A Drupalcon Denver Wrap-Up
The world wide web is changing. Where at one time the web was about pages and links, we now look toward a blurry future of content and functionality accessed through a variety of devices and applications, with varying screen sizes, bandwidth, and connectivity. As the web evolves, content management systems such as Drupal must evolve with it. At Drupalcon Denver, held March 19-23, 2012, many of the keynotes and sessions highlighted the need to respond to this changing web.
The adoption of mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and feature phones with advanced browsers, is rapidly increasing. Dries Buytaert highlighted this in his opening keynote: he projected a 25-fold increase in mobile web use over the next 5 years. Drupal 8 must make it easier to deliver content to any device, especially mobile. Initiatives such as bringing HTML5 into Drupal Core, the Mobile initiative, and the Web Services/Layout initiatives, promise to align Drupal 8 with the new ways we access the web--from any device.
We can no longer assume content is to be delivered to a desktop web browser, and this change requires us to rethink the way Drupal delivers content. Drupal 8 is being rebuilt from the ground up to position itself for the future of content. One of the highlights of Drupalcon Denver was the discussion of integrating Symfony2's HTTP foundation into Drupal 8. With mobile applications and Ajax, we already see cases where the paradigm of a web page breaks down. However, Drupal 7 still assumes that most HTTP requests should result in a page. As a result, for each HTTP request, Drupal goes through a long process of assembling headers, footers, sidebars, menus, and blocks... oh, and there's that piece of content you actually wanted, too... in order to build a full page to be displayed in a browser. By taking advantage of the way Symfony2 processes HTTP requests, it will be much easier for Drupal 8 to serve a single piece of content to applications and web-enabled devices without the overhead of generating a whole page.
Integrating Symfony2's HTTP foundation into Drupal 8 core will result in some pain for module developers. Familiar hooks such as hook_menu will be affected. The upgrade challenges from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 have yet to be explored. However, this fundamental change is worth the temporary pain. A major benefit is that Drupal will no longer assume that every HTTP request is for a page: this will allow much greater flexibility for Ajax and mobile applications, and will allow Drupal to focus on content--not pages.
The future of the web is exciting, and the future of Drupal is equally so. Drupalcon Denver has shown that the Drupal community is stronger than ever, and that we are not afraid to innovate in fundamental ways that break long-standing assumptions. For me, Drupalcon Denver was about us, the Drupal community, banding together to make Drupal 8 the best content management system for the future web. I can't wait!