Drupal gets a feature request out of the blue

But not really out of the blue

Word is that Drupal is getting a frontend framework. From the multiple options it seems EmberJS is currently a little ahead of Angular and React. As said in Dries original post as well as in the drupal core issue created, nothing is final and everyone interested is asked to check that the set of library in the comparison is sufficient and more importantly that the criteria used for evaluation are relevant.

Discussing those details is not what this post is about, like others I’ve been questioning the move from Dries. Since many of us are professionals, let’s put this in a professional setting and pretend that Dries is just another client making a feature request seemingly out of the blue. To him the problem and solution is clear — obvious even — and it is the only way to achieve his vision. Let’s check.

Client side (pun intended)

Drupal’s user interfaces for content modeling (Field UI), layout management (Panels), and block management would benefit from no page refreshes, instant previews, and interface previews. These traits could also enrich the experience of site visitors; Drupal’s commenting functionality could similarly gain from these characteristics and resemble an experience more like the commenting experience found in Facebook.

Should we decouple Drupal with a client-side framework?.

Pretty weak set of reasons. What is described later in the post can be achieved though regular Ajax and some resonable amount of javascript. Hardly a need for a frontend framework… until you remember what else Dries has been writing about.

As the Drupal community, we need to stop thinking of Drupal as a “content management platform” and start looking at it as a “digital experience platform” used to create ideal visitor experiences.

From content management to digital experience management.

Ideal as in enriched as in, for example, Acquia Lift. Don’t get your pitchforks just now, there is no hidden agenda, just finish reading.

How serious is the client

Sometimes features can be swept under the rug and everyone will feel better in the long term. Sometimes the client does not let it go. So how serious is Dries about this? The two posts directly related to frameworks contain 3 387 words and if you include the related posts you can add 10 394 more words. A busy person doesn’t write a short story just for fun. So I’d say he is pretty serious about this, and if you read the trail of posts this is not going away.

Client needs

We know a few things about what the client is trying to address:

  1. He expects the web to be completely different in 10 years.
  2. Most sites will need personalization.
  3. Better UX is crucial.
  4. One solution fitting core and contrib.

Since there needs to be one solution, it has to be in core from the start because contrib is not disciplined enough (by design) to come up with one homogeneous solution in less than 10 years.

A little extrapolation

If you have in mind all the posts Dries has been writting on the topic for the past two years it makes sense that web components or websockets do not address the issue of rich interfaces the way a frontend framework would, also in this discussion any PHP-based solution is off-topic. It looks to me that Dries is trying to get the community as well as Drupal ready for what he believes is coming. I deeply disagree on what the future holds for the web but it doesn’t mean nothing should be done, just in case. At worst we’ll burn the new people who came to help us switch to the new framework.


All in all, I would agree that under those assumptions, a framework is a valid tool to be using. Putting my JS maintainer hat on I would suggest to jQueryUI-it. Put it in core and use it anecdotally, and hope contrib will pick it up. Also we should chose the framework with the strongest opinion on how to do things. Because Drupal back-end is rather strongly opinionated about what the PHP should look like. It makes sense the JS should be the same.

On Acquia bashing

I’ve spent more than 2 years as an Acquia consultant, working closely with the Office of the CTO on several big D8 improvements so I’ve seen how the community is treated from the inside and I’ve only seen good will towards it. Sometimes things are downplayed, not out of malice, but out of concern for the issue at hand. Which is why I think Dries didn’t explicitly mentioned Acquia Lift — but still hinted to it — to not get dragged in an argument about Acquia’s influence. There is nothing wrong with that since compared to the fears expressed during D8 cycle, we’re far from the worst scenario possible.

On that topic, when people say that Acquia, big companies or startups are influencing Drupal I think they’re taking a shortcut. It’s more like Acquia clients are influencing Dries, and in turn he steers Drupal to what he thinks is right. But don’t forget that between clients and Drupal there is a filter, it’s Dries. So far I think we can agree he’s been pretty great at Dictatoring Drupal. So let’s at least give him the benefit of the doubt.

Put your pitchforks back and grab some paint, there is a bikeshed to paint.