Skip to main content

Blog Post

Drupal Paragraphs: The Bridge to Better Content Architecture

by Mario Angulo
January 21, 2021

Problem: The Power (and Pitfall) of Paragraphs

With great content modeling powers comes great responsibility for Drupal developers. 

While building a website, you may face the challenge of creating multiple paragraphs without much reuse. This can contribute to a poor content architecture that will burden you for the lifetime of your application. This issue can come about when a developer is building out paragraphs and decides to generate multiple paragraphs with similar fields or new fields that perform the same functionality as other fields. 

For example, let’s say a developer is tasked with building a normal Text Paragraph which is just one textarea field, which is simple enough. Now, let’s say a client comes to that developer and ask if the Text Paragraph could have a header field, and a subheader field. Usually, a developer might decide to just create a new paragraph, maybe call it a Card Paragraph, that has a new header field, subheader field, and a new body field. Well, what if you could just reuse the body field from the Text Paragraph? There is a way to do that by using Form Displays and the default Paragraphs reference field widget. Of course, the example above is simple, but there might be better cases which will be explained below.

Solution: Reuse Paragraphs and Form Displays

Mediacurrent’s Rain CMS  is an open source project that comes bundled with ready-to-use content types and paragraphs. One of those is the Card paragraph. The Card paragraph by itself might just have a title, media, body, and layout field. This is pretty useful as its own componentized item that can be reused on other components. Now let’s say you have another paragraph that is called a Breaker, which essentially is almost like a Card Paragraph but might have some variation. This Breaker paragraph might reuse the same title, body, but also has an extra field called right body for any text that might need to be put on the right column.

The way one can keep reusing the Card paragraphs, with other paragraphs that get created in the future is to add more fields onto the Card paragraph itself.

Drupal manage fields tab

As displayed above we have a ton of fields added on to the Card Paragraph. One might say that why are you doing this, wouldn’t all these fields get displayed on the frontend. Technically yes at first, but there is a way to limit what fields get displayed on the Card paragraph itself and then a step on getting the Breaker paragraph to utilize the same fields coming from the Card paragraph.

This method is using what’s called view modes in the Form Display configuration. What you want to do is go into Managed Form Display in the CMS for the Card paragraph that you just created and take a look at what displays are available.

Drupal backend - manage form display

As you can see above we already have some displays created in the Rain distribution we are using. We have the Default, Breaker, Carousel, Column, Card Compound, and Overlay Breaker. These are all Form Display’s which are used for other Paragraph variations. 

custom form display

Creating a new display is easy; you want to go to the bottom under the Default view mode and hit Custom Display Settings, which should drop down the above selection. As displayed in the screenshot there are some that are enabled and disabled. You can create a new one by clicking Managed form modes.

Now that we sidetracked a bit and explained how view modes work and how they are created, let's dive back in and talk about how you can now create this Card variation paragraph which is called the Breaker. Since we have a display already enabled for the Breaker what you want to do is click on the Breaker and see what fields are enabled by default.

Drupal manage form display

Shown above this has the title, body, and the new body right field which is technically still part of the Card Paragraph, but just using a different form display. If you compare this display with the default display you can see that different fields are enabled and disabled, which allows for flexibility for reusability. Now that we see that the fields needed for the Breaker have been created or enabled, let’s go create the Breaker paragraph.

create breaker paragraph

We then add a description and say that this is a breaker that will have content with two columns. If you remember above we have a body field and a body right, this is used to create these two columns.

When creating your Breaker paragraph make sure to add all the fields that are unique to this breaker like Line Break, and Show Two Columns which have specific functionality for the Breaker, but you also want to create a Paragraph reference field called Card which will allow you to reference a Card.

So how do you get it so this Card field shows the fields that you want from the Card Paragraph? Well, that’s why we worked on using the view mode on the Form Display for the Card Paragraph. What you want to do is the following.

Drupal manage form display card

Under the Breaker paragraph go to the Managed Form Display. Then under the Card field, you can use any widget that has the Form Display mode available. This will allow you to use the Form Display mode option in the widget to target the right display mode you want to use from the Card. Select the Breaker display mode.

select breaker display mode

Once this is done, hit save.  Now what you should expect is that whenever you go to create a breaker and you use the card field it should show the fields that are specified on the Card Breaker view mode.

card breaker

Building Paragraphs the Smart Way 

Now whenever you as a developer get tasked with building out a paragraph, make sure to ask yourself: What can I do to reuse fields and displays as much as possible? I hope this guide will help you to make smart decisions for a better content architecture going forward.

Meet team member, Mario Angulo

Along with his extensive agency background and robust portfolio of Fortune 500 client sites, Mario brings 5 years of Drupal experience to his role as a Senior Drupal Developer at Mediacurrent.

Mario got an early start on his web development career through a college internship that was his introduction to using PHP and PHP frameworks. After earning his degree in Computer Science from Arizona State University, he was a web developer for an SEO agency. He later began working with Drupal at EmpowHER, a women's health website. Mario continued to grow his Drupal skills as a Software Engineer for a marketing and advertising agency, developing websites for major brands like Marriott, Schwab, and UAHealth. One of his accomplishments in this role was developing an Android application for International MotorSports Association that pulls content from a Drupal backend. The app has 10,000 downloads. Prior to Mediacurrent, Mario joined NBCUniversal, where he worked with headless Drupal architecture for both NBCNews and Today.

Mario currently resides in Seattle.

Learn more about Mario >

Related Insights