The Drupal content management system is not as popular as some of its competitors. But its ability to create powerful websites capable of handling large volumes of visitors to hundreds of pages of content has won over a large community of users and developers. However, it does require a certain level of expertise to derive its full power.
What is Drupal?
Drupal is an open-source and free system for Internet content management (CMS). Created in the early 2000s by Belgian developer Dries Buytaert, Drupal is now used by millions of people and organizations around the world. You have probably already used Drupal without knowing it since many government organizations and large companies use Drupal as is for example the case for the White House site, the Australian government, the Red Cross, Harvard, the BBC, Cisco, Twitter, and many more.
Generally considered to be a competitor to WordPress and Joomla CMS, Drupal is open-source and released under the GNU Public License. So it can be downloaded freely and each user can modify the code freely. One of Drupal's biggest assets is its huge community of developers, contributors, business owners, and engaged users who support the project.
Drupal has changed a lot since its birth. Designed as a tool for creating small websites, it has evolved into a robust architecture capable of animating highly complex corporate sites.
The use of Drupal is particularly suitable for designing sites with high growth or high traffic volumes. It is very popular with large e-commerce stores, major media sites, major universities as well as major brands. Drupal is also used as a framework for the development of many websites as is the case for the US and UK governments.
Since the arrival of Drupal 8 and the adoption of Composer, it is very easy to add many integrations and in particular to integrate external libraries. Drupal is now flexible enough to meet the needs of a wide variety of projects.
The different versions of Drupal
Drupal is constantly evolving in order to keep up with and adapt to an ever-changing industry. Historically, Drupal's policy has been to support only two major versions of the CMS, so Drupal versions 8 and 7 are currently supported.
In Drupal 7, the different modules disappear, only the zones remain, which can be moved at any time by the site administrator, as he wishes. You can assign them fonts, sizes, and colors.
The debugging features have been greatly improved, making development easier with better handling of displaying error codes. Official support for Drupal 7 will end in November 2021.
Released in November 2015, this version is a real revolution with the addition of new features and many improvements, including:
a redesign of the user interface,
improved mobile support
and especially the integration of the PHP Symfony Framework which is a frank opening towards the community of PHP developers.
Drupal thus becomes a CMF (content manager platform) capable of using PHP's object-oriented programming and which uses YAML configuration files.
Drupal 8 was designed on the basis of version 3 of the Symfony Framework which will no longer be maintained from November 2021. Support from the Drupal community for version 8 will therefore also end on this date.
Drupal 9 is a version of Drupal 8 purified from its obsolete code. Its release is scheduled for June 2020. Drupal 9 will therefore not be a revolution or a major overhaul of the CMS code and therefore will not bring new features.
Drupal 9 will also be based on version 4.4 of Symfony.
Regarding third-party dependencies, some will be added and others removed. Indeed, when the Drupal team finds good solutions to solve problems. It introduces them while retaining and depreciating old approaches.
Drupal Commerce is a revolutionary software solution that integrates commerce, content, and community to create engaging web browsing experiences, which generate more traffic for merchants and thus bring them better results.
This eCommerce solution consists of a module that integrates with the Drupal CMS. it is easy to use, extensible and open-source.
Drupal Commerce is a simple, flexible, powerful, and modular platform that is able to adapt to the way you conduct your business. It is an ideal solution for all types of physical or dematerialized items that require specific means of payment. Drupal commerce is in our opinion the most flexible online store solution… although it requires a certain level of expertise to be properly handled!
The personalization of Drupal
The Drupal CMS is very customizable. The module system and themes are the main customization tools. Modules extend the functionality of Drupal, while themes customize the look.
Modules are scripts encapsulated and designed to be connected to the CMS in order to provide new functionalities. Basic modules are supplied with Drupal, they can be activated or deactivated as needed. In addition to these basic modules, many modules created by community contributors are available for installation.
Note that custom modules (often the ones you write yourself) will be the primary way to add functionality not available in the Core Modules and Contributed Modules lists.
Drupal themes and templates
Themes are a bit like Modules in that they allow you to customize Drupal, however, their scope is different. It is in the themes that we find the frontend libraries, the styles, and the templates used to display the data.
Drupal 8 has made many improvements compared to its previous versions, including the integration of the very popular Twig engine which has simplified debugging, made development easier, and given more appeal to the thematic layer. It is now possible for frontend developers to work on Drupal themes without them needing to understand and master the ins and outs of the backend.
Drupal comes with a number of themes, there are also contributed themes downloadable directly from Drupal.org.
The advantages and disadvantages of Drupal
Drupal is one of the most popular open-source CMS. Despite its robustness and flexibility, it is not free from flaws. Let's take a look at the summary of the key points, highlighting its advantages and disadvantages:
Extremely flexible if you can code.
