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Jun 22 2020
Jun 22

Drupal 9.0 was launched earlier this month as a continuation of Drupal 8. This time around, the core update was more about updating the technology underlying Drupal's codebase and eliminating dependencies than introducing brand-new features, but fear not: we'll be getting some of those soon enough.

Drupal releases features on a semi-annual basis, and version 9.1 is expected to be rolled out around December this year. Due to the decentralized nature of Drupal's development, the roadmap for 9.1 isn't necessarily set in stone; that said, the strategic initiatives and core objectives are well-documented, so we know what we can expect in the foreseeable future. Most importantly, gone are the days when Drupal was developer-first, editor-second: it's all about usability and accessibility for everyone moving forward.

Let's take a closer look at what that might entail. On the menu: a new front-end theme, automatic updates, and community-driven improvements collected from the 2020 Drupal Product Survey.

Olivero Front-End Theme

When I built my first-ever Drupal site during an Evolving Web training session, I remember thinking two things: "Wow, this is really flexible and fun to use once you get the hang of it", and "Wow, the default theme looks a bit dated". I'm a fan of Drupal, but the Bartik theme and its decade-old design just don't quite do it justice for first-time users.

Drupal has made it a major priority to completely overhaul its user experience and be friendlier for everyone, not just developers. Now that Claro, a new, accessible admin theme, is available in Drupal 9, contributors are focusing on Olivero, a modern front-end theme designed to showcase the CMS in its best light out of the box. Like Claro, Olivero follows a new-and-improved design system that prioritizes user experience and accessibility.

Screen capture of the Olivero front-end theme in Drupal Screenshot of the Olivero front-end theme for Drupal sites

It'll be a good few months before we can officially say bye-bye to Bartik, so here's what we know about Olivero so far to tide you over in the meantime:

  • It looks really good. Olivero's sharp colour palette, modern typography, and judicious use of white space gives Drupal sites a polished, state-of-the art look straight out of the box.
  • It'll be WCAG AA-compliant from the ground up. Accessibility is a major focus in Olivero, which is slated to include a high-contrast mode among myriad other accessibility-first features and functionality.
  • It supports all the most recent features added to Drupal, including embedded media and the drag-and-drop layout builder.

To read more about Olivero's development (and see the prototype high-contrast mode in action), check out this blog post by Lullabot, one of the teams involved in building the theme. According to the post's author, a launch within 9.1 is the most likely release scenario, so stay tuned this December.

Automatic Updates

As it stands, updating a Drupal site isn't the most straightforward process. That's set to change in the foreseeable future, however, as automatic updates have been one of Drupal's main strategic initiatives for some time now.

Major features of the existing Automatic Updates module, which is planned to eventually become part of Drupal core, include:

  • Major update announcements to notify admins when a core update is on its way, what it entails, and how to prepare
  • Update readiness checks to automate the process of ensuring sites are compatible with the latest update
  • One-click updating to allow admins to trigger the database update directly via the Automatic Updates service

These features are currently being tested and refined by the community, and we can expect a core release as soon as they're ready. Get all the details about the Automatic Updates project in the Drupal docs.

The 2020 Drupal Product Survey

Drupal's project lead Dries Buytaert recently started collecting responses to the annual Drupal Product Survey (here's the related post on Dries' blog). The survey's goal is to prioritize upcoming initiatives according to the community's needs. The results will be unveiled this July during the global virtual DrupalCon.

Looking at the survey's contents can give us some clues as to what might be coming to Drupal in the mid- to long-term (but we'll have to wait till the results are out to get a clear picture of how the Survey will influence Drupal's strategic direction).

Target Audiences

When you take the survey, the first questions are about how you use Drupal. The rest of the survey is then tailored according to your response. Here's a glimpse of the different demographics you can choose from to give you an idea of who the questionnaire is intended for (short answer: anyone who has anything to do with Drupal in any capacity!).

The first question on the 2020 Drupal product survey The first question on the Drupal Product Survey shows the scope of its audience

Content Editor Experience

The content editing experience in Drupal has seen constant improvements over the last several releases, but how will it evolve in 9.1 and beyond? The survey's questions for content creators include a list of potential Drupal enhancements, which respondents are asked to prioritize. A few highlights:

  • More refined draft/publishing control. This has already been addressed in recent updates; Drupal 9 includes enhanced content moderation workflows that are well-suited to actual editorial processes. It'll be interesting to see how this will be improved upon even further.)
  • Improved accessibility testing and control. Drupal core aims to adhere to stringent accessibility requirements out of the box (note leigh link here to that one page), but it could definitely offer even more testing features for creators directly via the admin UI
  • Improved contextual help and overall "how-to" guidance and Redesigned information architecture/simplified terminology for admin pages. A lot has been done in recent updates to make Drupal more user-friendly and approachable, so this survey question should be a good indicator of how successful those efforts have been--and what still needs to be done to further democratize the CMS.

