What to expect in Drupal 8

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Max Bronsema is the chief architect and director of web communication technologies for Western Washington University (WWU) in Bellingham, Washington. Previously, he was the lead Drupal architect at the university, leading a small student team developing innovative Drupal solutions for the public-facing sites at WWU.

I was able to catch up with Max ahead of Linuxfest Northwest 2016, where he'll be leading D8 core and distro sprints, to chat about his thoughts on Drupal 8.

What planning advice would you give to developers working on a new Drupal 8 project?

When Drupal 6 and 7 were released the advice was to wait until contrib was populated enough before even considering a project with the next version. I think Drupal 8 changes that. I think a myriad of projects can be built with D8 core. If a developer or development team doesn't have experience with Twig, they will want to take some time to learn it as it's the new theme system for Drupal 8.

Which Drupal 8 features are you most excited about?

I am most excited about native web services, support for breakpoint, and the picture element with the responsive image module. My team at Western Washington University already uses the Drupal 7 version of picture to great effect. Native web services are a great step forward for Drupal. When using 7, there are various ways to expose entities as JSON. In Drupal 8, you can just enable the Restful Web Services and Serialization module.

I would be remiss not to mention the configuration management module in Drupal 8 as well. This lets you export changes from a development server to staging and then to production without having to sync the databases or use node export or features. The many ways to do this in Drupal 7 are a thing of the past. Using the configuration management tool, you can export a single node or a whole site and then import those changes onto another version of the site with a few clicks or a few Drush commands.

Do you have any favorite Drupal modules?

That's a hard one to answer because modules are always situational. My favorite general purpose module is panels, and it is shaping up to be even more flexible in Drupal 8. It isn't ready yet, but it leverages the layout plugin module, which will align panels more with how Drupal 8 works.

Where do you see the future of Drupal going now that Drupal 8 has been released into the wild and Drupal 9 is being discussed?

Drupal 8 will allow the project to move away from extremely long development cycles. If you take a look at the release cycle overview, you can see that the 8.x branch of Drupal has a long life ahead of it. Major features can be worked into a future 8.x branch. This will really help large sites plan migration efforts and manage change. I believe Drupal 8 cements itself as the enterprise CMS of choice, and the greater ease of use may start taking away market share from other CMS products.

What's a good path for moving complex sites from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8?

I think the key for complex Drupal sites will be to leverage the migrate module in core, which currently supports Drupal 6 to 8 migration. Drupal 7 to 8 migration support is in the works for either 8.1.x or 8.2.x. I would encourage anyone interested in contributing to look at the core migration issues. The community put together a cool tool called the Module Upgrader to assist in upgrading a 7.x module to 8.x code. It isn't a silver bullet, but it can help jumpstart a module you need. There is a good guide on the process for both modules and themes found on Drupal.org.

How does Drupal 8 compare to Drupal 7 in terms of performance? What mechanisms are in place to better utilize caching?

I will go over this in my presentation, but in general terms, it is better. The performance of Drupal 8 in the long run will be better than Drupal 7. A lot of new code is in place leveraging Symfony PHP components. The caching methods in core have increased featuring native support for cache tags and with the role out of 8.1.x, big pipe rendering. I am not positive the raw numbers will reflect greater speed, but the user will notice the impact. There are still some Drupalisms to learn, but I think developers new to Drupal will be able to get going faster than they do now.

For specifics about speed and caching, I would have to defer to somebody like Jeff Geerling, who has undertaken an in-depth analysis. It is still early in the Drupal 8 life cycle, and performance optimization will continue in earnest.

What stumbling blocks do you think new developers getting started with Drupal 8 should be aware of?

I believe Drual 8 will support new and veteran Drupal developers. As with all areas of technology, we have to be willing to embrace change and use new systems to get used to them. There is a lot to learn if you haven't been following the multi-year development of Drupal 8, but you can do it in bite-sized chunks.

What resources would you recommend for people looking to get started on D8?

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There are lots of other exciting features in Drupal 8 that are not mentioned here:

For example, you have improved UI. There is also support for CKEditor WYSIWYG editor. Views, a module, is included in core. This post includes more features of Drupal 8: http://www.cloudways.com/blog/drupal-8-on-cloud/

Thanks Azaz, you're right that there are a lot of other exciting features in Drupal 8 which we were unable to get to. I love the CKeditor integration as well as services being part of core. Thanks for the link, it's a great article!

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