Designed to be shaped and adapted to the needs of a project.
Very fast and well optimized CMS.
Used for complex and highly visited sites (eBay, Sony Music, Harvard…).
Sophisticated role and permission management system.
Easier to use with each new version.
Thoughtful Extensions, Modules, and Themes.
Less popular and more complex than WordPress.
Rather long learning curve.
PHP skills are inevitable.
Complementary modules more difficult and complicated to integrate.
Why use Drupal?
Drupal is flexible, robust, and provides a lot of out-of-the-box features that most websites need.
An open-source and free project
The Drupal CMS is free open-source software. The project relies heavily on principles such as collaboration, innovation, and globalism. Distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), it can be downloaded by anyone, without any license fees.
A great community
Drupal's success is closely linked to its community, which is one of the largest open-source communities in the world. It is made up of over a million passionate developers, designers, trainers, coordinators, strategists, editors, and supporters who all work together. It is this common commitment to the open-source spirit that drives the Drupal project forward.
A large number of plugins and extensions
People like to be able to access large amounts and varieties of extensions (plugins). And Drupal does offer a large selection of extensions called modules. They are designed to help you integrate very specific features into your website.
Rigorous technical support
The Drupal project provides numerous communication channels to support its CMS. In case of a problem, you can use the community documentation, forums, Drupal Answers on Stack Exchange as well as join the Slack and IRC channels of the community. In the event of a bug, you can directly open a ticket to report it.
What is Drupal hosting?
Basically, any web hosting plan that promises compatibility with this CMS can be considered Drupal web hosting. However, for best results, and to get the most out of Drupal's features and performance, we recommend that you opt for hosting optimized for Drupal. While the Drupal project provides the basic framework for building a website, hosting is the necessary element to bring the content of this site online and guarantee its good performance.
Drupal can be hosted on shared, VPS, dedicated, or cloud servers… this will greatly depend on your project and your budget.
The minimum configuration required to host Drupal
If you are using version 7 of Drupal, your hosting must at least be compatible with version 5.2 of PHP. Drupal is compatible with MySQL, SQLite, and PostgreSQL databases. Support for Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server databases is also provided through additional modules.
Drupal can be installed on Apache, Nginx, Microsoft IIS servers, and any other web server providing PHP support. With Drupal 8 the minimum PHP specifications are upgraded to PHP version 7.2 with a memory of at least 64 MB. The minimum disk space required is 100 MB.
Why should you choose an optimized hosting for Drupal?
The good performance of a Drupal site built for a business or organization is essential for the results of the site. This is why it is better to opt for efficient, robust, secure internet hosting that provides good assistance.
Data security and SSL certificate
Drupal is more secure than most other popular CMS (WordPress, Joomla, and Magento). However, he remains vulnerable. Generally speaking, using an up-to-date version of Drupal and PHP significantly reduces security risks.
To increase the security of Drupal, it is important to integrate additional security features which are often available in the form of security modules.
Adding an SSL certificate is also recommended in order to provide secure HTTPS browsing.
For the good positioning of sites in the search engines and a user experience allowing to generate more sales, the loading speed is essential. In addition to efficient and well-optimized hosting, including efficient caching technologies, the use of a CDN is very advantageous. It is for this reason that Drupal provides a CDN module, and a tutorial to quickly and easily integrate this type of service to your site.
Since Drupal sites are often rich in content, the choice of the server will play a central role in the performance of your site. In fact, for sites with little traffic and offering little content, various optimizations at the server level such as a cache system or the use of a CDN will generally be sufficient to provide a good and comfortable browsing experience.
However, for larger sites, the server must be able to serve a large amount of content, to a large number of people simultaneously, and continuously. In such situations, it is necessary to have a server with sufficient processor, memory, and bandwidth resources to respond in a balanced and efficient manner to all requests.
Server availability (Uptime)
Whenever your site becomes unavailable, you risk losing the trust of your visitors or making them angry. For your business, this also translates into a loss of money and a blow to your reputation.
It is therefore important to ensure that your Drupal hosting can provide an uptime of at least 99.9%, guaranteed by a refund clause.
1-click installation and maintenance
Choose accommodation offering the automated one-click Drupal installation. Installing the CMS on a Drupal hosting plan is something you or your team members can accomplish in a matter of minutes.
Likewise, the tasks of backing up and maintaining the Drupal kernel or its modules are made easier by the Drush tool, which allows you to perform many management and maintenance tasks.
What to look for in Drupal hosting?
Drupal sites are often designed for companies and administrations, Drupal hosting must above all be reliable. It must provide a good level of security, excellent availability, as well as all the functionalities necessary for a professional administration of the hosting.