Other noteworthy points relating to content creation workflows include:

  • Making more pre-built templates available
  • Autosaving
  • Real-time previewing of content being edited
  • Improvements to structured data and metadata management

Developer Experience

Site builders, theme builders, designers, and front- and back-end developers answering the survey also get questions about usability and accessibility, but those obviously look a bit different than the ones targeting content authors.

Discussion points aimed at developers and designers include these potential Drupal enhancements:

  • Improved configuration management
  • Additional front-end development tools, like NPM support and SDKs for common JavaScript frameworks
  • Drush-style out-of-the-box command-line tools integrated into Drupal Core (if you're currently looking for Drush commands to use during deployment, consider getting the Drush module, which adds several admin functionalities)
  • Improved data modeling tools
  • Better support for atomic content (i.e. reusable, channel-agnostic assets), in addition to a component-based theme system with reusable interactive theme elements like responsive tables
  • More modules added to Drupal Core, such as Feeds (to provide a migration UI), Rules (to provide a business logic UI), Admin toolbar, and Pathauto (for generating URL path aliases)
  • Privacy management support, such as user-managed identity access for GDPR

Help Shape Future Versions of Drupal

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to future plans for Drupal. If you have an opinion on anything we just covered (or on Drupal in general), make sure to take the 2020 product survey (direct survey link) to have your voice heard. Drupal is, and always has been, a community effort, so by taking the time to fill out the questionnaire you'll be directly contributing to the future of a powerful open-source CMS that powers millions of experiences across the web.

Meanwhile, if you want the facts about the latest current edition of Drupal, sign up for our upcoming webinar What You Need to Know About Drupal 9.

Jun 15 2020
Jun 15

The recent official launch of Drupal 9.0 represents 4 and a half years of improvements (and more than 4,500 individual contributors) to the open source CMS designed to support the most ambitious digital experiences. The official party line, so to speak, is that "the big deal about Drupal 9 is that it's not a big deal."

If you're currently on Drupal 8, you can expect a simple, painless update that'll allow you to stay up to date with upcoming feature launches (Drupal 9.1.0 is planned for December 2020) and continuous security support. Not only that, but the power of Drupal is more accessible than ever to people without technical backgrounds. Engineering teams continue to benefit from the latest features and improvements made since 8.0. And everyone relies on the security that comes with updating the underlying technology stack.There have been so many improvements to Drupal's overall user experience since 8.0 was first released that there's plenty to celebrate.   

Here are five features that make Drupal 9.0 the most accessible, intuitive, and user-friendly version yet—both for marketers using it to publish content and developers tasked with maintaining the code.  

  1. Visual page design with Layout Builder
  2. Intuitive media handling
  3. Customizable content moderation workflows
  4. Claro, a sleek, accessible core admin theme
  5. API-first architecture, featuring the JSON:API  

1. Visual page design with Layout Builder

Visual page design with Layout Builder The Layout Builder.

Drupal's Layout Builder lets content editors build and modify pages visually using drag-and-drop, eliminating a lot of reliance on developers and speeding up marketing workflows. Using intuitive, block-style layout controls, designers and editors can:  

  • Build default page templates for different content types (e.g. blog posts or feature pages)
  • Autonomously override default settings when a small change to the usual layout is needed
  • Create structured single-use landing pages (e.g. for an offer or an event) that don't necessarily follow a default template  

The Layout Builder is one of many examples of Drupal's renewed focus on accessibility and ease of use. It represents a major step forward for Drupal's user experience, distancing the CMS even farther from its past reputation of being intimidating to first-time or non-technical users.   

Keep in mind that Layout Builder is an optional module in Drupal that needs to be enabled. If you need help setting up a visual page designer for your editors, you can always reach out to our team of Drupal experts.   

Media Library shown in table and grid views. Media Library shown in table and grid views.

Drupal 9's WYSIWYG Media Library management system lets content editors and designers collaborate on images, videos, and other assets in an intuitive interface. Beyond the GUI, of course, the Media Library is fully customizable: you determine which fields to require for each type of media depending on your needs.   

