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Gotthard tunnel website using Drupal

The Gotthard Base Tunnel, under construction for the last 17 years, was officially opened last week. This is the world's longest and deepest railroad tunnel, spanning 57 kilometers from Erstfeld to Bolio, Switzerland, underneath the Swiss Alps. To celebrate its opening, Switzerland also launched a multi-lingual multimedia website to celebrate the project's completion. I was excited to see they chose to build their site on Drupal 8! The site is a fitting digital tribute to an incredible project and launch event. Congratulations to the Gotthard Base Tunnel team!

Gottardo

Advancing Drupal's web services

In an earlier blog post, I looked at the web services solutions available in Drupal 8 and compared their strengths and weaknesses. That blog post was intended to help developers choose between different solutions when building Drupal 8 sites. In this blog post, I want to talk about how to advance Drupal's web services beyond Drupal 8.1 for the benefit of Drupal core contributors, module creators and technical decision-makers.

I believe it is really important to continue advancing Drupal's web services support. There are powerful market trends that oblige us to keep focused on this: integration with diverse systems having their own APIs, the proliferation of new devices, the expanding Internet of Things (IoT), and the widening adoption of JavaScript frameworks. All of these depend to some degree on robust web services.

Moreover, newer headless content-as-a-service solutions (e.g. Contentful, Prismic.io, Backand and CloudCMS) have entered the market and represent a widening interest in content repositories enabling more flexible content delivery. They provide content modeling tools, easy-to-use tools to construct REST APIs, and SDKs for different programming languages and client-side frameworks.

In my view, we need to do the following, which I summarize in each of the following sections: (1) facilitate a single robust REST module in core; (2) add functionality to help web services modules more easily query and manipulate Drupal's entity graph; (3) incorporate GraphQL and JSON API out of the box; and (4) add SDKs enabling easy integration with Drupal. Though I shared some of this in my DrupalCon New Orleans keynote, I wanted to provide more details in this blog post. I'm hoping to discuss this and revise it based on feedback from you.

One great REST module in core

While core REST can be enabled with only a few configuration changes, the full extent of possibilities in Drupal is only unlocked either when leveraging modules which add to or work alongside core REST's functionality, such as Services or RELAXed, or when augmenting core REST's capabilities with additional resources to interact with (by providing corresponding plugins) or using other custom code.

Having such disparate REST modules complicates the experience. These REST modules have overlapping or conflicting feature sets, which are shown in the following table.

Feature Core REST RELAXed Services Ideal core REST
Content entity CRUD Yes Yes Yes Yes
Configuration entity CRUD Create resource plugin (issue) Create resource plugin Yes Yes
Custom resources Create resource plugin Create resource plugin Create Services plugin Possible without code
Custom routes Create resource plugin or Views REST export (GET) Create resource plugin Configurable route prefixes Possible without code
Translations Not yet (issue) Yes Create Services plugin Yes
Revisions Create resource plugin Yes Create Services plugin Yes
File attachments Create resource plugin Yes Create Services plugin Yes
Authenticated user resources (log in/out, password reset) Not yet (issue) No User login and logout Yes

I would like to see a convergence where all of these can be achieved in Drupal core with minimal configuration and minimal code.

Working with Drupal's entity graph

Recently, a discussion at DrupalCon New Orleans with key contributors to the core REST modules, maintainers of important contributed web services modules, and external observers led to a proposed path forward for all of Drupal's web services.

Web services entity graph
A visual example of an entity graph in Drupal.

Buried inside Drupal is an "entity graph" over which different API approaches like traditional REST, JSON API, and GraphQL can be layered. These varied approaches all traverse and manipulate Drupal's entity graph, with differences solely in the syntax and features made possible by that syntax. Unlike core's REST API which only returns a single level (single entity or lists of entities), GraphQL and JSON API can return multiple levels of nested entities as the result of a single query. To better understand what this means, have a look at the GraphQL demo video I shared in my DrupalCon Barcelona keynote.

What we concluded at DrupalCon New Orleans is that Drupal's GraphQL and JSON API implementations require a substantial amount of custom code to traverse and manipulate Drupal's entity graph, that there was a lot of duplication in that code, and that there is an opportunity to provide more flexibility and simplicity. Therefore, it was agreed that we should first focus on building an "entity graph iterator" that can be reused by JSON API, GraphQL, and other modules.

This entity graph iterator would also enable manipulation of the graph, e.g. for aliasing fields in the graph or simplifying the structure. For example, the difference between Drupal's "base fields" and "configured fields" is irrelevant to an application developer using Drupal's web services API, but Drupal's responses leak this internal distinction by prefixing configured fields with field_ (see the left column in the table below). By the same token, all fields, even if they carry single values, expose the verbosity of Drupal's typed data system by being presented as arrays (see the left column in the table below). While there are both advantages and disadvantages to exposing single-value fields as arrays, many developers prefer more control over the output or the ability to opt into simpler outputs.

A good Drupal entity graph iterator would simplify the development of Drupal web service APIs, provide more flexibility over naming and structure, and eliminate duplicate code.

