Technical

Drupal 8: web developers’ playground

IE Digital has fully adopted Drupal 8 as our production CMS of choice for our charity, health and education clients, as well as our developers' playground. Fran talks about the process we went through to get the team up to speed, and complete our first D8 website project. 



Here at IE Digital, we’ve been using the Drupal content management system (CMS) for almost a decade when developing new websites for our charity, health and education clients.

We’ve always favoured Open Source technology, and while Drupal isn’t the only CMS we use, it’s the one we turn to time and again. We celebrated the official release of the new Drupal 8 in November 2015, but we held back from adopting it fully until the time was right. Previous Drupal releases gave us a pretty good idea of where Drupal was heading, but D8 involved a pretty big rewrite so we had to be sure that the many Drupal modules that we relied on at IE Digital were fully supported.

The IE Digital team has years of experience in Drupal 7. Our developers have accumulated lots of knowledge, improved their Drupal skills, practiced hard and – in some cases – become Acquia Certified Drupal Developers. We had no desire to let go of Drupal 7 too soon, until Drupal 8 had matured sufficiently and the benefits to our clients would outweigh the sacrifices.

For us, 2016 gave the team a chance to hone our Drupal 7 skills on a number of client projects, while taking time to experiment with Drupal 8, until we were sure we could make the leap to using D8 as our CMS standard.  

Creating the new IE Digital website

Our first step was to redesign and rebuild IE Digital’s own website. The old site had been built in Drupal 7, was fully responsive, and did its job pretty well for us over the last few years. As a digital agency, our website is our shop window, and an opportunity for us to showcase what we do best. We wanted to bring our own site up to date, and in the process provide our development team with a playground to put Drupal 8 through its paces. We decided to pull out all the stops to create a site that would be beautiful and elegant.

Alongside Drupal 8, we wanted to showcase other technologies we love as part of our new stack, such as AngularJS. So our final technical decision was to do a ’headless’ Drupal 8 CMS. This is a really popular and growing tendency among Drupal architects, where Drupal is used for the back end only, and you create a non-Drupal front end.

This allowed us to build a beautiful, clean and simple API, which outputs to a JSON file as shown below. And beside it you can see how that JSON file is realised on screen.

 

JSON file output from Drupal API and resulting web page

 

If you’ve ever built or used an API before or – even worse – used a Drupal 7 one, you’ll appreciate how beautiful and elegant this code is!

We built a custom module that transforms Drupal’s default output into whatever we want. This very website you’re on now reads its data from a JSON file, which is regularly updated by the API. If you browse this and the IE Brand website you’ll see how that data translates into a beautiful front end design, built in AngularJS, Bootstrap and several other libraries.

We hope you’ll agree the result is a beautiful and elegant user experience.

What next?

The IE Digital team is now using Drupal 8 as our production CMS of choice (with a number of client projects in development), as well as our playground. We're constantly evolving Skelly 8, our pre-configured base Drupal build. We’ll keep learning and growing our expertise every day, and some of us are already thinking of taking the new Acquia Certified Developer – Drupal 8 exam.

We’ll talk more about what Drupal 8 has to offer in future blogs, but if you have a new website project in mind, or you’re keen to upgrade from an old Drupal 6 or Drupal 7 site, don’t hesitate to contact us.

The IE Digital team has years of experience in Drupal. We're now using Drupal 8 as our production CMS of choice, as well as our playground. We’ll keep learning and growing our expertise every day, and some of us are already thinking of taking the new Acquia Drupal 8 Developer certification.

Fran Garcia-Linares
Development Team Leader and Technical Manager, IE Digital