What is Drupal?

Business person looking at Drupal logo, deciding on a CMS

You may have heard of Drupal in passing, but you have not ever been given a straight answer on what it is and why you should care. The truth is that even if you have worked with Drupal, you might not actually know what to say when asked what it is. Looking around there doesn’t seem to be a lot of great answers to this question out there either. It would be difficult to tell if you need Drupal as a solution for your website if you aren’t even sure what it really is to begin with. 

The Basics

To say we talk about Drupal a lot is an understatement. It’s non-stop Drupal all day long here at Ashday, but what is Drupal? Simply put Drupal, is an open source content management system. It's primarily built in the PHP programing language, and designed to create websites for use on a variety of different web servers.

Okay, but what is a content management system? A typical definition of a content management system or CMS is an application that is often used for creating websites that focuses on publishing workflows, user management, and content delivery. These dynamic and database driven websites usually allow for multiple editors and templating for streamlined content development. This is different than a plain old web page that is written in HTML and styled in CSS. A content management system allows you to compose and edit just the content without having to adjust the HTML. It makes it easier for non-technical users to publish text and images on the web to use that content in more than one place. With a CMS you can display your blog post on the homepage and in your blog, without needing to write the same content twice.

Which CMS is best for your website?  Take our CMS Quiz and find out!

What does it mean to be open source? Open source means that all of the core code that makes the software tick is free and open to view. Open source programs are typically free to download and use. They aren’t exclusively developed by one person or corporation and they rely on an open community of peers to maintain and improve the core code. This means that the software can be rapidly developed with a large pool of contributors. Another benefit of open source is the adaptability of custom code, since everything is open we can extend the core code to do more and behave based on the business needs of the project.

Other Popular Content Management Systems

There are many open source software CMS tools available on the internet. Drupal is often mentioned in the company of other popular CMS such as WordPress. It even gets lumped together with SaaS (Software as a Service) based site builders like Squarespace and Wix. While it's true that Drupal serves a similar role as a means to building websites, it is far different from these other systems. WordPress for example, is primarily a blogging platform but people have stretched it far beyond its intended use. Because of this, complex sites built with WordPress often consist of a lot of custom code of varying quality. Drupal’s real contemporaries are more along the lines of a framework like Laravel. These frameworks are much more customizable and robust, but often lack the pre-built setup of users, content types, and management features. This results in a much longer time to market for projects built on a bare framework.

What are the use cases for Drupal?

Drupal is best suited for building websites that are medium to large in size with a focus on future scalability. That isn’t to say that Drupal can’t be used for smaller sites, it does fine for this sort of thing all of the time, but it is built to handle much more and can incur more overhead than is necessary. It is a bit subjective to use terms like medium and large for a website, but when we think of large we typically mean websites used for enterprise applications.

Drupal is great at storing, managing and delivering huge amounts of content. If you have a lot to publish, then Drupal can’t be beat. The admin interface allows for creation of custom management tools that make the whole publishing workflow tailored to how your business runs. Drupal is built around being able to have many levels of users with defined roles. Permissions can be fine-tuned to create a system with a publishing workflow that won’t slow down content creators and will save time for editors and curators.

In the world of web apps, Drupal is king. Drupal 8 is a very extensible framework capable of integrating with the vast ecosystem of services offered across the internet. If you need to build a product for others to connect to, Drupal is a great choice with its core RESTful API. The object-oriented framework within Drupal makes creating large-scale applications inexpensive with a reasonable timetable.

Why do organizations choose Drupal?

Large organizations both corporate and non-profit trust Drupal to run their sites and applications. Drupal has earned this trust through its open source community that provides contributed modules and timely core updates. The security team, which is world class, keeps Drupal a bit safer by finding and writing patches vulnerabilities before they can become a problem. Part of the Drupal community is the Drupal association that pushes cutting-edge initiatives to keep Drupal modern, innovative and thoughtful.

The large open source community behind Drupal provides thousands of modules to extend the core functionality of Drupal, all for free. Contributed modules are reviewed by the community and given a stamp of approval if they are stable and safe to use. This is very different than many other open source communities where contributed code can be malicious or come at a cost. When you use Drupal and its contributed modules, you are benefiting from the hundreds of thousands of development hours from a giant group of developers across the globe.

How do I start a Drupal project?

Drupal can be used to run just about anything you would want on the web. Because of this flexibility, Drupal doesn’t do a whole lot on initial install without more configuration and setup. This is not a simple task for the amateur site builder, Drupal is not known as the easiest of the frameworks to learn. If you are building a medium to large site or a web application, you may want to hire professional web developers with the right technical skills. This can be accomplished by an internal team of Drupal developers or outsourced to a Drupal development agency. Check out this article we wrote to help you determine if you should build with an in-house team or outsource. 

Popular examples of Drupal websites

You have most likely seen or used a site built on Drupal and didn’t even realize it. There are a lot of very influential sites out on the web that leverage Drupal to deliver content. Here is a small list of those:

ncaa.com

Harvard.edu

Taboola.com

ed.gov

economist.com

Billboard.com

Drupal is very popular in higher education with many universities and colleges running their sites on Drupal 7 & 8. Drupal also has a large share in local government sites and in the publishing industry. Drupal is everywhere you look but its flexible structure allows it to power a variety of types of sites while being invisible and allowing the content it serves to be visible.

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About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

  • Do full-text search on all the articles in Drupal Planet (thanks to Apache Solr)
  • Facet based on tags, author, or feed
  • Flip through articles quickly (with j/k or arrow keys) to find what you're interested in
  • View the entire article text inline, or in the context of the site where it was created

See the blog post at Evolving Web

Evolving Web