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DrupalCon Lille - How Goes the Modernization of Drupal?

By Reuben Walker, 8 November, 2023
Driesnote keynote stage with speaker and slide on larger screen at DrupalCon Lille.

This article will share my impressions (and photos) from DrupalCon Lille. It was one of the most enjoyable conference experiences I have been blessed with attending. Being in France doesn't hurt and the venue was conveniently located near the train station and my hotel. Plus it was informative and even entertaining at times.

We'll explore the sessions I attended and what their content might mean for the future of Drupal. As always my opinions will be in bold.

But first, let's set the scene.

The Drupal Association has a short overview video with scenes from the conference if you are interested.

It's on YouTube (which sucks), it auto-plays (which super sucks), and it might make you dizzy. So, you've been warned.

They also have a long video of the keynote sessions.

The Driesnote will be most relevant to developers.

It was very creative. And hence enjoyable. I can only pray that Drupal reaches the goals set out at the end of it.

Ok, let's explore the sessions I attended and got something out of. I will let the speakers speak for themselves when describing their session. Thus the official descriptions below.

Then I will comment on what stood out to me. Some will be more extensive and some won't. It depends on what I got from the individual session.

Looking back, it seems I mainly choose sessions covering the modernization of Drupal. Those making it simpler, easier to use, and frankly better.

(November 27, 2023) Most of the DrupalCon Lille presentations are now on YouTube if you want to watch them after reading this article -> Drupal Association's DrupalCon Lille Presentations. They are also set to auto-play.

If there is a recording for the sessions I discuss below I will provide a watch link.

Frontend

Gutenberg presentation at DrupalCon Lille

Shaping the most easy to use enterprise CMS through Drupal Gutenberg (sponsored by Frontkom)

The official description was:

We start off with a demo session of how we’re using Gutenberg today, and some of the great selling points you typically miss when simply trying it out on your own.

Divided into 3 groups/topics

Editors will experience hands-on the power of the Gutenberg editing capabilities and developers will discover the many ways to extend Gutenberg editor.

Group 1: Are you interested in seeing how the editorial experience can be improved for your organization or your clients? Or are you interested in offering this to your clients, but are unsure if the technological investment will be worth it for your team or company? We have workshop content for you either way!

Group 2: Developing for Gutenberg
We do hands-on work developing your own Gutenberg blocks.

Group 3: Migrating into Gutenberg
Migrating content into Gutenberg formats, or migrating organizations into the Gutenberg directions are two very different things, but are usually both very relevant topics that you might worry about, considering Gutenberg for your client or for your own organization. We cover both in this session.

Discussion for all
• Where do you want Gutenberg to go?
• What is blocking you from using Gutenberg in your organization

Closing session end game: Workshops
Optional and on the house.

Key takeaways from this workshop:

• What is Drupal Gutenberg and how can it benefit your organization?
• How do you work with Gutenberg as an editor or site builder?
• How do you customize Drupal Gutenberg and deliver tailored solutions

My thoughts:

Unfortunately, the room did not have surfaces with the seating so no one could code/edit along as the speakers intended.

So, "groups 1 - 3" became demonstrations from one of the speakers. Then there was an extended question and answer session.

Being very familiar with Gutenberg due to my experience with client's WordPress sites, this was not a disaster for me. I was even able to answer a few questions.

The most interesting point the speakers made was this: while Drupal is trying to bring things like the Gutenberg editor to the frontend, it will take them years to do it.

So, why wait? Just use Gutenberg.

Indeed.

I agree and have been using it on all my Drupal sites. The more Drupal uses 3rd-party opensource solutions (like Symfony in core) the better.

The Gutenberg project was also a Pitch-burgh winner and has the funding for Frontkom to move this closer to the WordPress editor experience. Which would be awesome.

Improving Layout Builder user experience (sponsored by Evolving Web)

The official description was:

When using Layout Builder the goal is to empower the users to actually own their website and create amazing content with a smooth experience. Though, there are certain issues users face, for example: by default the users have way too many options for adding elements into layout builder, which makes it difficult and confusing for them, also they can’t see how a component looks like until they have filled up the form, the Save button is not placed in the most intuitive place, and so on. So just using what is in core is not enough most of the times and there are big needs to customize it.

In this workshop we will be making an advanced use of Layout Builder, we’ll go through some modules involved in making Layout Builder a more pleasant experience for content editors, we’ll see how they can be configured to make the most out of it and we’ll learn how to extend it using plugins.

