The Turning Point For Drupal Core

Core Developers make series of key decisions at Drupalcon London.
Drupalcon London will be remembered as a key turning point in the development of Drupal 8. Steve Parks reports...

Those who weren’t at Drupalcon, or aren’t involved in core development, may have heard rumours of big discussions about the project at Drupalcon London, but don’t worry — it’s good news. Issues that have been discussed for years have come to a head, gained consensus, and are becoming action. In this article I’ll attempt to give a much-simplified digest of events for those who haven’t been in the loop.

The current momentum started with a blog post ‘The Drupal Crisis’ by Daniel Kudwien (sun), backed by some of the other core developers. Among a number of points he made was one about Drupal core being too big, and too difficult to maintain. He suggested a focus on it as more of a framework, leaving the added functionality for particular use cases to Install Profiles or Distributions to deliver - including a new ‘standard’ distribution of Drupal that would include the current install profile.

His post helped focus some general frustrations from a number of people into a more unified and productive action list that could be discussed by the core developers gathered at Drupalcon. Even Sun was surprised by the level of support his post received, and he published a follow up with his conclusions.

Both posts, and the comments, are well worth reading for anyone interested in the future direction of the Drupal project.

One page that Sun posted to support his points was an example Drupal download page which would feature different ‘flavours’.

He also opened an issue in the Drupal Core issue queue titled ‘Make Core Maintainable’. This proposed removing a lot of modules from core. It’s around this that the discussion and effort began to focus.

Among the many comments, Dries responded with his views on what could be removed for Drupal 8, what needs to stay - but also what he feels should be added (things he’s already flagged as key initiatives for D8).

A group of core developers, including Dries, then gathered late at night in the conference hotel and discussed the ideas into the early hours of the morning.

And then, quicker than anyone had expected, patches were committed to the Drupal 8 branch removing modules such as Profile and Blog.

Larry Garfield (Crell), then called for a pause in removing more modules to allow for discussion of “a heuristic for what functionality belongs in core […] Then, we can go over core and see what that heuristic would say doesn’t belong (which may or may not map 1:1 to existing modules) and exterminate those bits that we agree don’t make the cut.” Sun agreed, as did Chx. That discussion is still going on.

Meanwhile, discussion and work also continued in parallel at the conference on Jeff Eaton’s Snowman Project, which aims to create a distribution of Drupal suitable for setting up basic sites out of the box. Having a distribution like this will be key to allowing core to be slimmed down and still providing a good end user experience.

All this meant that, for Drupal developers, Drupalcon London was an exciting week. It suggests that Drupal 8 is going to be a big release — with a lot of legacy modules moved out of core, while a lot of new functionality is brought in by the key Core Initiatives. It also means that there seems to be a growing consensus that core should be a leaner ‘framework’ with distributions providing the required features for certain end users.


At the risk of lobbing a hand-grenade, it feels to me that Drupal 8 is not actually simplifying things much. The sole big decision I’m aware of in relation to Drupal 8 is the incorporation of a Symfony Component, which I imagine is the thin end of the wedge that ends with large parts of Symfony incorporated into Drupal to provide the framework features that the community has thus far failed to develop. This might be progress of a kind, but it’s not entirely obvious what the point of it is. It might make Drupal into ‘better’ software on some criteria, but does it make it better for anyone who actually uses it, or creates modules and themes for it, when weighed against the costs of change?

Drupal needs to re-develop some sense of its own boundaries. In ye olde days, I’m fairly sure that we had a notion of what ‘bad’ looked like - ‘bad’ was bloated, verbose code which was more about conforming to certain design patterns than producing working software. ‘Bad’ was decisions taken centrally to satisfy the tastes of an inner coterie rather than the daily needs of web developers. ‘Bad’ was complex interdepencies that made contributing patches hard and maintaining issue queues a full-time job. ‘Bad’ was, in short, projects like Zend Framework, Symfony et al. which were considerably more ‘elegant’ than Drupal yet considerably less widely used. The Drupal community was, in part, defined by a healthy skepticism toward the kind of people who turned up clutching copies of Design Patterns or PoEAA like they’d just been dictated to them at the top of Mount Sinai, or who think that the only solution to bugs is a ground-up re-write, abandoning that which went before[1].

Nowadays I’m not so sure we have that instinct. My opinion is that the Drupal community needs to get better at saying ‘no’ to new features, at least until the bugs in the last round of features are fixed. In practice, I guess that this comes close to Jeff Eaton’s “stop doing stuff” scenario in which we declare Drupal 7 to be mature software that isn’t going to be radically overhauled any time soon. I’m not convinced that designing a more tasteful architecture for D8 is a sufficient substitute for the painful process of fixing the broken stuff in D7, although it’s undoubtedly much more fun.


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