What’s New in Drupal 7?

By Craig Buckler
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Drupal 7 has been released today following three years of intensive development. Hundreds of developers have contributed to making Drupal easier and more powerful than ever.

Drupal is an open source Content Management System written in PHP. Yes, another one. However, Drupal was one of the first good CMSs and it became a popular blogging and social community platform following its launch in 2001. Many popular sites use it today including The White House, The Economist, The New York Observer, HowToDoThings.com and Linux Journal.

Drupal vs. WordPress

I’m sure many of you are thinking “I use WordPress and I’m very happy with it, thanks.” Many Drupal fans would argue that WordPress is underpowered, less scalable, and lacking in security and flexibility. WordPress fans may consider Drupal to be overly complex, more difficult to maintain and less user friendly.

Looking at installations alone, Drupal has undoubtedly been overshadowed by WordPress. However, Drupal 7 has addressed many of the criticisms and the team has worked hard to simplify the user experience. Of course, WordPress has also been updated and several Drupal-like features were introduced in version 3.

Ultimately, they’re both great systems and their feature sets are converging. Why not try both and pick the best one for the task at hand?

Drupal 7 New Features

Let’s take a look under the hood…

Easier installation
The installation process has been simplified. Drupal supports most web servers (Apache is recommended), PHP 5.2.4+, and most databases (MySQL 5.0.15+ is recommended).

Improved administration panels
The administrative interface has been overhauled to make it slicker and simpler. A new configurable shortcut bar provides quick access to the most important tasks:

Drupal 7 administration screen

More flexible
Drupal 7 allows you to define your own content structure and add custom fields to pages, users, comments and other types of content. More than 800 modules are known to be compatible with the new version.

Speed and scalability
Drupal is fast and can handle huge amounts of traffic with better caching and improved JavaScript and CSS optimization.

Accessibility is better and Drupal now offers semantic web support with RDFa.

It’s still open source
Drupal remains a capable CMS which can be downloaded, adapted and used by anyone for free.

The Drupal 7 tour video provides more information…

January 7 is Drupal 7 Day!

The release of Drupal 7 will be celebrated around the globe on January 7, 2011. Head over to drupal7releaseparty.org and join the festivities (or is it too early in the year for more celebrations?!)

You can also monitor a stream of events on Twitter’s #d7rp and #d7rp_yourcity hashtags. Drunken photos are also likely to appear on the d7rp Flickr group.

Have you used Drupal 7? Do you like it? Is it an improvement? Do you prefer another CMS? Will you be doing anything to celebrate on January 7? Comments welcome…

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  • Anonymous

    I love drupal. I am dreading the udpate. This is my first open source system and I’m a bit terrified of screwing up or breaking my site.

    • kaf

      You don’t have to update if you don’t want to.

      I’m not too familiar with drupal but I wouldn’t be updating a live site with a major cms release without backing up files and db first. That as a minimum.

      If you are doing some major work on the site and want to use the new version then why not create a duplicate site and migrate over when you are done?

    • Mark Guadalupe

      Finally a Drupal version with a touch of UX/IxD! And a day in the life in Drupal would never be the same again ;) for Designers/Developers alike.

  • Sven Berg Ryen

    Singapore Drupal Meetup ( http://www.meetup.com/drupal-SG ) is celebrating with blue cupcakes tonight :)

  • DoveSoftware

    This is great news. Will definately be checking this out.

  • Anonymous

    Is it me or is Joomla much better as a content management system than Drupal. It has a much better UI for managing the administrator’s panel. Drupal is much different in installing modules as well

    • Nah, it’s just you… ; p

      Drupal is more robust and is better at handling requests, historically out performming Joomla quite handily. There are lots for head to head test available. This performance test by Dries Bytaert is obviously written with a Drupal slant but the approach is quite easy to follow and the facts speak for themselves. I’ve got a couple of copies of the release of D7 running and I have a feeling the Drupal guys may have actually improved the performance over D6. It just feels snappy and the new admin menu is really good.

      Joomla users state that it is easier to manage than Drupal and Drupal fans say it’s easier, better, etc… I guess you’ll only know if you immerse yourself in the technology and find out for yourself.

      I’ve been using Drupal for 4 or 5 years and I really, really appreciate what it can do but I understand the criticism that it can be difficult to manage especially if it isn’t set up right. IMO, Drupal 7 changes all of that and then some.

      You should give it a spin. The install is amazingly simple!

    • Anonymously

      I am learning Drupal and after 3 years Joomla I am finding Drupal challenging. But then i discover a function or feature that Drupal out performs Joomla – and in the long run makes for an easier system to manage. For instance no longer having to log into the front end of backend as its all the same. Being able to configure modules immediately on the page and see the result. On the other hand, just adding a simple image to a Basic page required configuration. I still have not worked out how to add an image to a side bar. But I am still learning the system..

      • Yeah, I know what you mean about adding a simple image to a page being a mystery. D7 makes it slightly easier because uploading files is set up by default but you still have to install a wrapper for your wysiwyg ui and then set up a ui library.

        For D7 this is how I would approach it:

        1) Add the Drupal WYSIWYG module. It can be installed remotely just by pasting the URL of the tar archive in the admin screen and clicking install or next or whatever the button says.

