Everything you need to know about Drupal in 2021

April 6, 2021

Content management systems (CMS’s) are a foundational part of any digital experience. Drupal 8, like its predecessors, allows users to create and manage content over one or multiple websites. The difference is that D8 was specially designed for search engine optimization.

With Google’s impending new ranking initiatives coming to effect this May 2021, here is our full breakdown of why you should consider it for your business. 

Drupal 8: The ins & outs

Besides great standard features (easy content authoring, reliable performance, and excellent security), modularity is one of Drupal 8’s core principles. 

Accessibility-oriented templates:  your site can now cater to various disabilities, including blindness, colour-blindness, and movement disabilities. For example, creating a mouse/keyboard-only operated site or a site with enhanced screen reader support.

Can be installed and maintained through composer: Drupal 8 can (and is recommended to) be installed by composer, a dependency manager for PHP. Composer simplifies installations for new projects (including modules/themes) and takes care of all software dependencies.

Composer is also fantastic because it allows the installation of upgrades and updates without taking the website offline.

Caches page blocks separately: particularly useful for page speed, Drupal 8 caches all page blocks separately, so the cached / not cached blocks are displayed dynamically, i.e. as soon as they’re ready, resulting in a better user experience.

Site configurations exported and reimported by simple commands:  This allows for synchronicity during the development process when developers need to test functionality on a staging site while keeping the website live.

Multi-language sites: core modules allow full translation of every part of a site, using multiple admin languages and translation workflows. This means that no external modules/plugins are required to create multi-language sites, and the database structure is already optimized to allow page translations.

Security:  many sensitive sites, including government sites, are built on Drupal due to its strong built-in security. 

Drupal 8 uses Twig as a template engine (Drupal 7 uses PHP directly on the templates). Not having direct PHP in its templates provides enhanced protection against hacks. Additionally, the WYSIWYG editor no longer allows the addition of PHP on text-area content, and it filters the inserted data before saving it into the database. Lastly, the “trusted host patterns” setting allows you to hardcode the site URL inside the settings.php file, to prevent malicious ‘host header’ attacks.

Things to consider when upgrading your Drupal site

Drupal is based on components: modules, templates, libraries, etc., that are built around a core (Drupal). These components can be expected to evolve incrementally with enhanced functionality and protection against vulnerability, so updates are always wise.

Before you start: developers should consider whether the field/content-type structure can be improved prior to the update to have a better back-end experience and better database structure. Remember that sites built on old versions will load slower! The key is to restructure everything from the beginning, not later.

Rebuilding: Keep in mind that specific modules from previous versions (i.e. Drupal 7) might not work in Drupal 8. 

The gap between Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 is vast because the entire codebase has been rewritten, requiring an entirely new rebuild when upgrading. However, the subsequent Drupal versions (current D9 and future D10) will be based on the same codebase, providing a smoother update. 

With this in mind, you will need to think about rebuilding these websites by either waiting for developers to build this specific functionality or be prepared to create them on your own.

Most of the modules have been upgraded to the newer versions and are 100% compatible: 

The bottom line: take the time to check if the functionality you need is already present in the newer version.
URL Structure:  not specific to Drupal, but it’s always essential to consider how the URL structure will be changed once the update occurs to avoid harming your SEO optimization (e.g. in case you wanted to alter the content or create redirects, etc.).

page speed insights

Why Drupal is great for page speed

As of May 2021, Google will introduce ranking initiatives to improve user experience.

Drupal’s core-catching system is significantly more advanced than other CMS’s, and Drupal 8 now includes the Big Pipe Module. 

When enabled alongside the  Dynamic Page Cache module, it ensures a smooth visual page load experience by lazily loading certain parts of the page one blocks after the other, appending to an otherwise empty space. Why? Because having the lazily loaded content appear in a space that is reserved for them avoids reflowing content. It is more important than ever to avoid subjecting our users to this frustrating reflowing, as Google’s new algorithm will penalise such ‘Cumulative Layout Shift’.

From a user perspective, Drupal 8 is undoubtedly better than ever. As of 2021, Drupal remains the leader CMS for digital innovation, speed of implementation, and scalability, not to mention the opportunity to improve performance at low-cost due to large amounts of freely-available community code. 

We know that not all projects fit the same mould. Still, the improvements in performance and security make D8 an increasingly compelling choice of technology.

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