Key takeaways:
• Understand the main challenges of working with Layout Builder and different ways of improving it
• Use contributed modules to improve layout builder and extend it through configuration
• Create plugins for providing new types of sections to layout builder

My thoughts:

The Layout Builder is one of Drupal's best efforts. This was a helpful session that delivered what it promised. Going through the modules that improve layout builder's functionality stood out. There are several I will try out for my sites.

Some of the modules:

If you use the wonderful Gin admin theme, the last module is for you.

DrupalCon Lille Layout Builder session wideshot

Layout builder ecosystem Vol.2

The official description was:

This is a sequel of the presentation that I did 3 years ago at DrupalCon Amsterdam - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQw7pZMzdDM.

Three years later Layout builder has become a main building block for many Drupal websites.

The ecosystem around Layout builder has more than 90 modules now. What hasn't changed is that still many of us wonder what is the best module to use.

During my session I'm going to make a review of my top favorite Layout builder related contributed modules. I will talk about their pros and cons and their possible roadmap.

I will also present different scenarios from the real live how and where you can use these modules.

My thoughts:

I caught the second half of this session as some session times overlapped during the conference. It was very similar to the improving layout builder session.

Watch.

DrupalCon Lille exhibit hall

Single Directory Components in Core

The official description was:

Twig was introduced into Drupal core over 10 years ago. Since then, improvements to Drupal’s front-end API have been minimal. Meanwhile, other front-end ecosystems have implemented a superior developer experience including hot-reloading, tooling for automation, component libraries, shared component repositories, and more.

Drupal’s front-end has some catching-up to do, and we believe Single Directory Components (SDC) is the answer! SDC lets the developer add all of a component’s assets into one directory (e.g. template, CSS, JavaScript, and metadata). This component can then be automatically used by display modes or called upon from another template.

In this fun-filled and exciting presentation, I will answer questions such as:

  • What problem are we fixing?
  • How do SDC work? Will we have slots, props, & all the buzz words?
  • How can it be integrated with systems like Storybook, Fractal, etc.?
  • How can contrib modules and themes extend this? How can you use it in your projects?
  • How does this differ from contrib solutions such as SFC, UI Patterns, Emulsify, Compony, and others?
  • What is the future of SDC in core? Is it done yet?

To get the most out of this session, you should be familiar with Drupal’s current paradigm of theming, and have shown your puzzled face, or cursed, at it more than once.

My Thoughts:

This was given by my Drupal buddy, Mike Herchel, who is also leaving the Drupal Board. He has done fantastic things for the frontend of Drupal. And will hopefully, continue to do so.

There were some technical problems with playing demonstration videos. But he was able to adapt and make his points. Single Directory Components are fantastic for Drupal's frontend.

This improvement is coming soon. Fingers crossed.

Watch.

Speaker and slide from StarterKits presentation at DrupalCon Lille

One Theme To Rule Them All: Using StarterKits to accelerate theme development and reduce technical debt

The official description was:

Drupal added a new StarterKit Theme Generator Tool as an experimental feature in Drupal 9.3, and promoted it to "stable" in 10.0. While the tool hasn't received much attention, it will revolutionize the way agencies and product teams create themes for years to come!

This session will cover:

  • What the StarterKit tool does out of the box
  • How to make your own StarterKit theme
  • How Olivero implements StarterKit
  • How this tool can accelerate theme development
  • How it can help with theme maintenance

To get the most out of this session, attendees should have basic knowledge of Drupal theme creation and object-oriented PHP.

My Thoughts:

Andy is a Drupal acquaintance of mind and delivered what he promised. This effort will be huge for Drupal if it can get across the line into core.

A disappointing note is that this fantastic functionality seems to be stuck in the experimental stage and not making much progress this year.

Watch.

Panel and slide from DrupalCon Lille Auto Updates session

Backend

What's Next for Drupal Autoupdates

The official description was:

Exciting progress is being made in finishing a contribute module version of automatic updates for Drupal 10 that is very likely to move into Drupal core and be available for everyone soon.

Come and learn about the promises and limitation of automatic updates, the extensive work across PHP communities to develop a PHP TUF library and to create a generic composer stager library for being a new version of your site. We'll also discuss the security models.

We hope you will come away with the big picture for what's next as being exciting by some of the important technical pieces.

My Thoughts:

If you follow me, you know I have a big problem with the clusterfuckery that is updating Drupal. What's absolutely unbelievable, is that Drupal has been working on this for seven (7) fucking years.

