Crafting digital solutions with Drupal – What? Why? How?

  • Etienne Engasser

Teams in Liip Zürich, Bern and Fribourg have been crafting digital solutions with Drupal for years. Now we also do it at our office in Lausanne.

Learn more about our E-commerce and CMS services.

How much do you like Drupal? We still have some healthy disagreements among the Liipers when it comes to Drupal, one of the most well-known frameworks running on PHP. Nonetheless, we witness a high demand for digital solutions developed with Drupal, and we love that.

Because geographical proximity to our clients is very important to us, we now offer Drupal solutions in Lausanne too. Thanks to our fluid structure, we are very close to the market and can adapt to the needs of our clients. The pace in doing that is super fast. In the past months, a couple of Liipers in Lausanne at ease with PHP developed their Drupal skills. Internal training, peer programming and knowledge sharing with experienced Drupalistas within Liip were on the menu.

But wait, what is Drupal in fact? We put together the most frequently asked questions about this framework. And here are our answers!

What is Drupal?

Drupal is an open-source content management system (CMS). In its base installation, it includes a built-in frontend and backend. As a web administrator, you can see content in the interface that you manage in the backend.

What can Drupal do?

Everything that is possible on the web. With Drupal, you can build a simple website for your content, which can be maintained in the backend. And there is way more to it. You can develop complex and powerful e-commerce solutions as well as headless projects too.

How come? Drupal comes along with a lot of basic features. They allow you to create and update your website or blog in an intuitive manner. Yet, Drupal is made to be altered. Tons of additional modules are developed by the community to extend the basic features. This is where the magic happens.

How does Drupal work?

Teams in Zürich, Bern, Fribourg and now Lausanne work on tailor-made Drupal websites. Each client project is unique and requires a dedicated solution. We develop custom made modules according to what the end-users and our clients need.

Drupal’s base installation is not designed for the end-users to have a lot of interactions with the raw data in the backend. That is why we add a client specific layer to our Drupal distribution – be it by adding contributed modules or custom solutions – to allow a lot of interactions on the end-user side.

While Drupal can be used with the built-in front end, you can employ it as a powerful headless CMS too. In this case, Drupal allows you to manage the content in the backend and exposes content through an application programming interface (API). A mobile app or a website built with a frontend framework such as VueJS can then use the exposed content.

Wingo is one of the headless CMS projects we recently did using Drupal. The content is stored in the Drupal backend. We developed an API to give access to the content to various websites.

Why Drupal?

Drupal is incredible for content-heavy sites. No matter if it’s video or copy, this CMS handles a lot of content in a useful and flexible way. As a web administrator, you can easily manage the content of your website to be displayed to the end-users. Drupal is probably the way to go when numerous products, services or pieces of information have to be shown.

Both Die Mobiliar and the Banque Cantonale de Fribourg (BCF), have a lot of products and different types of content to showcase. In addition, their website is in multiple languages. The Freiburger Nachrichten website is another example – gigabytes of written content are managed via the CMS.

Who do we recommend Drupal to?

Companies and organizations that need to provide the end-users with a lot of information, such as products, services and other useful data are likely to use Drupal.

That being said, a lot more can be done with Drupal. The moment you understand how Drupal works, it becomes incredibly easy to alter and extend it – parole de développeur! Within a week, we were able to develop a custom made solution for a shop. Initially, the client had a showcase website. Due to the coronavirus, it became urgent to transform the website into an online shop. That’s how we helped our client to address their customers’ needs.

While the developer learning curve – due to Drupal's idiosyncrasies – is usually considered quite steep with a more difficult start, once you get into Drupal everything is simple. Our Drupal team in Lausanne has been developing and strengthening its expertise while being trained by more experienced Liipers, to support you with your digital challenges. We have the skills to build tailor-made solutions that match your end-users needs.

What are Drupal modules?

Drupal modules mostly deal with providing backend functionality and underlying services, while the frontend is usually client-specific. Due to the large and active community, as well as the overall good governance, a module for nearly every use case already exists.

For example, two well-known modules – which are nearly applications on their own – from the community are:

  • Commerce. Provides a full e-commerce suite right in your CMS. Neo is the e-commerce and content platform we developed for Freitag.
  • Webform. A complete form builder allowing CMS editors to create their own highly complex forms. For instance on the Die Mobiliar website more than 270 forms are managed with webforms.

And two modules Liip developed:

  • Rokka. This module connects Drupal to Rokka, our digital image processing tool. The Rokka image converter supports web admin in storing digital images.
  • Site Search 360. We developed the connector to link Site Search 360 to Drupal. Site Search 360 is a service which aggregates all the content of a website and allows users to search quickly and easily.

See here our contributions to other modules.

These modules contribute to extending Drupal core capabilities. They are available to the community. That’s the beauty of open source – developed by the community for the community. Each client project is unique and will require a different set of modules, by combining the right ones a custom tailored solution will be created.

Can Drupal be used for mobile apps?

The short answer is: No, you can't create mobile apps with Drupal. But, it depends. ;-)

The long answer is: Yes. As mentioned earlier, everything that is possible on the web can be done with Drupal, because Drupal can be used as a headless CMS too. In this case, only the Drupal backend is used to handle the content. A dedicated API is developed to let a distinguished frontend access the content stored in the backend. This means that you need a different frontend solution to build an app with Drupal.

This is the case for progressive web apps (PWA). The app – which represents the frontend – fetches the content in the backend, stores it locally or caches it if needed.

Drupal 8 made it easy to create endpoints and APIs. One of the strengths of this Drupal version is to support headless CMS projects.

Tell us what you think