        2) Download CKEditor, TinyMCE or your favorite UI and upload it to sites/all/libraries

        3) Configure the WYSIWYG module to use the UI and tell it what buttons you want to use (b, i, link, picture, etc.).

        This is what I’d do with D6 as well but I’d also have to install and configure the MCE module and allow uploading for the various roles. It’s more streamlined in D7 because uploading is available right out of the box and you can install modules via URL but in the end it’s pretty much the same functionality.

  • dmwalk

    The big three open source CMS are WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, in that order. See “2010 Comparing Open Source Content Management Systems: WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and Plone” (http://www.idealware.org/reports/2010-os-cms). Joomla now has over 6600 extensions and will release version 1.6 within days containing complete ACL management.

    A comparison to a true CMS like Joomla would be more appropriate in this article than to the blogging platform WordPress. Many people who consider WordPress a CMS have never used a true CMS like Joomla or Drupal. In our opinion, Joomla has all of the functionality of Drupal and is easier for both the end user and the developer to use.

    • wildscribe

      I totally agree with dmwalk. I work with all three CMS’s and Joomla is the easiest for content management; WordPress is best for blogs; Drupal is the most flexible, but also the most difficult to use.

      Almost all Drupal extensions are free, but there is little or no support and unless the person putting the site today has a good understanding of PHP and Drupal’s architecture, the site will take some time to develop.

      In comparison, Joomla has thousands of free and commercial extensions. A designer with limited programming skills can quickly build sites with e-commerce and forums using Joomla components and modules. Joomla also has an object oriented programming language that Drupal lacks.

      Now, I am not putting down Drupal. Drupal has a more flexible framework, but to get the most out if it, you either need to be a good programmer or hire one.

      I also want to say that WordPress is easy to use and has introduced more folks to the open source CMS concept than Joomla and Drupal. But as others have pointed out, the underlying “loop” architecture that makes WP a great blogging platform also makes it difficult to extend.

      Now I am off to try out Drupal 7!

      • Post back with your opinion on D7. I’m so well acquainted with D5/6 that when I fired D7 up the first time, my jaw dropped I was so surprised at how much more polished and well thought out it felt from install, to configuration, to content development.

        I’ll be theming and doing some module programming later this month so I’ll have a better idea about how the API has changed one way or another then.

  • Craig,
    Thanks for picking up this topic. My work is about 80% Drupal these days but I largely ignored Drupal 7 for the better part of last year because I was too busy with D6 stuff. I installed one of the betas in December and it literally blew my mind how much nicer it was for install, configuration, maintenance and just regular content creation.

    For a number of years Drupal has been the heavy hitter choice CMS which is why Whitehouse, Warner, MIT, Yahoo (corp), Disney, etc… use it but it has a reputation for being less friendly to maintain for non-techies. I totally agree with that and it’s because out of the box up to and including D6, it has required that you follow a hideous labyrinth of menus to actually do anything other than add or update text.

    As a Drupal developer, my first task has always been to reconfigure a fresh install so that it has a an easy to maintain user interface. It’s not difficult if you know what you’re doing but it had to be done each and every time. The new version is so much nicer. Admin is managed by a customizable admin menu and everything is just that much easier to get at; right out of the box!

    On top of those niceties, the Drupal guys IMO made three massive improvements for configuring and maintaining Drupal sites:

    1) Remote installation of modules. You copy the remote or local location of the tar’d module and Drupal copies it onto the site, unpacks it and installs it.

    2) Remote installation of themes. Just like the above, you put in the location of the theme package and Drupal loads it and installs it.

    3) One (or two) button updating of outdated modules. You look at your available updates report and you see a few modules are out of date or have security updates. Click the update button and your website will download and install the updates. How cool is that! They still have to do that for the Core one of these days but I guess they have to leave something to aim for in D8

    This is going to be a great year for Drupal : )

  • I’m thinking “I use Drupal and I’m very happy with it, thanks.” :D

  • gtipete

    Ive been working with joomla for a few months now, and have had difficulty coming round to their way of thinking. Many people say that joomla is easier to develop for, but i have found it to be a maze of nonsensical convention which make life more difficult, not more simple for the developer. Furthermore Joomla claims to use an MVC architecture, but takes this way too far, splitting the view logic across two files… is there any need? there are probably good reasons for these choices, but ive yet to find them.

    In response to the user who said that websites can be built in joomla by adding in some components, plugins and modules your right. However ive found that the majority of modules that i have worked with (even the commercial ones) have been poorly written, and even sometimes insecure. Furthermore whereas Drupal modules work together to augment and extend each others features, it is hard to make joomla components do the same, meaning that you’re constantly having to re-invent the wheel.

    More recently ive started doing some Drupal work, and i have to say that allthough it is difficult to get started, there are some excellent resources for budding developers, like the example module http://drupal.org/project/examples. Drupal 7 also makes it easier for developers, basically abstracting all the database and forms work, meaning that you can just get down to writing your applications functionality.

