According to Dries Buytaert, Drupal 8 will be released in September, 2013. With feature freeze in place, and the code freeze close ahead, “What do I expect from Drupal 8?” is now a legitimate question to ask. And the answer is, in one word, a lot. Drupal 8 is going to be a very different beast with it’s 8th release, undergoing quite a metamorphosis. Into a butterfly, let’s hope.
Dries Buytaert, in his State of Drupal March 2012 presentation, stressed a number of important changes to Drupal 8, it’s architecture and end-user experience.
Big Changes Coming in Drupal 8
You can find the full list of changes at the Change Records for Drupal Core page. I will list the few ones that appear to be the biggest.
1. Core: Drupal 8 has Symfony for a framework
The biggest change is that Drupal 8 moves in it’s core to Symfony 2 Framework. Symfony 2 is a powerful, pluggable, and robust PHP framework, which utilizes the object-oriented architecture of PHP 5.3 for effectiveness.
There are a few strategic goals that Symfony 2 allows to reach. One is that Drupal developers will have to be less concerned with writing the basic functionality, which will now be handled by Symfony. Developers can then concentrate on solving practical problems more, with architecture being leveraged by the framework, “the driver”, as Dries calls it in his blog. Another reason is that Symfony is very feature rich, object-oriented, and MVC-architectured, which in fact are the principles that Drupal has been aspiring for.
2. Theming: Drupal 8 theming engine will be Twig
Drupal 8 adopts Twig templating framework as a theming engine, replacing PHPTemplate. Twig will allow to greatly optimize the Drupal theming layer in logic, will make it safer, smaller, and faster, developers say.
It is not clear yet, how much of the Drupal legacy theming will be supported, and how much legacy theming practice will be preserved into Drupal 8. But there is definitely a need to enhance Drupal theming architecture and make it faster and more orderly.
3. Mobile: Drupal 8 will be responsive and work with HTML 5 and CSS 3
Until now, Drupal 7 included, mobile support has been very limited in Drupal. There have been a few modules that were written to address this issue, but they are not easy to install and configure, and they are lacking the benefits of being a part of the core and playing well with the other components. Now, that’s going to change.
Drupal Mobile Initiative has been very active. It has been a common consensus, that the web is moving towards mobile in giant steps. Drupal will now be working with mobile devices out of the box, and will play better with creating functionality and presentation for mobile platforms.
4. Authoring and Media: Drupal 8 will deliver much higher authoring experience
One of Dries Buytaert’s State of Drupal notes was that content authoring has been one of Drupal’s weakest spots. To rectify that, the Spark project was created. Spark is a powerful tool that brings content authoring to a new level, with inline AJAX-ified editing of pages. There will also be enhancement for content management admin interface as well.
There is also currently effort underway to bring the media support in the core. In Drupal 7, Media module has been using file entity interface to store images, videos, and even remote media. The current Media Initiative seeks to expand that functionality and move it in the core, allowing extensible media support out of the box.
5. Internationalization: Drupal 8 will have better multilingual support
Language support has been maturing with each new Drupal release. Still, not fast enough, many say. There has always been a certain feeling, that it was not well enough integrated in the system. Multilingual edge of Drupal used to be one of the weakest points, with many a rough edge conditioned by the architectural limitation of the system itself, the way that content, nodes, comments and users have been organized. Now, these limitations will be lifted, the Drupal 8 Multilingual Initiative devs hope.
With Drupal’s core moving to a robust OOP framework, internationalization will make a deeper reach. Not only will it become deeper-reaching and better structured, but it will also be better incorporated in the core and it will be searchable.
6. Configuration: Moving Drupal 8 to CMI
In Drupal 8, configuration will be moved to CMI, and unique ids (UUIDs) will be assigned to content items. That will allow to migrate or move content from server to server without having to reconfigure the settings of fields and content types, and will provide unique identification of content items.
This is rather a facilitation feature, something running under the hood, but a very pleasant from the standpoint of scalability and should come of handy in moving data and content.
Things that require attention:
There are a few things in current development of Drupal 8 that I feel I need to be aware of and keep an eye on their development:
- Massive API change. With core switching to Symfony, and theme layer switching to Twig, lots of modules and themes will need to be re-written. If you are an API developer, you may want to start looking at these frameworks now. Symfony, Twig, and good knowledge of OOP will be required to be a good developer for Drupal 8.
- Short time before planned release. This personally is very disturbing for me. So much has been planned, and only a year before a planned release. The areas requiring special attention will be transitions to the frameworks. My general understanding is that even if everything planned is done before August 2013 as planned, there will be at least half a year, or even a year, before Drupal 8 is polished to the usable condition.
- A robust and orderly performance is expected. But will Drupal 8 in fact be more effective and robust than the previous versions, in a total score, with all the new core additions? Will it still be usable for the smaller sites, or will it be “an overkill”?
- Harder to Host? The last question that concerns me, is that there is a certain category of a low-budget hostings that do not offer Twig. Being a server-side application, Twig is small and fast, but it is also not so frequent with hosting companies, especially the budget ones.
Having said all that, there are huge challenges, little time, and high hopes about the coming metamorphosis of Drupal 8, our favorite CMS. Will be we able to still call it that in a year's time? — Let's contribute, rather than holding our fingers crossed.