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August 24, 2016

The ABC's of Drupal: Dev Ops, Display and Distribution

Thought by Ray Saltini, Director, FFW Center of Excellence
Drupal word cloud

For anyone who's ever looked up a definition of a Drupal term and been left wondering what it all means, here are some practical real world explanations you can use to navigate the Drupalverse. Watch this space and use comments to send us your feedback and requests.

The Discipline of Dev Ops

Dev Ops, or Development Operations, is the intersection between IT managed hosting support and development. While it is a specialization in many organizations, senior developers, tech leads, and architects should be conversant in the various systems and tools to be used by your IT team or provider.

One of the primary goals of Dev Ops is to create standardized operating system iterations that are consistently reliable and easily replicable. Your unique infrastructure or hosting service plays a big role in these systems, which is why they tend to be customized to each project.

Standardized Dev Ops systems are used to create local and remote development environments, as well as staging and production environments, which all function in the same way. Having good Dev Ops systems in place means that your organization can support continuous development practices like version control and automated testing.

For any site that’s even moderately complex, having Dev Ops standards is huge. You don’t have to try to become a Dev Ops genius yourself: instead, you can find an organization like FFW to provide the level of Dev Ops help and support that is appropriate for the size and scope of your project.

Defining a Display

Displays, unlike Dev Ops, are a little simpler. A Display in Drupal typically refers to how queried data is organized and shown to visitors. It is usually used in connection with a native database query referred to as a View.

One View (or database query) can have several Displays sorted in different ways. For instance, a set of queried data can be output in the following ways:

  • a sortable table
  • a grid
  • as consecutive field sets
  • in a rotating banner
  • as a calendar or list of coming events
  • as points on a map

… and these are only just a few examples of the many different kinds of Displays.

The Details Around Distributions

A Distribution is a pre-developed assembly of database data, code, and files. Distributions commonly include saved content, configuration settings, Drupal core, contributed and custom modules, libraries, and a custom theme. It’s basically a pre-built Drupal site.

Most people first become acquainted with Distributions as different iterations of Drupal that are built for specific use cases or verticals, such as e-commerce or publishing. Many distributions are robust, production-ready applications that will save you tremendous work. They let you take advantage of the distribution sponsor’s subject matter expertise.

There are other kinds of distributions, such as ones developed mainly for marketing purposes to showcase what Drupal can do and how Drupal can be used. Both of these types of distributions have value, but it is important to differentiate between the two.

Distributions can be vetted in much the same way that a Drupal module or theme can be vetted. When evaluating a Distribution, I always like to ask the following questions:

  • Who are the contributors?
  • What is their experience?
  • Is the project actively maintained and are new features or versions planned?

The other primary consideration when vetting a Distribution is how much complexity and effort is required to ‘unravel’ a distribution. Many organizations have found that the more fully realized distributions are difficult to customize around their specific workflows and therefore are more expensive to change than starting fresh with a more basic version of Drupal.

If you want to know more about Distributions, I recommend looking at Drupal’s distribution project pages and this documentation page.

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