Granted, they are doing something very complicated that will involve Composer, dependency management, and will benefit the entire PHP ecosystem, but goddamn.

The presenters did a good job of explaining what's involved with it and why it's taking so damn long.

At least it will replace Drush with Symfony console. And it will use TUF update tech.

Supposedly, it's coming next year with 10.3 in June. I will believe it when I see it.

Watch.

Speaker and sfrom Project Browser presentation

Project Browser Initiative: Where We're At and How You Can Help

The official description was:

Hear from co-initiative leads Leslie Glynn and Chris Wells about the current state of the Project Browser Strategic Initiative, what problems we are trying to solve, what remains to be accomplished to get Project Browser into Drupal core, and where you can chip in to help move the initiative forward.

My Thoughts:

Project Browser will let you preview modules in your current site. This saves development time and one of the needs for a staging site. The demo site was built with Svelte which is awesome.

I actually have confidence in this team. If you can help them with contributions, please do so.

Watch.

DrupalCon Lille Exhibiton Hall

Making Drupal a Better Out-of-the-Box Product

The official description was:

Despite the Drupal community's efforts, Drupal still has a reputation for having a steep learning curve, which can discourage new users from adopting it. In this presentation, we will discuss the steps that can be taken to improve Drupal's user experience and address this perception.

Our discussion will focus on how we could improve Drupal's user experience by addressing challenges identified through user research. We will also explore ways to enhance the process for working on user experience improvements.

After this presentation, participants should have an idea how they could utilize their expertise to contribute to improving Drupal's user experience.

My Thoughts:

If there was ever a necessary development for Drupal, this is it. Drupal did some user research and discovered that its usability sucks. The items covered in the session were similar to Dries's keynote. So, watch the Driesnote above or at least the tail end of it. Fortunately, they now know what they need to fix. Anyway, let's hope they succeed.

Watch.

Page rendering session at DrupalCon Lille

How Drupal builds your pages, D10 edition

The official description was:

Have you ever wondered what happens when a HTTP request reaches your Drupal web site? How does Drupal find the correct code to execute? Which parts of the page come from the cache and which ones are built from scratch? Which queries are executed against the database? And, why not, how much time and memory the request requires to be converted into a response?

Whether you are a contrib developer or a simple curious person the answers to those questions will let you better understand how Drupal 10 works.

The WebProfiler module can help you in discovering how all the different subsystems of Drupal 10 interact to take a request and return a response. WebProfiler collects data during the build of each page of the site and lets you easily explore the internals of Drupal 10.

Follow the journey of a request entering the stack middleware, passing the routing component and the controller through the ViewSubscriber and Twig. Discover how services provide functionalities and how events give the opportunity (or the chance) to write decoupled code.

Knowing your system will allow you to find bottlenecks, reduce resources and lower the costs.

My Thoughts:

This was a technical and very interesting session. And it had a good turnout despite being near the end of the conference. It was a solid review of the power of the webprofiler module as well.

Great stuff for us nerds.

The Drop Times has a speaker interview with the presenter, Luca Lusso: Perseverant in the Face of Failures and Bold in Experiments

And Luca has a book on Drupal that you should buy.

Watch.

DrupalCon Lille Convention Center, the Lille Grand Palais

DXP / Decoupled

From zero to a multilingual Next.js site powered by Next-drupal and Drupal Recipes with one command!

The official description was:

Setting up a decoupled project with Drupal as the backend in 2023 still involves a lot of setup and configuration. At Wunder, we have simplified this process with our “Next.js for Drupal multilingual template”. It’s freely available on GitHub ( https://github.com/wunderio/next4drupal-project/ ) and by cloning it and running just one command you get:

  • Fully decoupled Next.js website serving content stored in Drupal
  • Multilingual support in backend and frontend
  • Preview mode for content editors
  • On-demand frontend updates when content changes
  • Metatags and SEO support
  • Search indexing with Elasticsearch and frontend search interface
  • Comprehensive demo content (powered by migrate) to showcase the site
  • Decoupled Webforms
  • Drupal Paragraphs support (including nested paragraphs)
  • Frontend authentication support
  • End to end type safety

In our 45-minute workshop, we will guide developers through the process, show how the pieces fit together, and how they can use this template as the base of their future projects.

Our template takes advantage of:

  • the “Next.Js for Drupal” project by Chapter Three ( https://next-drupal.org/ )
  • Elasticsearch and ElasticUI
  • Lando as the local environment
  • The Zod typescript library for runtime type safety
  • Next-Auth for authentication
  • The upcoming Drupal Recipes initiative for automatic configuration of the backend site.