    Anyway, back to the point of the post, i thought that there would be a more indepth analysis of the new fields, batch and entity API’s which have been introduced in drupal 7 rather than a quick skim over whats on the surface and then some fluff about the release parties.

  • Fiona

    I tried to install and use Drupal once and it was really difficult. In the end I gave up and have used WordPress ever since. I love WordPress but I’m really glad that the usability aspects of Drupal has been addressed because now there is greater choice for people like me.

  • Syed Balkhi

    WordPress RULES!!!

    Drupal is no match.

  • Kharmer

    Will definately give Drupal 7 a test drive some time soon. Never quite managed to adopt earlier versions.

    I’m a hardcore Joomla dev and started out with Mambo around 9 years ago. The reason I stuck with Joomla was because the end user (the client) typically found it easier to use from an updating point of view.

    Now Joomla 1.6 has just been released (around 24 hours ago from posting this) I’ll have to sit down and give them a thorough comparison.

    If I feel I can build a custom application in Drupal 7 as quickly as I can in Joomla 1.5/1.6 and the admin screen has been improved, then I might just use it for my next project – just to put it to the test. ;o)

  • user_drupal

    I have installed drupal 7.
    I can make a very simple website, but that’s all.
    I have installed a lot of modules, but I cannot make it work – seems like the modules thing (other than the core modules) has not been upgraded for drupal 7.
    Which means, as I see it, that drupal 7 is not ready yet?
    Otherwise it looked good to me – I am a drupal newbie.

    • Well you have a couple of options… You can build your site in D6 and wait for D7 modules to mature, or you can build the site in D7, use the dev, alpha & beta modules and do the simple one button updates as the modules mature.

      We’re building three D7 websites currently and although 90% of the modules are dev or alpha/beta, the only module I’ve found that isn’t up to snuff is the calendar view module and the FAQ. The others I’m using are doing exactly what they need to do and as I’ve seen with Drupal 6 projects some modules will forever stay in a dev or beta state for years while still doing exactly what we need it to do.

      Good luck with your projects!

  • rizCigess

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  • KJ

    I am brand new to Drupal and decided that now might be a good time to learn it since they just released V7. I should also say that I have built sites with WordPress. That being said, I really gave Drupal a shot but my feeling is that it’s still not very user-friendly, esp. for newbs to their system. I took online tutorials on Lynda.com, read as much as I could but at the end of the day, I got confused. Why is it so complicated? Many modules have no instructions or require multiple other modules to work and then require patches to fix, etc? I mean, can’t they simplify that a bit? I was trying to make E-Commerce work, which broke a million times and the theming process seemed overly complicated. I realized pretty quickly that it was going to take me way longer to get up and running so I’m switching back to WordPress. Maybe I can revisit Drupal later.

    • Well, Drupal right out of the box is anything or nothing. It’s up to the developer to figure out what they want it to be. I’ve found it to be bar-none the best platform for developing really complex websites but I also use it for really simple sites because I (after lots of learning) know the tricks to make it work.

      Modules are one of the things that make Drupal so powerful but they also make it tricky to master because as you point out, there are so many modules to choose from and depending on what you’re doing, you need to configure the modules.

      If you’re serious (and you really can’t take Drupal development lightly), you should probably invest in a book or two to help you form some development habits for choosing and configuring modules to accomplish common tasks like rich text editing, creating dynamic content types, listing (indexing) blogs, doing image galleries, eCommerce, etc…

      I would recommend Using Drupal (2nd Edition) to get you started http://oreilly.com/catalog/0636920010890

  • justintime

    I respected Drupal but it never won my heart over and after using it from v5-6 I gave up on it.
    Here are some points that I could not use it for avg. 4-5 page site with contact form and some workflow.(member based gallery, article/blog submitting)

    – maintenance
    it will taker countless hrs if not a team of developers to maintain a website and security wholes do get plugged but if you have 20 installs it gets old really quick.
    – hardware
    sooner or later it will choke a shared host and even a dedicated server
    – pain to use or explain to non-tech users
    – pain to skin/theme unless you have php chops and willing to soup it up with php/html/css mess (whatever happened to separation of content and design?)
    – performance
    – community of ‘RTFM’ angry old developers bitter at the fact that there are simply users out there looking to change a few things.
    – everything is a node…e v e r y t h i n g
    – taxonomy concept was horrid
    – forums module was a joke and nothing more than fancy comments in threaded form
    – CCK was a separate module but without it there really is no Drupal

    If you consider yourself a ‘designer & developer’ your design will suffer as you will be worn out developing.
    If you are content editor or blogger…just use WP and accept its limitation.

    Drupal is powerful but resource hungry app that simply did not save time and if you are that big of developer then might as well pick up an MVC framework and do it your way.

  • I’m all about the Joomla! I have thought about going to Drupal a number of times – I think Joomla! was based upon it at one time or another (??? citation needed ???). Having read some of the people on here complaining about it and having been offered books to read and resources to discover, I think I’ll stick with my Joomla! I’ve learned how to do everything I need now so I’m happy with what I can achieve, and there are tonnes of (easy to use) modules out there. I’ve never read a book on it and found it quite easy to learn with just the quick start guide and some forum stuff.

    Sorry guys :)