Current core REST (shortened response) Ideal core REST (shortened response)
{
  "nid": [
    {
      "value": "2"
    }
  ],
  "title": [
    {
      "value": "Lorem ipsum"
    }
  ],
  "field_product_number": [
    {
      "value": "35"
    }
  ],
  "field_image": [
    {
      "target_id": "2",
      "alt": "Image",
      "title": "Hover text",
      "width": "210",
      "height": "281",
      "url": "http://site.com/x.jpg"
    }
  ]
}
{
  "nid": "2"
  "title": "Lorem ipsum",
  "product_number": {
    "value": 35
  },
  "image": {
    "target_id": 2,
    "alt": "Image",
    "title": "Hover text",
    "width": 210,
    "height": 281,
    "url": "http://site.com/x.jpg"
  }
}

GraphQL and JSON API in core

We should acknowledge simultaneously that the wider JavaScript community is beginning to embrace different approaches, like JSON API and GraphQL, which both enable complex relational queries that require fewer requests between Drupal and the client (thanks to the ability to follow relationships, as mentioned in the section concerning the entity graph).

While both JSON API and GraphQL are preferred over traditional REST due to their ability to provide nested entity relationships, GraphQL goes a step further than JSON API by facilitating explicitly client-driven queries, in which the client dictates its data requirements.

I believe that GraphQL and JSON API in core would be a big win for those building decoupled applications with Drupal, and these modules can use existing foundations in Drupal 8 such as the Serialization module. Furthermore, Drupal's own built-in JavaScript-driven UIs could benefit tremendously from GraphQL and JSON API. I'd love to see them in core rather than as contributed modules, as we could leverage them when building decoupled applications backed by Drupal or exchanging data with other server-side implementations. We could also "eat our own dog food" by using them to power JavaScript-driven UIs for block placement, media management, and other administrative interfaces. I can even see a future where Views and GraphQL are closely integrated.

Web services rest json grapql
A comparison of different API approaches for Drupal 8, with amended and simplified payloads for illustrative purposes.

SDKs to consume web services

While a unified REST API and support for GraphQL and JSON API would dramatically improve Drupal as a web services back end, we need to be attentive to the needs of consumers of those web services as well by providing SDKs and helper libraries for developers new to Drupal.

An SDK could make it easy to retrieve an article node, modify a field, and send it back without having to learn the details of Drupal's particular REST API implementation or the structure of Drupal's underlying data storage. For example, this would allow front-end developers to not have to deal with the details of single- versus multi-value fields, optional vs required fields, validation errors, and so on. As an additional example, incorporating user account creation and password change requests into decoupled applications would empower front-end developers building these forms on a decoupled front end such that they would not need to know anything about how Drupal performs user authentication.

As starting points for JavaScript applications, native mobile applications, and even other back-end applications, these SDKs could handle authenticating against the API and juggling of the correct routes to resources without the front-end developer needing an understanding of those nuances.

In fact, at Acquia we're now in the early stages of building the first of several SDKs for consuming and manipulating data via Drupal 8's REST API. Waterwheel (previously Hydrant), a new generic helper library intended for JavaScript developers building applications backed by Drupal, is the work of Acquia's Matt Grill and Preston So, and it is already seeing community contributions. We're eager to share our work more widely and welcome new contributors.

Conclusion

I believe that it is important to have first-class web services in Drupal out of the box in order to enable top-notch APIs and continue our evolution to become API-first.

In parallel with our ongoing work on shoring up our REST module in core, we should provide the underpinnings for even richer web services solutions in the future. With reusable helper functionality that operates on Drupal's entity graph available in core, we open the door to GraphQL, JSON API, and even our current core REST implementation eventually relying on the same robust foundation. Both GraphQL and JSON API could also be promising modules in core. Last but not least, SDKs like Hydrant that empower developers to work with Drupal without learning its complexities will further advance our web services.

Collectively, these tracks of work will make Drupal uniquely compelling for application developers within our own community and well beyond.

Special thanks to Preston So for contributions to this blog post and to Moshe Weitzman, Kyle Browning, Kris Vanderwater, Wim Leers, Sebastian Siemssen, Tim Millwood, Ted Bowman, and Mateu Aguiló Bosch for their feedback during its writing.

Demandware acquisition heats up the customer experience market

The battle for the marketing cloud just got way more interesting. This week, Salesforce announced its acquisition of Demandware for $2.8B in cash. It will enable Salesforce to offer a "Commerce Cloud" alongside its sales and marketing solutions.

The large platform companies like Oracle and Adobe are trying to own the digital customer experience market from top to bottom by acquiring and integrating together tools for marketing, commerce, customer support, analytics, mobile apps, and more. Oracle's acquisition of Eloqua, SAP's acquisition of hybris and Salesforce's acquisitions of ExactTarget were earlier indicators of market players consolidating SaaS apps for customer experience onto their platforms.

In my view, the Demandware acquisition is an interesting strategic move for Salesforce that aligns them more closely as a competitor to marketing stack mega-vendors such as Adobe, Oracle and IBM. Adding a commerce solution to its suite, makes it easier for Salesforce's customers to build an integrated experience and see what their customers are buying. There are advantages to integrated solutions that have a single system of record about the customer. The Demandware acquisition also makes sense from a technology point of view; there just aren't many Java-based commerce platforms that are purely SaaS-based, that can operate at scale, and that are for sale.