My Thoughts:

First off unfortunately, like with WordPress, NextJS seems to be winning out as the go to frontend for a decoupled Drupal website. Unfortunate, because we all know React sucks. So look for things like a next-drupal-starterkit. If StarterKits ever get into core.

Despite that, this session delivered what it promised. And Wunder does have a tidy package for use with a Drupal backend.

FYI, Chapter Three also has an implementation. I met one of the partners, Jon Faber, who was vociferous in promoting it. ;)

Watch.

Drupal and the DXP World

The official description was:

In this session, I'll discuss how combining Drupal with other tools aimed at enhancing the digital experience a company can offer improved access for websites built using Drupal. I will discuss automating marketing, personalizing content, boosting engagement, and gathering information from online access logs to help you make wise business decisions. These days, it's fairly typical for e-commerce websites to use such technologies to increase sales, but many other types of websites can also gain from the extra help. The attendees would end up with the following takeaways:

  1. Integrating Drupal websites with Marketing Clouds
  2. Using customer data platforms to gather web access data
  3. Content personalization.
  4. Currently available DXPs

I'll be going over a number of fresh use cases that will aid in understanding of the DXP ecosystem and the approach modifications required at the agency and developer levels.

My Thoughts:

This session was decent but kind of generalized and not applicable to my projects. And I had been to better presentations on the topic of composability earlier in the week. See below. ⬇️

Watch.

Speaker and slide from Composable Now

Composable Now

I also attended Amazee.io's Composable Now: The Future of the Open Web the day before DrupalCon began. That was quite interesting as it was a deep dive into Drupal as a Digital eXperience Platform.

It had these excellent presentations on using Drupal as a DXP:

  • Composable Magic: Transforming Monolithic Legacy Systems
  • Simplify Drupal Headless Architectures with Decoupled Toolbox Module
  • Better Security, Performance, and Scalability with Drupal and Next.js
  • The Composable CMO in 2024 and Beyond - Using the Open Web for Digital Acceleration and Data Privacy

If you are an enterprise user of Drupal and want to be on the cutting edge, explore Amazee's offerings. Great solutions and nice people.

Impressive building in Lille at night

Meetups 

You can't have a conference without parties. And at this DrupalCon, they were in the form of Meetups.

Drupal France meetup wideshot

Drupal France - Great aperitif in Lille - Final of the Warm Up Tour

This was a fun French-speaking party for the French Drupal, Symfony, and API Platform communities. It was the final stop in a tour of France for the DrupalCon Lille mascot.

Beer in glass

They had fantastic beer (like Lille in general) at the venue (which looked like someone's basement).

Reuben with DrupalCon mascot

My spoken French is mediocre, but I still had some great but short conversations. One person took pity on me and we had a longer one in English. Or maybe my French just hurt her ears. ;)

Drupal Belgium Meeting in narrow bar

Drupalcon Lille 2023 Belgian night - a tradition of epicness

For some reason they invited everyone at DrupalCon (1,800ish), but held it at a bar that holds about 80 people.

Despite the inevitable catastrophe of that in terms of breathing room, there were some fine conversations over a decent beer selection.

Pro tip: don't wait in line at crowded bars even if you are standing. Order from a waitperson.

Pro tip 2: it's always great to drink with an Irishman. ;)

Reuben with Drupal Drop at DrupalCon Lille

Wrapping it up

So as you have seen from my limited set of presentations, Drupal is still plodding along with its modernization efforts. Kind of like a French ox pulling a plow in a rocky field. But at least it's making slow progress and in the correct row in the right field. Let's hope Drupal eventually hooks up a tractor and makes some better headway with Dries's vision.

It's doing better with its frontend efforts, but its ease of use efforts on the backend are having a glacial go of it.

I discussed these topics with Dries over a beer at Acquia Engage Miami last year. And he knows what needs to happen. But, they have to simplify, focus on core, and move faster. If you're interested, I explore this in detail in my article, Does Drupal Have a Path to Growth? And please contribute to Drupal core.

In any event, DrupalCon Lille was a magnificent experience in a fantastic town. And the Grand Palais was a great venue. I will definitely be going back for a longer vacation some day and attend future DrupalCons. And as always, the Drupal community is epic and full of wonderful individuals.

Keep coding Drupalistas.

Author

Reuben Walker headshot

Reuben Walker

Founder
Symfony Station

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