Drupal's superior taxonomy handling extends to the Media Library, making it easy to organize libraries of all sizes according to whatever system works for your teams. With the Media module, files, images, videos, and all other asset types are treated like pieces of content, meaning they support fields and versioning just like a page would.  

Two views are available for the Media Library: table, which offers a more detailed look at each file's metadata, and grid, which displays an uncluttered overview of assets. You can choose which fields to display for both views. Here are full instructions for customizing your Media Library's interface.   

Keeping with the Drupal spirit of power-meets-accessibility, there are two ways to add media from the Media Library into a piece of content: via a reference entity (aka Hard Mode) or via the WYSIWYG text editor (9 out of 10 editors recommend this option). Here's how to set up CKEditor so it supports the media embed button. 

3. Content Moderation Workflows

Content moderation workflows Content moderation workflow.

If you have a website today, you're either putting out content on a regular basis or hoping to start doing so ASAP. Drupal helps content and marketing teams save time and streamline their moderation and publication process by enabling workflows that match their actual on-the-job needs. (Workflows have also undergone UX and accessibility improvements that make them more intuitive, meaning that once they're set up, people will actually use them--and see their value.)  

By default, content in Drupal can be in one of two states: Published or Unpublished. With the core Workflows module, you can add custom states (such as Unassigned, Assigned, or Draft) beyond the default two to match your editorial process.   

Content moderation workflows The Moderated content tab in Drupal 9's administration interface.

The companion Content Moderation module then lets you assign roles and permissions to those new states and transitions. These flexible role-based configurations mean, for example, that an editor just needs to access the Moderated content tab to see if any new drafts are ready for review.   

4. Claro Admin Theme

Claro admin theme The Claro theme.

Claro, a sleek new theme for the admin UI, is available as the default admin theme in Drupal 9.   

What's so great about Claro? It overhauls the current Seven theme with a sleek UI that adheres to the new Drupal Admin Design System. In a nutshell, Claro aims to be more accessible, responsive, user-friendly, and visually appealing.  

Claro vs. Seven Drupal theme The Claro vs. Seven theme.

The efforts behind building Claro were bolstered by the findings of the Drupal Admin UX Survey, an initiative conducted by the Admin UX study group (whose members include Suzanne and Annika from Evolving Web!) back in 2018 to learn more about how content editors were using Drupal. Read Suzanne's overview of the survey's findings for more on the editor pain points that led to Claro's development and implementation in Drupal core. (And stay tuned for Olivero, a brand-new theme that's slated to bring that modern look and feel to Drupal's default front end—it's one of the Drupal core initiatives, and we're hoping to see a release in 9.1 so we can collectively say "goodbye, Bartik" for good.)  

5. API-First = Future-First

Hand holding an iPad showing an augmented reality app An example of an augmented reality app.

A lot of improvements leading up to Drupal 9 have focused on creating more accessible experiences for a wider range of users, but this one's especially for the technical folks—although it has exciting implications for content creators.   

Drupal has always been the platform of choice for web projects with rich content requirements. Being API-first makes it flexible enough to handle more ambitious projects in the future.   

Drupal 9.0 is compatible with the latest technologies and frameworks (such as React, Angular, and Vue). Not only that, but its architecture is suitable for building headless applications that integrate via APIs with emerging channels and interfaces like augmented and virtual reality, wearable devices, and digital assistants.   

Thanks to the ability to package and export structured data via the built-in JSON API, engineering teams can choose to either use Drupal as a traditional coupled CMS, or as a headless CMS with a custom front end.   

What does this look like in practice? The possibilities here are quite literally endless. A quick example might be a city wanting to use existing data to build an augmented reality app that lets tourists interact with different landmarks. Drupal would be able to leverage structured JSON data from the city's existing database and inject it into the app's UI.    

Conclusion 

So, while it's technically true that there aren't any new features launching with Drupal 9.0, thanks to its developers' commitment to constant improvement and updates, today's Drupal is still leagues ahead of Drupal 8.0. And there's more to come before year's end. Drupal releases new features twice a year, so you can expect some shiny new (and accessible!) goodies delivered with 9.1.0 in December.  

There's never been a better time to dive into this powerful, open-source CMS. Ready to learn Drupal? Attend our upcoming webinar, What You Need to Know About Drupal 9, or sign up for our Drupal 9 training course for a deeper dive.

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