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DrupalCon - Tuesday


By Brian - Posted on 30 August 2010

Tuesday marked the first true day of DrupalCon. Here are the sessions I attended.

Drupal Commerce - Setting up Shop on Drupal 7

I had initially thought I wouldn't go to many Drupal 7 sessions (since D7 isn't even out yet, and I expect to be using D6 for some time still), but found myself more curious about D7 from what Ryan Szrama had said at Monday's e-commerce training about it, so I decided to check it out.

Drupal Commerce is essentially a re-implementation of UberCart (Drupal's main e-commerce system) by the same authors, rewritten from the ground up to take full advantage of Drupal 7's features.  UberCart is indeed being ported to D7, but will have a lot of legacy baggage from its old codebase.  Also, as Ryan candidly admitted, UberCart was his first Drupal project, and also his first exposure to PHP and MySQL, so there are a lot of things he would do differently the next time.  Drupal Commerce is that next time, and the team will be using everything they've learned from UberCart in an effort to make Drupal Commerce that much better.

Drupal Commerce will leverage Drupal's own capabilities a lot better.  For example, just about everything will be built using Views.  This will make it tremendously easy to modify and theme them, something that I understand is quite difficult with UberCart.

About the Rules Ecosystem

Drupal has a feature called "Triggers", which allows you to define conditions on which certain things ("Actions") will take place.  "Rules" is essentially a more powerful replacement for Triggers, and it's something I wanted to learn more about.  I normally end up writing custom code for that kind of conditional execution; Rules would allow the same sort of thing without needing to write actual code.

Unfortunately for me, this session was about the upcoming Rules 2 for Drupal 7, and seemed to assume a good familiarity with Rules 1, which I did not possess.  As such, I'm not sure I really absorbed much from this session.  I did, however, capture all the slides with my camera, so they may prove more useful in the future.

Keynote: Dries Buytaert on The State of Drupal

Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal, gave the first of the three main keynote speeches.  He began with the phrase "the elephants are coming", and then proceeded with details about how quickly Drupal is now picking speed in the enterprise and also government.  He said its unique positioning and current momentum make it unstoppable, and that it is becoming the platform of choice for large and complex projects.

The theme of the speech after that, was in trying to predict the growth of Drupal over the next ten years, so that the challenges inherent in such growth might be predicted and prepared for in advance.  At current growth rates, in 2020 there will be 60,000 contributed modules, and Drupal will power 10% of the web.

Dries explored a number of ideas about solutions for such problems, such as automated testing, for both errors and performance.  One part I found particularly interesting was, when asked about a ratings system, he dismissed it somewhat as being subject to gaming.  In the end, Dries concluded that Drupal's strength lay as always with the community, and that it would rise and fall accordingly.

Overall, I found Dries' speech very inspiring, and more than a little visionary, to be thinking so far ahead and trying to anticipate the challenges in advance.

How to Anticipate the Needs of Your Clients

This was pretty much a standard "how to handle clients" type deal.  I took very detailed notes (via iThoughts mindmap on iPad), but the gist of it was, that you need to see through their eyes, and empathize with their needs and wants.  While the information here was certainly insightful, I was dissapointed that it didn't touch on Drupal at all... that's what I flew across the ocean to hear and learn more about, not attend seminars I could quite frankly probably find at home.  To be fair, I believe they had some Drupal specific stuff planned for the end, but ran out of time.

Drupal 7 - What You Need to Know

This again was a session I didn't initally think I would attend (another session entitled "A Method for Getting Early Estimates Right" sounded really tempting), but my interest in Drupal 7 had been piqued.  Plus, the talk was being given by Angela "webchick" Byron, who is something of a celebrity in the Drupal world.  She's essentially "#2" on the project, just below Dries, and currently acts as the lead maintainer for the upcoming Drupal 7.

Drupal 7 does look pretty amazing, it makes me want to start using it right away.  There are way too many changes to go into here, but one of my favourite changes is the new Entity and Fields systems.  Not only have they moved CCK (the 3rd party "content construction kit", that allows you to define custom content fields) into core, you can now add fields to pretty much anything (such as users, or comments), instead of just content nodes like before.

Another great thing is that image handling (essentially, ImageCache and all its requirements) is now built into core.  Previously this took CCK, Filefield, Imagefield, Image API, and ImageCache.  Having ImageCache in core means all 3rd party stuff is going to support it now, which is going to be awesome.

And finally, Drupal 7 makes massive use of automated testing.  Every patch to core must pass a gauntlet of over 23,000 (and counting) automated tests.  Every bug encountered must also have a test created for it, to ensure that the bug never happens again.  This should lead to rock solid code in core, and keep it that way.

10 Reasons Why You Should be Using Features

One of Drupal's biggest sticking points is in doing staged deployments; the fact that a lot of Drupal "development" takes place via configuration changes that live in the database makes it hard to cleanly separate these changes out in a way that can be pushed to a new server in a nice tidy package.

The Features module attempts to alleviate this, by trying to capture configuration changes into "feature modules", that can then be version-controlled and deployed like any other file.

In theory, this is awesome, but in practice, just how well does it work?  It's impossible to capture everything, but the people who use Features, for the most part, seem to swear by it.  It's definitely something I will be checking out in the immediate future, because manually replicating (or writing tedious scripts for) configuration changes across multiple servers fricken blows.

Awesomeness Redefined: Drupal 7 Theming

As with everything else, Theming is getting a major upgrade with D7.  One big difference is that in previous versions of Drupal, everything was pre-rendered into strings by the time you got down to the template level.  In D7, it's the template itself that performs the rendering via the new render() function.  This plus the new show() and hide() functions will make it easier to make small custom changes to Drupal's default rendering, without building a fully custom template to control all of the output.

Something else that is interesting, is that the theme layer is now getting some alter hooks, like form_alter().  Loved Morten's answer to the complaint that "this could let themers break the site", which was "sweetheart, we already could".

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