Drupal: Everything you need to know about the open source CMS

2 February 2022

The Drupal CMS is very popular with the many large organisations around the world that use it. With over 15 years of experience, our Drupal specialists create powerful and diverse custom digital experiences. But what exactly is Drupal and what can you use it for? Read everything you need to know about Drupal here.

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The many advantages of Drupal

The power of the community

Drupal is an open source CMS. This means that Drupal is free to use and that anyone can freely amend and optimise parts of the CMS. Open source software is often part of an actively engaged community. With over 100,000 (!) members, Drupal has one of the largest open source communities in the world. These developers, designers, trainers, strategists, coordinators, editors, and sponsors ensure that Drupal is one of the world’s most progressive CMS. With 50,000 contributions to the CMS, developers are free to use everything that the community has created and can also share their own code. This is how the community makes Drupal stronger every day.

Nothing is too crazy for Drupal

Thanks to the open source construction and the thousands of modules that are available, Drupal is a versatile platform. Drupal is also a powerful performer when it comes to making connections with other systems. Drupal’s API focus also adds to the versatility of the platform. It is easy to create links that separate the content from the form and presentation layer.

This means that valuable content can be displayed quickly and easily on non-website based platforms. Naturally that’s useful for organisations with large enterprise websites or multi-site brand platforms. It's the many years of accumulated Drupal experience that helps us to make the platform stronger, and to link, optimise and integrate with other solutions.

With Drupal you are well protected

Drupal has a long held reputation for the security of its users, both their organisations and their end users. Large organisations such as the national government, NASA and Tesla depend on it. Thanks to a permanent security team that focuses exclusively on the CMS, Drupal offers a secure application framework. Also thanks to extra secure passwords, rigorously assessed modules and the rapid rollout of security updates, you can run your digital platform with total peace of mind.

Drupal moves with you

Thanks to the flexible deployability of Drupal in various hosting solutions - from traditional data centre to cloud hosted and containerised with Kubernetes - Drupal is unmissable in situations where scalability and performance are key. Drupal and the right hosting architecture help you ensure that your website is always accessible to your target audience. It doesn’t matter whether you are dealing with a consistent or a fluctuating peak load. The excellent scalability of Drupal and the possibility to link it with numerous databases and optimisation technologies means that large amounts of content on your platform are no problem and will not impact the speed and functionalities of your Drupal platform.

Traditional or Headless CMS with Drupal

Using Drupal means you can realise both a traditional and a headless platform.

The biggest difference

With traditional CMS, the front and back of a website are intertwined, and the CMS dictates the appearance and design of the front-end of the website. In a traditional CMS situation, opening up the content to, for example, wearable or native apps is only possible if the CMS also offers an API, and if the CMS keeps the content and styling separate. With a headless CMS, the CMS no longer dictates the styling or design, it merely unlocks the content. In a headless setup you manage all your content in one separate system and then load it everywhere at the same time (by means of API links).

Drupal as a traditional CMS

A traditional CMS consists of a front-end and a back-end. In the back-end you create new content or amend existing content. This is a secure area that only the administrator has access to. This content is displayed on the front-end by means of a theme or template. This is the visible part that you as a visitor to the website see and use.

In a traditional CMS, the back-end and front-end are seamlessly connected and dependent on each other. When you make an adjustment in the back-end, the front-end code changes immediately. The advantage of this is that with your CMS you can manage not only the content, but to some extent also the design of your website (or of several websites if there is a multisite setup). However, the disadvantage is that this interdependence can also limit the flexibility of design and access to other media.

Advantages of a traditional Drupal Platform
  • For simple websites it is best to use a traditional CMS because the extra options of a headless CMS are unnecessary

  • An intuitive editorial experience thanks to the integration between back-end and front-end

  • Potential to open up content to other media and apps remains, thanks to the built-in Drupal API

  • For a platform that anticipates a lot of user input, a Traditional CMS is the right choice.

Drupal as headless CMS

Drupal headless is a good solution for companies with an omnichannel approach. A traditional CMS is fully integrated into the front-end of the website. As soon as you make changes in the CMS, the code of the site is immediately adapted and the changes are visible to visitors. The back-end and front-end are seamlessly intertwined.

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With headless CMS, things work differently. You manage and publish all your content from a central environment. The presentation layer is detached from the CMS and the content is managed in a separate environment. This separate environment is connected to the presentation layer via an API link. For example, the content is displayed in the back-end, front-end-specifically. This way you can simultaneously publish information on a website, smartphone app, and smartwatch app. Each front-end processes the information individually so that the content is immediately optimised everywhere.

