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The Drupal Way

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I've been asked what I meant by "The Drupal Way" in my Drupallets blog post Hiring Drupal professionals, part 1: Know what you need.

In the Drupal community, "Drupal Way" is used in two related, erm, ways. The primary meaning is a general ethos or guiding philosophy, but it also gets used to refer to specific applications of that ethos. In my blog post, I was referencing the general principle, The Drupal Way, as a whole. But google "the drupal way" and you will find lots of hits talking about specific applications of the Drupal way, that is, the Drupal way to do X or the Drupal way to do Y.

The Drupal Way, the ethos, permeates every aspect of Drupal, from coding to content. It is the very essence of the Drupal community. It can be explained many different ways, but I like to boil it down to this:

Don't re-invent the wheel.

Or, put another way:

Share and share alike.

Drupal is not just open source; it is also modular by design. Thus it is not just licensed to share, it is designed to share —easily and flexibly— because by sharing (by not re-inventing the wheel) we all benefit. We can build better, more robust websites more quickly if we take advantage of one another's work than if we do everything ourselves from scratch.

This design and ethos goes beyond the mere existence of contributed modules to add features and functionality. If modules are like Lego bricks, the API(s) are the pegs that let you snap them together firmly to build your creation. Yes, you could lash some bricks together using duct tape, but the result just isn't going to be as good; further, it'll make it harder down the line to make improvements and updates.

Even more fundamental is Drupal's separation of visual appearance (themes) from structure/functionality (core & modules) from site content. Keeping these distinct makes sharing and reusing that much easier. For example, no need to build a whole new site structure and migrate all your content every time you want to totally change the site's visual appearance —just upload a new theme and click a few buttons.

And then there is content. I don't think it is a coincidence that CCK (Content Construction Kit, now in Drupal 7 core as fields) and Views were developed in Drupal. These contributed modules are simply —brilliantly— extensions of The Drupal Way to content. They, and various other Drupal modules as well, make it easy to enter content once but use it many times in many places in many different ways in your site. (For you relational database fans out there: think of a Drupal site as one gorgeous web-enabled relational database for your content. Or, as I heard someone put it: a Drupal site is essentially "things and lists of things". But more on that in another post…)

Finally, it should be noted that The Drupal Way is a guiding ethos, not rigid step-by-step instructions. Not re-inventing the wheel doesn't mean using the exact same wheel for every project. As often as you will hear "There's a module for that…" you will hear "There's different ways you can do that…"

So there you have it: Don't re-invent the wheel. This is the whole Drupal Way. The rest is commentary — and now go learn. (with apologies to Hillel…)

Update: Others' commentary on The Drupal Way

I'll be keeping an ongoing list of other good discussions of The Drupal Way (and/or not re-inventing the wheel). Please post or contact me if you know of any others!

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