The simplicity of administration, installation, and update
Access to administration and installation features must be simple and documented. Likewise, a file browser must be made available to facilitate the management of modules and updates. If you are not familiar with these types of tasks, we advise you to refer you to a host offering a managed service.
Infrastructure and data security
Your data and the data of your customers are invaluable. We, therefore, advise you to opt for a host known for its commitment to data security. Your hosting must therefore support the installation of SSL certificates and be able to support all the security features integrated into Drupal.
It must also provide information (even partial) on the level of security of its data centers, in particular the level of TIER certification. Ideally, it should also be able to provide you with redundant backups, and good firewalls, antivirus, and antimalware.
The efficiency and availability of technical support
When you run a high traffic site and a technical problem appears, time is running out. Every second that passes before resolution will have a potentially disastrous impact. This is why it is recommended to turn to hosts providing responsive support and available 24/7.
When making your choice, you should favor support teams with the shortest response and resolution times.
Type of storage and available space
For a site providing a lot of information and content, storage performance is critical. Your hosting should offer SSD storage because it is the type of storage that provides the best performance in terms of reading and write times and therefore page load times.
The available space required will depend on your project, its type, and the amount of content. Many web hosts offer unlimited storage offers, but keep in mind that there is nothing really unlimited. You must therefore study the conditions of use carefully to know the real limitations and avoid any misunderstanding.
Unlimited bandwidth is offered by many web hosts but some restrictions may apply. Some web hosts still apply monthly quotas for bandwidth. If you opt for this type of host, you will need to determine and inform yourself in advance of the possibility or not of increasing your monthly quota, and if so, at what cost is this increase possible?
The quality/price ratio of the service
Everything has a price. So the quality and efficiency of your accommodation will generally be closely linked to the price of this accommodation.
For the hosting of a Drupal site for professional use, it is preferable to move towards premium shared hosting solutions or towards hosting on a VPS, dedicated or even cloud server.
The cost of your hosting will be influenced by your preferences for security, performance, storage, bandwidth as well as the various additional features that you may need.
The different types of Drupal hosting
Drupal hosting solutions are very varied. Depending on the size and objectives of your project, you can choose from the different types of Drupal hosting, the solution that best suits your needs.
Shared Drupal hosting
Shared hosting Drupal: With the exception of small projects, installing a Drupal site on shared hosting is not recommended. This is because the performance of shared hosting is not always sufficient to provide a good user experience, especially during peak traffic.
In addition, Drupal is very memory intensive, so you may be frequently affected by PHP memory limit issues.
However, some shared hosting providers offer solutions that are really optimized for Drupal, or in other cases, the possibility of allocating more memory and other resources.
Drupal VPS hosting
Drupal hosting on a VPS server for a professional site or a project that you want to develop is one of the best options available, because of the performance offered and the possibilities for the evolution of the hosting.
Indeed, most hosting providers facilitate the switch internally (often for free) from one hosting plan to another more efficiently.
In addition, with a VPS server, you have greater control over your hosting as well as the ability to more easily update or install modules.
Dedicated Drupal hosting
Dedicated Drupal Hosting: If you are worried about the negative aspects of sharing resources on a VPS server, you can move towards renting a dedicated server. All the resources of this server will be dedicated to your Drupal installation. You can then customize the server and your Drupal configuration as you see fit in order to make the best use of all the available resources.
If you do not want to manage and maintain your server yourself, you can opt for a host offering outsourcing services. This will allow you to focus exclusively on managing your site.
Drupal Cloud hosting
The cloud is an ideal alternative for those looking for the benefits of dedicated hosting for an affordable price close to that of VPS servers. By opting for a cloud server, you can install your Drupal site on a totally isolated virtual server, with its own processor and memory resources. It is a very scalable form of hosting that allows you to adapt very quickly to changes in a site.
The advantages in terms of performance and availability of cloud servers make them the preferred solutions for any Drupal site hosting with high traffic.
What about free Drupal hosting?
Opting for free Drupal hosting is only possible to test the CMS and become familiar with its interface. And even in this case, we advise you to opt for the installation of a local server (Xampp, Laragon, etc.) which will provide much better performance as well as a better user experience.
If we take into account the limitations mentioned above for shared Drupal hosting, it clearly appears that free Drupal hosting will not be able to provide the resources necessary for the proper functioning of this CMS.
Choosing the best hosting for Drupal is not an easy thing, as there are many factors that go into it. The best options remain the hosting solutions that are truly optimized for Drupal. Although the installation of Drupal on shared hosting is offered by many hosts, it is generally better to avoid this kind of solution. However, some web hosts provide enough resources and functionality to make a Drupal project perfectly viable.
For professional hosting of high traffic sites, it is advisable to move towards premium packages or hosting on VPS, dedicated, or cloud servers. With a preference for the cloud, because of its excellent quality/performance/price ratio.