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Drupal 8 Development / Deployment Workflow

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I've been putting off learning how to build sites in Drupal 8, and migrating my existing Drupal 7 sites over to Drupal 8. Why? Drupal 8 uses a lot of new tools. I want to learn how to set up a Drupal 8 site in the "right" (optimal) way so that I don't incur technical debt for myself later on. That means I have a lot of tools to learn. That takes time, which I don't have a lot of. So I've procrastinated.

Now, two deadlines are creeping up on me. The first is the release of Drupal 9, planned for June 3, 2020. At that point, there's a bit longer before Drupal 7 goes unsupported (November 2021 is the current plan), but it's time to move.

The second is the requirement for Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) on European payments the middle of this coming September. One of my D7 sites runs Ubercart and uses Ubercart Stripe, which won't support SCA.The only alternative to upgrading is to disable Stripe as a payment method. Actually, AndraeRay has taken maintainer status of Ubercart Stripe and nearly has an SCA-compliant 7.x-3.x branch ready. Many thanks!

So it's time to start. But how do I set up my development workflow? Having done a lot of reading, here's what I propose. I'd really value input from the Drupal community here; I'm bound to have missed something important, and I've one big question I can't answer (see below). Please pile in at the Comments.

My Proposed Approach

  • Set up a development server, separate from the server that live sites will be deployed on. This will have plenty of RAM, the same version of PHP as the deployment environment, and Composer installed.
  • I plan to use a private git repository to store each site's code and configuration.
  • On the development server, use Composer to install drupal-composer/drupal-project.
  • Use .gitignore to exclude all core and contributed modules and themes from the git repository.
  • I'll also move environment-specific settings (such as database credentials) to a settings.local.php file, which will also be excluded using .gitignore.
  • Add everything else to git.
  • As I work on the site, I'll commit, add and push changes to the git repository.
  • I'll also set up a sync directory using $config_directories[‘sync’], so that I can use Drupal console to export the site's configuration and include that in git as well.
  • On the production server, I can periodically pull everything from the git repository. When I do so, I'd use composer install (never composer update). This removes the need for the production server to have a large amount of RAM (since generating composer.lock is done on the development server). I'd then use Drupal console to import the synchronised configuration, and clear all caches.
  • For theming, on Drupal 7 I built my own responsive themes by subtheming Zen. Zen for Drupal 8 is in Alpha only; the last (alpha) release was 3 years ago and the last commit was 20 months ago. So it looks like the best approach is to subtheme Classy directly.
  • Previously, I've found Sass and Compass to be a great help with building a custom theme, so I'd plan to use them again. I'd include one simple .scss file that is excluded from git to override the base hue of the theme; this allows my development site to have a different colour scheme to the production one, to help me always remember which site I'm on.

All of the above can be modified to allow a staging copy of the site as well, if that becomes helpful.


I have one big question.

This workflow allows me to make configuration changes on the development site, and then push them up to the deployment site when ready.

It seems to me that, whilst configuration needs pushing from development to production, content needs pushing the other way. That's to say, I'll want regularly to make sure my development site contains the latest content on the production site. New and altered pages need pushing down, as do nodes that use the new content types I've developed in development.

Configuration: Development => Staging => Production
Content: Production => Staging => Development

How do you do this?

Specifically, I don't think I want to dump the entire database from production, and replace the development database contents with the sqldump. Doing that would also override configuration changes on the development site, and that's not the way this whole workflow is designed.

So is there a generally adopted method to use, to dump the site content from production and import it to development, but without making any changes to the configuration that is stored in the development database?

Over to you

So over to you, reader. I've learnt a lot, but I have a lot to learn still.

Can you help answer that question?

Have I missed anything really important? Would anything in the approach above be unwise, and if so what and why? Am I right that Classy is the best base theme, or is another preferable? (It would need to be actively developed, likely to stick around as Drupal moves through 8.8, 8.9, 9.x and so on, and not slow the site down significantly or make it harder to maintain by adding lots of preprocessing or complex div structures / css libraries). Am I using git and composer in the right way? Any other advice?

Thanks in advance!

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