More advantages of headless Drupal CMS

For simple websites, a traditional CMS is sufficient. But for companies that are looking for more flexibility, scalability and freedom, headless Drupal CMS adds value. This is especially true for a streamlined omnichannel strategy.

Along with the easy management of multiple front-end environments, there are more advantages of headless:

  • Fast and strong visual websites – If you use a lot of videos and animations, the user experience should have no limits. A lot of attention for the front-end in combination with headless CMS is the right solution

  • Flexibility – with headless CMS you can respond quickly to new developments. If you grow quickly, you can easily grow with headless CMS so that you can consistently serve your target group well.

  • Safe for sensitive data – The content can only be retrieved via the API. It is often not possible to write back data. This makes it easier to secure the entire system.

Can't decide between traditional or headless CMS? With Drupal it’s possible to use a combination that allows you to unlock traditional CMS content through an API for other channels such as an app or self-service portal.

Headless Drupal as DXP

Drupal’s versatility is also reflected in the fact that it can be used as a digital experience platform (DXP). DXP is a technology that has been gaining more and more fame since 2018. Drupal's DXP is one of the forerunners when it comes to this new technology. But what is a DXP?

A DXP is a central platform that enables you to reach the target group via a large number of touch points and where you can increasingly focus on the target group’s 'experience' - i.e. the content you offer and their interaction with it, the medium and the target group’s situation. Think of specifically tailored content and interaction options, with a distinction between websites, mobile apps, portals and much more. The great thing about DXP is that everything comes from one source. As a result, you are no longer dependent on the often suboptimal cooperation of multiple, separate systems. Drupal, with headless CMS at its core, functions excellently as DXP thanks to its architecture and operation with APIs.

Make your Drupal experience unique for everyone

Consumers are increasingly looking for perso. Today, if you address users with content that is irrelevant to them, you will quickly lose them. Major players such as Amazon, Spotify and Netflix are already fully committed to providing personalised experiences. This might be buying advice, personalised playlists and viewing tips. It may seem like it, but this personalised approach is certainly not only for the chosen few among us. By managing all content from a central system, you can provide a seamless customer experience by connecting multiple touchpoints. This makes it easy for the consumer to create a transmedia journey designed just for them.

How about a bigger digital presence?

Gone are the days when a website was enough for a proper, digital presence. Our experts happily assist in bringing about a digital ecosystem - optimized and on-brand - fit to serve your business goals.

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The versions of Drupal

Software like Drupal is constantly evolving. The latest version of Drupal is Drupal 9, but Drupal 10 is waiting in the wings ready for release in 2022. When choosing a version of Drupal it is important to use a version that is still being updated. This guarantees the quality and security of your platform. As experienced Drupal specialists, we therefore recommend that you pay close attention to this.

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Generally Drupal ensures that it always supports two versions. That has now changed for the first time. Due to the pandemic, it has been decided to extend support for Drupal 7 until November 2023. That means that when Drupal 10 is released, Drupal 7, 9, and 10 will be actively supported. The reason for extending support for Drupal 7 is due to the complexity involved in upgrading from this version. Due to the lack of so-called 'point' releases (such as from 9.0 to 9.1), upgrades require a lot of work and often demand a complete platform rebuild. Due to the introduction of Drupal 8 'point' releases, a longer support phase for this eighth version is unnecessary because the upgrade from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 is much less demanding than from Drupal 7. Drupal 8 has not been actively supported since November 2021.

Although Drupal 7 will be supported for some time to come, it is unwise to start new projects with this seventh iteration of the open source CMS and it's better to use Drupal 9.

Until the release of Drupal 10, Drupal 9 is the best version to start with. This version of Drupal does everything the CMS is known for and will be supported for quite some time to come. It's worth noting that the transition from Drupal 9 to Drupal 10 will be relatively uncomplicated.

Do you have any questions about Drupal and the impact it can have on your business? We would love to guide you and your organisation through the world of digital possibilities. At iO we have experts in digital technology, strategy, communication, marketing and branding. Call us or visit one of the iO campuses.

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Tibor Uittenbogaard
About the author
Tibor Uittenbogaard
Digital Consultant - iO

A true end-to-end evangelist, Tibor loves guiding initially overwhelmed prospects towards salvation using iO’s expert offering. In fact, the more challenging the initial request, the better. His way of digital matchmaking consists of both asking questions and challenging answers – being a sparring partner on the offensive.

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