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What is Drupal?

Drupal is an open source content management platform that can be downloaded and used free of charge. It consists of a core group of files that are standard on all installations, plus plugins and themes that are added to customise it. The name is an Anglicised version of the Dutch word for 'droplet', and that inspired the teardrop logo.

What Can Drupal Do?

Drupal is often mentioned in the same breath as WordPress and Joomla. but each tool is subtly different. All of them are content management systems (CMS) - they let you organise text, images and videos for the web. However, Drupal's strength is in its complexity and robust architecture.

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Drupal is best for sites that are expected to grow, or experience high volumes of traffic. It has a strong following amongst media clients, large ecommerce stores, top universities and household brands. Drupal also provides the framework for many US and UK government websites.

It's also known for being highly flexible, so companies can easily run a diverse range of scripts from one Drupal install. Unlike Joomla. Drupal is not designed to support web applications, although some users do set it up for this purpose. And while WordPress is more logical as a blogging platform, it's not designed to scale up and out like Drupal.

The Evolution of Drupal

The Drupal source code was originally written as an internet forum application. Its founder, Dries Buytaert, a PhD graduate in computer science. Buytaert now runs a company called Acquia that specialises in Drupal support and employs 300 people. It was Acquia that assisted with the transition of the whitehouse.gov website to the Drupal platform.

From humble beginnings, Drupal now powers at least 2 per cent of websites globally. It is owned by the Drupal Association, which is a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting Drupal.

On the modern web, Drupal is built to support content. It lets companies index and display custom content types in a limitless number of ways, so you're not limited to normal blog or ecommerce formats. This is why many businesses adopt Drupal over the alternatives.

Drupal Pros and Cons

There are a few downsides to Drupal:

  • It's less popular than its competitors, so you'll find it a bit more difficult to pick up
  • The learning curve is pretty steep if you want to go beyond the basics
  • You will need PHP skills (or hired helpers) for anything complex
  • The add-on modules can be complicated and difficult to implement
  • Big upgrades can render all of your modules totally unusable
  • One major hack has made many concerned.
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However, website owners stay loyal to Drupal because:

  • Most web hosts provide it as a free one-click installer
  • Developers have tried to make it more usable, and are actively investing in getting feedback
  • It's very flexible, particularly if you can code
  • It's designed to be shaped to fit your own purposes
  • It scales up well, even with very large amounts of content; Drupal 7 has been re-coded with speed in mind
  • It has been used to develop some very high profile sites (Sony Music, eBay, Harvard and Al Jazeera)
  • User roles and permissions are sophisticated
  • Plugins, known as modules, extend core functionality and make Drupal more versatile


Drupal is designed to be installed on the LAMP stack - Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. The current version is number 7, and Drupal 8 is in active development at the time of publication.

It can also be installed on Nginx or Microsoft IIS (Windows).

The core installation takes up 15 MB of space. Remember: you'll need more disk space for themes, modules and content.

You'll need to check that your database is on the same machine as your website files. This isn't a requirement as such, but it makes a big difference to resource usage. If your database is located elsewhere, you might find that your host objects to Drupal without sophisticated caching in place.

If you don't have a web hosting account, you can try Drupal 7 as a service at Drupal Gardens. Note that you can't upload themes, import sites or add modules to your sites, so if you want those advanced features, you'd be best off setting up your own Drupal site on a web hosting account.

Drupal Risks

In October 2014, a large scale SQL injection hack rendered tens of thousands of Drupal websites insecure. The hack took advantage of a vulnerability in Drupal 7's code, and it meant hackers could create a backdoor that could not be detected or patched.

Drupal is an open-source content management system (CMS) built in PHP.

  • What types of websites can I build with Drupal?

    Drupal can be used to build just about any type of website including blogs, business, portfolio, ecommerce, social networks, and even custom web applications such as project management tools and customer relationship management. If you are building a complex content-driven site requiring a lot of custom data types, Drupal is worth taking a look at.

  • Is Drupal flexible?

    Drupal is completely modular, even the core distribution is built as a series of modules. This makes it extremely flexible.

  • What are Drupal modules?

    Modules are programs designed to be added to a Drupal website to power specific features. Modules may add:

    • Technical tools, such as caching functionality
    • Presentational tools, such as new ways of sorting and displaying content
    • Functional tools, such as navigation menus and website forms.
    • A large assortment of Drupal modules is available for free from the Drupal project website.

    • Is Drupal good for beginners?

