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5 More Tips to Get the Most out of Drupal

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Previously, we covered some simple tips that allow you to get more out of Drupal and I think we covered some basics. This time we are going to go a bit deeper to see what Drupal can really do. In the right hands, Drupal can be a very powerful tool for more than just content management. The following tips will take you through a few different topics to get more out of Drupal than ever before. Some of these tips are a bit more on the advanced side, but they are very useful.

Tip #1: Don't be afraid of caching

If you are at all familiar with website caching, then you know at least two things about it. It is useful for getting your pages to load faster, and it can be very complex. Caching is meant to speed up your site by putting your page together just one time and then simply redisplaying that rather than needing to build it anew every time. However, because of this, when something about how that content should display changes, that particular entry in the cache needs to be "invalidated" so that it doesn't continue to be used, which could result in it showing content that is no longer current.

Fortunately, Drupal 8 has a fantastic caching system, provided by two modules which are included in Core: Internal Page Cache and Internal Dynamic Page Cache. The former caches entire pages for users who aren't logged in, while the latter caches the individual components of pages (such as blocks and rendered nodes) for all users. On most Drupal sites, these should both be turned on. Drupal Core and most contributed modules are built with this caching already in mind, so it's easy enough to just turn on the modules and get a nice performance boost from doing so.

If you have lots of custom code which deals with how content renders, this may not be quite so simple, but it is still something worth looking into, especially if your site sometimes feels a bit slow.

Tip #2: Remove modules you don't need

Drupal, by default, usually comes with a whole suite of modules installed, some of which not every site needs. These include, for example, the Tour module (for creating tutorial-style interfaces which highlight certain parts of your site in) and the Search module (which provides Drupal's default searching mechanism and is useful only when your site doesn't warrant a different search solution). If you don't actually need a module, uninstall it, and if it is a contrib module rather than a core module, you can then remove it from your site's code entirely.

Every unnecessary module you have on your site can add clutter to the admin UI which makes it harder to find the things you actually want, and since each module can have its own potential security risks, uninstalling the ones you don't need can even help improve your site's security and stability.

Other core modules which are good candidates to consider removing are CKEditor (for sites which don't need WYSIWYG content), Color (for when you're using a custom theme and don't need to change its appearance through the UI), and Comment (if your site doesn't allow users to comment on content anyway). And that's just core modules in the C's!

Just be careful not to uninstall modules such as the Internal Page Cache module, which may not be specifically required to provide the site's intended functionality but which are important for keeping your site working smoothly. Consider each enabled module individually (and then, do the same with enabled themes!) 

Tip #3: Use the latest version of PHP

Drupal is written in PHP and is designed to take advantage of the new features and performance improvements provided by its latest versions. Although Drupal 8 can run on PHP versions as old as 5.5, it is now optimized for and fully compatible with PHP 7.2, and so a simple PHP version update can be a great benefit for your site's speed and reliability. You can check which PHP version your site is on from Drupal's Status report, and your hosting provider should provide a way to upgrade PHP if necessary.

Important: Versions of Drupal prior to 8.5 are only compatible up to PHP 7.1. If you're on Drupal 8.4 or older, you should be sure to update Drupal (which is an important thing to do anyway to get all of its latest features, bug fixes, and security updates) prior to switching to the new version of PHP.

Tip #4: Manage config the Drupal way

We've spoken a bit before about configuration management in Drupal 8, but it's important enough it's worth mentioning again. Back in the Drupal 7 and earlier versions, deploying changes to a site typically involved recreating a whole bunch of "clicks" in the user interface, to arrange fields and blocks, API settings, user roles and permissions, and pretty much any other aspect of the site's configuration. Drupal 8 makes that a whole lot simpler with its configuration management system. Although managing config can get quite complex for some sites, for most it is simple. Once you've made a bunch of changes on your development site that you want to roll out to live, you can export those changes into a zipped collection of YAML files. You can then upload that zipped file directly to your live site to import the changes, or save the YAML files into your codebase and roll them out alongside your code changes. We prefer to use the latter method since it also has the benefit of keeping your config in your version control system, but either method works fine, and a direct upload of config can be a bit simpler to manage.

Tip #5: Join the community

Drupal is open source software and is built by a large community of developers and designers from across the world, and joining that community by signing up for an account at drupal.org can result in some tangible benefits for your site. One easy benefit of this is that if you come across a bug in Drupal or one of the contributed modules you are using, or even if you just find that some feature you'd like it to have is missing, you can post a message in the drupal.org issue queues to get a discussion started with the very people who can make the sort of improvements you want. Often, if you search the issue queues, you may even find that somebody else has thought of the same thing you have, and there might even be a patch already available to give you the functionality you want. 

If you've had to create any custom modules or themes for your site, and they may be the sort of thing other people may find useful as well, it may be good to consider contributing them. If other people start looking at and using your custom modules, they may find ways to improve it and may even submit patches to fix bugs or add new features. Then it's easy to update your module with their recommendations, making it even more useful both for you and for the rest of the Drupal community.

There you have it. Five more tips to get the most out of Drupal. Some of these might seem obvious, but they are some big wins you can make for yourself and your website. We’ve been working with Drupal long enough that some of these seem like second nature and in time they may also be that way for you. Stay tuned for more Drupal tips in the future!

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Jay Kerschner

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