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What’s New in Drupal: 5 Things I Learned at BADCamp 2019

This month I attended the Bay Area Drupal Camp (BADCamp), an annual gathering of Drupal enthusiasts, for a few days of knowledge sharing and networking. I came back energized by the information I learned in the sessions I attended, and I can’t wait to implement some new approaches into the work we do with Drupal on behalf of our clients. Here is a roundup of five important things I learned during my time in Berkeley, CA, with my fellow Drupal developers and strategists. BADcamp Drupal The Forum One team at BADCamp 2019: (from left to right) Stephen Lucero, Director of Engineering & Developer Operations; Sarah LeNguyen, Chief Technology Officer; Chris Wolz, CEO; Brian Tofte-Schumacher Senior Developer.

#1: Drupal 9 is on the way

Amber Himes Matz of shared some specific details about Drupal 9 in a presentation called The State of Drupal 9. The first stable release of Drupal 9 is expected to ship in June 2020, and it is promised to be the first major release of Drupal that won’t require a painful upgrade process for those who are running sites on the current version. This is largely thanks to Drupal 8’s semantic versioning and scheduled release cycle. Drupal 8 is releasing new features and functionality every six months and marking some code as “deprecated” in those releases. The release of Drupal 9 will use the Drupal 8 codebase but officially remove that deprecated code. This is a huge change, as previous major version updates were approached as re-writes and generally started with a separate codebase from their predecessors. Drupal9 will also update Drupal’s third-party dependencies, including Symfony, jQuery, and CKEditor As long as contributed and custom modules are keeping up with the API changes made in Drupal 8, they should be compatible with Drupal 9 when it is released. If you want to check your Drupal 8’s site readiness for Drupal 9, there is a command-line utility available for developers called Drupal Check. There is also a contributed module available called Upgrade Status that can give feedback via the Drupal admin user interface. 

Key takeaway

Late last year, I expressed skepticism about the promised simplicity of the upgrade process between Drupal 8 and 9. After this presentation, I am much more optimistic and encourage organizations on Drupal 7 to start the process of upgrading to Drupal 8 for what should be a hopefully painless upgrade to Drupal 9 next summer.

#2: There’s a new option for personalizing content

In a session titled Anonymous Personalization Without Leaving Drupal, Michael Lander of Elevated Third gave a demonstration of a new suite of contributed modules he’s developed called Smart Content. The modules allow for personalization of content for users who have not logged in to Drupal, making it possible to support marketing campaigns or conditionally show content targeted to users who meet certain criteria, all without tracking user data in Drupal’s database. For example, Smart Content allows organizations to show different content if it is the user’s first visit to the site, they are visiting from a mobile device, or their browser’s default language is set to something other than English. The module is extensible and could be augmented with an external service to show location-specific personalization as well.  Best of all, Smart Content works its magic by pulling conditional content in via AJAX, so it is still possible to get the caching benefits of a CDN, like CloudFlare or Fastly, or reverse proxy cache like Varnish.

Key takeaway

Prior to this module, Drupal developers had limited options for content personalization, especially for non-logged in users. Now, Smart Content is… a smart option!

#3: Machine learning can enhance accessibility

Two graduate students from the University of Michigan, Danny Teng and Neha Bhomia, demonstrated how they used Machine Learning to provide alternate text for images in Drupal. Using Amazon Web Service’s Rekognition API, the pair wrote a module for Drupal 7 that uses Machine Learning to provide suggested alt text when content creators upload images to the CMS. The editor has the ability to accept, reject or edit the suggestion, and the alt text is displayed to end-users in their browsers, including assistive technology meant to increase accessibility. 

Key takeaway

Machine Learning has a variety of practical uses, and this demonstration proved that it can be used to make the web’s content more accessible. 

#4: Automated testing can help prevent quality problems

Shane DeArmond and Mark Miller of the University of California, Davis described a number of automated testing options available to web developers in their session Make the Robots Do It! Practical Continuous Integration and Automated Testing. The session focused on increasing quality and stability through frequent, thorough testing and it covered a variety of types of automated testing. Those types included end-to-end, functional, and visual regression testing. They also recommended a number of tools, including open-source tools, that can integrate with a team’s continuous integration/continuous deployment pipelines with relatively low effort.

Key takeaway

There are more options than ever to include automated testing into your web build projects, and proper use of automated testing tools can drastically reduce regression errors or other quality defects. 

#5: Don’t forget about the UX for content administrators

Forum One’s Director of Engineering & DevOps Stephen Lucero gave two presentations at BADCamp this year, including one called Building an Intuitive Admin: Usability for the Forgotten End-User. The session was a comprehensive look at Drupal’s often-criticized user experience for site and content administrators and Stephen gave a lot of practical advice on how to improve that experience and why it is important to consider the needs of admins.  Stephen is working on a series of blog posts on the subject with even more information and advice to share on the subject, so keep an eye on

Key takeaway

Content administrators might be a small user group for organizations, but their needs are critical to the success of a web site or application. Taking the time to make improvements aimed at this group during site development will result in a lot of ROI throughout the life of the site.

See you next year, BADCamp!

Four members of the Forum One team attended this year’s BADCamp, and we all found the experience really valuable. We learned a lot, connected with old and new friends, and enjoyed the opportunity to share best practices and advice with other fellow Drupalers. We’re already looking forward to BADCamp 2020!  

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