      When it comes to building a website or web application, Drupal is considered to be the least beginner-friendly option among the leading CMSs. Even experienced web developers can expect to encounter a challenging learning curve when setting up Drupal for the first time.

      The power and appeal of Drupal lie in its flexibility, security, and speed, and not in its ease of use. However, once a Drupal site has been completely built, non-technical users can learn to add and update content without too much trouble.

    • What types of content can Drupal be used to manage and display?

      Any that you need. It has a number of built-in or already available content types for a wide range of applications – blog posts, content pages, products, people, projects, media. New content types can be created easily through the admin interface, provided by modules, or added with code.

    • Does Drupal have a customizable website theme system?

      Drupal has a theming system which allows for extreme customization of website presentation. This includes changing the look and layout of your site, but also for providing content in other ways, like through a RESTful API or an RSS Feed.

    • What are the hosting requirements of Drupal?

      Drupal requires PHP 5.2+. It works with MySQL and PostgreSQL databases, and versions 7 and 8 of Drupal provide support for even more databases. It can run on Apache, Nginx, or IIS web servers.

    • Is Drupal available in a one click installation?

      Many hosting plans provide one-click installation of the Drupal core through the control panel. However, use of any pre-built Drupal distributions – which can be a real time-saver – usually requires manual installation (although some hosts provide installation support for a small set of popular distros).

    • What are Drupal Distributions?

      One of the most powerful features of Drupal is its Distributions Project. Taking their cue from Linux culture, Drupal developers have created a system of packaged distributions which provide organized sets of features for specific applications. For example, there are distributions for education, non-profit administration, churches, government agencies, musicians, podcasters, and news publishers.

    • Will Drupal work on shared hosting?

      Shared hosting environments are usually technically adequate for a basic installation, but the types of large, complex sites for which Drupal is a good choice do not usually do well on shared hosting plans. If you're just wanting to learn how to use Drupal, shared hosting will work just fine. However, if you plan to host a large, busy, complex website, a VPS or dedicated server would be a better choice.

    • Do Drupal Distributions have any additional hosting requirements?

      Some do. If you plan to use a specialized distribution, be sure to check the specific hosting requirements for that package, as some distributions do include additional needs.

    • What is a content management system (CMS)?

      Content-driven websites consist of two major components: the content itself and the presentation of the content, also known as the website design. CMSs take care of both components by making it easy to manage lots of content and control how that content is presented.

    • Is Drupal a CMS or a framework?

      A CMS is an application used to build and manage a content-driven website. By that definition, Drupal is a CMS. A framework is a set of tools used to build a web application. Drupal is a highly modularized CMS with enough power and flexibility that some developers treat it as a web application development framework as much as a CMS.

    • How does a CMS manage website content?

      With a CMS you can define the types of content on your site: webpages, blog posts, products, customer testimonials, visitor comments, projects, and so forth. Then, you can create as many individual instances of each type of content as you wish.

      Further, the CMS enables you to define where each piece of content should appear on your site, how it should look when viewed by a website visitor, and how users should interact with the content. When you publish a new piece of content or make a change to an existing piece of content, the CMS automatically updates every affected webpage.

    • How does a CMS manage website appearance?

      If you think of a typical website or blog, all of the pages share elements like headers, menus, sidebars, and footers. A CMS uses a template-based system, called a theme, to duplicate these elements across every page automatically. Add a new piece of content and it's presented with the same header, menu, sidebar, and footer as every other page of your site. If you want to change the entire look of your website, you can do so by modifying the theme. Modify a theme file or install a new theme and every page on your site will be updated to reflect the change.

    • How does a CMS manage website updates?

      CMSs provide a "backend" or administrative interface for adding and editing content, which makes the act of writing a new page or adjusting the menus no more or less difficult than writing an email message or adding contacts to your phone. This means that anyone can use a CMS to update the content of a website. As soon as a change is made to the CMS backend, the presentation of that content is immediately updated on the public facing website front-end.

    • How is Drupal different from WordPress?

      In WordPress, blog posts are the primary content type. Additional content types have been added to the core, such as pages, media, and comments, but the blog post is still central. Like WordPress, many CMSs have some type of bias toward a single type of content. This can be problematic when "content" becomes something very different than originally envisioned.

      Drupal doesn't prefer any one type of content over another. All content types are on an equal footing. This makes it especially good for building complex data manipulation applications such as project management tools, customer relationship management systems, online stores, and social media networks.

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