However, we've also seen this movie before. When big companies acquire smaller, innovative companies, over time the innovation goes away in favor of integration. Big companies can't innovate fast enough, and the suite lock-in only benefits the vendor.

There is a really strong case to be made for a best-of-breed approach where you choose and integrate the best software from different vendors. This is a market that literally changes too much and too fast for any organization to buy into a single mega-platform. From my experience talking to hundreds of customer organizations, most prefer an open platform that integrates different solutions and acts as an orchestration hub. An open platform ultimately presents more freedom for customers to build the exact experiences they want. Open Source solutions, like Drupal, that have thousands of integrations, allow organizations to build these experiences in less time, with a lower overall total cost of ownership, more flexibility and faster innovation.

Adobe clearly missed out on buying Demandware, after it missed out on buying Hybris years ago. Demandware would have fit in Adobe's strategy and technology stack. Now Adobe might be the only mega-platform that doesn't have an embedded commerce capability. More interestingly, there don't appear to be large independent commerce operators left to buy.

I continue to believe there is a great opportunity for new independent commerce platforms, especially now Salesforce and Demandware will spend the next year or two figuring out the inevitable challenges of integrating their complex software solutions. I'd love to see more commerce platforms emerge, especially those with a modern micro-services based architecture, and an Open Source license and innovation model.

Changes with the Drupal Association

The Drupal community is very special because of its culture of adapting to change, determination and passion, but also its fun and friendship. It is a combination that is hard to come by, even in the Open Source world. Our culture enabled us to work through really long, but ground-breaking release cycles, which also prompted us to celebrate the release of Drupal 8 with 240 parties around the world.

Throughout Drupal's 15 years history, that culture has served us really well. As the larger industry around us continues to change -- see my DrupalCon New Orleans keynote for recent examples -- we have been able to evolve Drupal accordingly. Drupal has not only survived massive changes in our industry; it has also helped drive them. Very few open source projects are 15 years old and continue to gain momentum.

Drupal 8 is creating new kinds of opportunities for Drupal. For example, who could have imagined that Lufthansa would be using Drupal 8 to build its next-generation in-flight entertainment system? Drupal 8 changes the kind of end-user experiences people can build, how we think about Drupal, and what kind of people we'll attract to our community. I firmly believe that these changes are positive for Drupal, increase Drupal's impact on the world, and grow the opportunity for our commercial ecosystem.

To seize the big opportunity ahead of us and to adjust to the changing environment, it was the Drupal Association's turn to adapt and carefully realign the Drupal Association's strategic focus.

The last couple of years the Drupal Association invested heavily in Drupal.org to support the development and the release of Drupal 8. Now Drupal 8 is released, the Drupal Association's Board of Directors made the strategic decision to shift some focus from the "contribution journey" to the "evaluator's adoption journey" -- without compromising our ability to build and maintain the Drupal software. The Drupal Association will reduce its efforts on Drupal.org's collaboration tools and expand its efforts to grow Drupal's adoption and to build a larger ecosystem of technology partners.

We believe this is not only the right strategic focus at this point in Drupal 8's lifecycle, but also a necessary decision. While the Drupal Association's revenues continued to grow at a healthy pace, we invested heavily, and exhausted our available reserves supporting the Drupal 8 release. As a result, we have to right-size the organization, balance our income with our expenses, and focus on rebuilding our reserves.

In a blog post today, we provide more details on why we made these decisions and how we will continue to build a healthy long-term organization. The changes we made today help ensure that Drupal will gain momentum for decades to come. We could not make this community what it is without the participation of each and every one of you. Thanks for your support!

Megan Sanicki to become Executive Director at the Drupal Association

This is a time of transition for the Drupal Association. As you might have read on the Drupal Association blog, Holly Ross, our Executive Director, is moving on. Megan Sanicki, who has been with the Drupal Association for almost 6 years, and was working alongside Holly as the Drupal Association's COO, will take over Holly's role as the Executive Director.

Open source stewardship is not easy but in the 3 years Holly was leading the Drupal Association, she lead with passion, determination and transparency. She operationalized the Drupal Association and built a team that truly embraces its mission to serve the community, growing that team by over 50% over three years of her tenure. She established a relationship with the community that wasn't there before, allowing the Drupal Association to help in new ways like supporting the Drupal 8 launch, providing test infrastructure, implementing the Drupal contribution credit system, and more. Holly also matured our DrupalCon, expanding its reach to more users with conferences in Latin America and India. She also executed the Drupal 8 Accelerate Fund, which allowed direct funding of key contributors to help lead Drupal 8 to a successful release.

Holly did a lot for Drupal. She touched all of us in the Drupal community. She helped us become better and work closer together. It is sad to see her leave, but I'm confident she'll find success in future endeavors. Thanks, Holly!

Megan, the Drupal Association staff and the Board of Directors are committed to supporting the Drupal project. In this time of transition, we are focused on the work that Drupal Association must do and looking at how to do that in a sustainable way so we can support the project for many years to come.

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