The Best of the Drupal 8 Beta

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Just last week, the Drupal community reached a major milestone with the first beta release of Drupal 8.

This is a critical step forward for anyone who interacts with Drupal because of the huge amount of potential in what many see as one of the biggest changes the platform has ever seen.

These changes affect Drupal at every level, from core components that handle some of Drupal’s lowest level functionality to how content can be distributed, managed and maintained. We’ve chosen what we think are some of the most exciting features that will make Drupal an even more powerful asset for any business.

Device Agnostic to the Core.

In an age where you can never predict how, where and on what type of device users will interact with your site, a mobile-first, future-friendly approach is key. With Drupal 8, all of the core themes, including the administration panel, have been completely revamped to be fully responsive. These layouts will make navigating the backend of any site a breeze on anything from an iPhone to a Samsung Galaxy to an Xbox One.

This might come in handy next time you’re at happy hour showing off that new landing page the marketing team just pushed live, and your boss finds a typo on the page. Rather than mumbling something about making a note to fix it first thing tomorrow, nonchalantly login to your fully responsive admin interface on your phone, make the copy change and put your phone back in your pocket because you’ll need an extra hand to hold the beer that will be coming your way.

An Authoring Experience Tailored to Authors.

With in-place editing and an integrated WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor, content authors can focus on what they really care about. Allowing site admins to interact with content in its native environment takes the fuss out of making small edits and makes it easier to create easy-to-understand permissions silos.

Dries himself lead the creation of a Drupal distribution called Spark to demonstrate the power of this type of authoring experience. We highly recommend spinning up a quick test environment at simplytest.me to truly understand the power of this project and the potential it has to completely change how sites are administered.

Configuration and Code. Together at Last.

A challenge unique to developing on a CMS like Drupal is maintaining and deploying site updates that require both code and configuration (point and click in the Drupal UI) changes. Just about every marketing manager has wanted to push a new landing page live that day, only to find out it’s a six hour task.

Drupal 8’s Configuration Management Initiative, or CMI for short, seeks to give us a way to make configuration changes once and put them in code, making it easy to standardize and automate deployment across environments. For marketing folks, this means less botched deployments and hours of troubleshooting down the drain because that one little box was left unchecked.

Distribute Your Content, On Your Terms.

Do everything from build mobile apps that use Drupal as a content management framework to expose content via JSON and XML with built-in web services. This makes Drupal even more versatile and a perfect candidate to truly be a hub of marketing efforts. While this isn’t necessarily new to Drupal (check out the fantastic Services module for Drupal 7), it is new to Drupal core and is a great representation of how Drupal is truly adapting to become much more than just a tool to power your website.

The Talent Pool Just Got Bigger.

Drupal has often been referred to as an island in the PHP community due to its reliance on programming ‘The Drupal Way.’ Drupal 8 embraces industry standards and features drastically overhauled object-oriented code and incorporates components from the Symfony framework. This means it will be easier for Drupal developers to interact with PHP code outside of the community and make Drupal a more attractive choice for PHP developers who may not have any specific Drupal experience.

That all sounds great, when can I use it?

In web and software development, the term ‘beta’ can mean anything from ‘use with caution, not for production’ to ‘this product is an MVP, don’t blame us for the bugs.’ In the case of Drupal 8, a beta release is an important landmark because both the data model and critical APIs are considered stable. Without getting into the technical details, a stable data model and critical APIs are vital to the forward momentum of the Drupal 8 project because these are what testers and module maintainers most need to continue making progress with finding and resolving critical bugs and porting modules to the new version. With that disclaimer out of the way, we’re hoping to be building sites on a fully-functional Drupal 8 by summer of 2015.

Should I upgrade?

Currently, the Drupal community supports two major release channels, meaning that when Drupal 8 is released, Drupal 6 will no longer be supported or receive security updates. If you’re running a website on Drupal 6, it’s not a bad time to start planning what a migration might look like for you. However, Drupal 7 will continue to be supported by the community until Drupal 9 is released. On top of that, a good bit of the functionality from Drupal 8 has been backported to Drupal 7 (in the form of contributed modules), so this probably isn’t a migration Drupal 7 users need to jump on right away.

With no official release date, it’s tough to say precisely when a stable release will be out and ready to run a full-blown production site. As of right now, Drupal 8 isn’t quite ready for primetime, but the beta release has created a lot of excitement in the Drupal community and the more people that pitch in, the sooner we’ll have a usable release.