

Ultimately the true viability of an open source project is rooted in the community that supports it. Without a strong community with enough critical mass to sustain the scale and complexity of the project itself, the project could collapse under its own weight, or fade from lost interest in too many intractable challenges.

Goodness knows there are oodles of smart, cool, effective open source CMSs out there that simply can’t garner enough community support to thrive, let alone attract many site-owners to buy into its potential and viability. Backdrop could be one of them.

Or Backdrop could draw enough legacy Drupal developers and designers, and interest of Drupal consultancies, to thrive as a kind of next-step alternative for existing Drupal site owners.

Whatever happens, let’s hope that it doesn’t result in acrimony. Gunnar noted in 2005 re Joomla:

This is not the first time I’ve seen forks happen. Some of you may remember the Php-Nuke to PostNuke split, and the subsequent PostNuke to Xaraya split/fork (and some other PostNuke to something forks that I don’t recall now….). It is not often that such forks have good endings, Xaraya is an exeption [sic] I think….

The worst thing about forks and the split up of a developer team is the bad vibes, mutual accusations etc. (Just take a look in the Mambo/Joomla fora…).

I won’t get into the philosophical and pragmatic disputes within the core Drupal community, beyond saying that the community is larger than ever, and Drupal is powering more sites than ever, and thus the needs of Drupal users and developers are more diverse than ever. But in the open source world, one might ask: How long should we expect to have One Drupal to Rule Them All?

We can only wait and see. (Or dive in, as some may choose to do.) We at Pingv are passionate supporters of and contributors to Drupal, and have no plans to change that.

But there’s no doubt that Backdrop deserves our attention … out of respect of its contributors, out of interest and curiosity, out of the opportunity to learn. The Drop is always moving.

We want to work with you!