Drupal cranks open-source CMS tech to 10 as the need for modular digital experiences grows

The technology used to help enterprises and organizations of all sizes to deliver content via websites is typically the domain of content management systems (CMSs).

Among the most popular CMS technologies is the open-source Drupal framework, which debuted in 2001 and has continued to evolve over the last two decades. In the early years of the technology, Drupal was positioned as a general purpose system for building websites. In 2007, Drupal got a boost with the launch of Acquia as a commercial entity to bring the technology to enterprises. Acquia was acquired in 2019 for $1 billion by Vista Equity Partners.

Acquia today positions itself as a digital experience vendor, based on open-source Drupal technology, providing a platform that enables organizations to build, manage and deliver content.

“We’ve been focused on what we call ambitious websites,” Dries Buytaert, Drupal founder and CTO of Acquia, told VentureBeat. “At the low end of the market, you have technologies like Wix, Squarespace and even WordPress, and we don’t really compete with them, to be honest, as Drupal over the years has continued its evolution toward more enterprise use cases, typically websites that have more complexity.”

To help further enable its ambitions, the open-source Drupal 10.0 release became generally available on Dec. 14, marking the latest evolution of the CMS technology. While Acquia is one of the leading contributors to Drupal, it’s far from the only one. The new release integrates more than 4,000 incremental improvements that were contributed by over 2,000 individuals working at 600 different companies.

The evolution of enterprise content management

The biggest trend that has transformed enterprise content management over the last decade has been the emergence of low-code/no-code technology.

Modern content management technology provides users with a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) drag-and-drop interface. Buytaert said that Drupal today is all about enabling people and organizations to create digital experiences and web content without having to rely on technical expertise. 

To be sure, there is technical complexity under the hood. 

There are any number of different use cases for an enterprise CMS, ranging from basic information, news, learning management systems (LMSs), ecommerce and health and government services. To enable those different use cases, there is a need for modularity. It’s an approach that Buytaert referred to as the composable web, where different components are pulled together to build the right experience for a particular use case. Drupal has a vibrant community with more than 45,000 different modules that organizations can use to compose the experience they need.

There are also many different ways of actually building a website. The traditional approach is to have a CMS that is used for a dynamic website. In recent years, the concept of a headless CMS has emerged, which is a decoupling of managing the content from the front end that displays the content. Headless CMSs have also been commonly associated with Jamstack deployments, which rely heavily on JavaScript to enable web content delivery.

Overall, Buytaert said that he sees more fragmentation in the CMS space than ever before, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The omnichannel nature of where the world is going is such that we have to publish content, not just the websites, but to any digital channel including mobile, digital kiosks and chatbots.” Buytaert said.

Drupal 10 looks to enable a more approachable CMS

Among the improvements in the Drupal 10 release is a new editing experience for content. The new CKEditor 5 provides a rich text editor framework that is designed to make it easier for users to work with text.

Drupal 10 integrates the new CKEditor 5, which provides a new editing interface for content. Image source: Acquia.

The new Drupal release also benefits from the open-source Symfony 6 framework for the open-source PHP language, enabling improved resilience and performance. For front-end web development, Drupal 10 integrates a theme starter kit to help organizations quickly build a customized layout. 

“We put a lot of effort into making Drupal more approachable and accessible for ambitious site builders,” Buytaert said.

The recipe for what’s next

There are a few capabilities currently in development in the open-source Drupal community that didn’t quite make it into the 10.0 release, but are likely to show up in an incremental update.

One such capability is a feature known as recipes. The basic idea with recipes is to make it easier for organizations to compose bespoke Drupal deployments that integrate a customized set of modules and configurations.

Buytaert explained that a recipe is a combination of code and configuration in a YAML markup file. The goal is to enable organizations to have a set of recipes for CMS deployments they like, and then be able to use the same approach for as many other sites as they need. For example, a university could build out its own customized Drupal deployment, define it as a recipe and then enable different departments to reuse the recipe for their own use cases. The new recipes functionality is expected sometime in 2023.

The overarching goal for Drupal overall is to help enable an open web, where organizations and individuals can build the content they want to see and use.

“The focus of Drupal 10 is on bringing the open web to many more people, with better accessibility in terms of how we make it more approachable to everyone,” he said.

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