What you need to know about Drupal 8

New user interfaces, mobile capabilities, coding standards and APIs

Over the last few years, many world-famous organizations — from government sites such as WhiteHouse.gov, France.fr and Australia.gov.au to business sites such as GE.com, Pfizer.com and TeslaMotors.com — have adopted Drupal. Nearly all of Drupal’s explosive growth has been thanks to Drupal 7, which launched in 2011 and is now used on almost 90 percent of Drupal sites.

Now, the Drupal community is preparing to launch a new version.

Drupal 8, set to be released later this year, is a completely re-written version of the platform. This newest version will include new user interfaces, mobile capabilities, coding standards and APIs, amongst many other changes.

Here’s an overview of the all key information about Drupal 8.

What’s so special about Drupal 8?

The Drupal community has put together a landing page that links to a great deal of information about Drupal 8. They break down the changes for developers, themers, site-builders, content administrators and more.

For developers and designers, Drupal 8 has adopted much of the Symfony stack. This means that large parts of Symfony2 are in the codebase, and themes now use the Twig templating language.

For site-builders, Drupal 8 will be significantly more capable than Drupal 7. The new version includes many popular modules that were only available as add-on modules in Drupal 7. The hugely popular Views module is now part of the Drupal 8 core, and so are fields such as Date, E-mail, Link and Telephone Number.

For content-administrators, there’s front-end editing, so you can click on almost any part of the site and edit it without leaving the page.

Screenshot of drupal 8 editor

How can you try Drupal 8?

SimplyTest.me is a very useful site. It allows you to easily spin up Drupal sites to test the Drupal core, or any modules or themes. This link will allow you to create a Drupal 8 test site.

By default, the test sites will last for 30 minutes, but if you create an account, the sites will last for 24 hours.

If you want to download Drupal 8 and test it elsewhere, you can download the files from https://www.drupal.org/project/drupal. After downloading it, you can try it out on hosting like GoDaddy’s VPS or Cloud hosting.

Where is Drupal 8 development right now?

Drupal 8 is in the final stretch before release. There are three major steps left before we can start using a stable version of Drupal 8.

Step No. 1: Beta versions

The current version of Drupal 8 is Beta 14, as of Aug. 17, 2015. The Beta phase started last October and will finish when all the “critical” bugs are resolved.

That raises several key more questions …

What is a critical bug? Drupal defines them as bugs that render Drupal unusable and have no workaround, cause loss of data, or have security vulnerabilities.

How many critical bugs are left? Starting at the end of 2014, there has been significant progress. The number of critical bugs has gone down from more than 130 to less than 25. DrupalReleaseDate.com has a chart that allows you to see how the number of bugs has fallen over recent months:

drupal 8 burndown graph

Step No. 2: Release candidates

Once there are no more critical bugs in the beta releases, the next step is a release candidate. Release candidates are considered nearly stable code, something the Drupal development community considers to be a genuine candidate for release as Drupal 8.

A Release Candidate has to go for two weeks without a new critical bug being found. (The Drupal 7 Release Candidate phase lasted about five weeks.) You can see the full details of that policy here.

Step No. 3: A stable release of Drupal 8

Woo-hoo! Drupal 8.0 is released to world. Expect parties worldwide as the Drupal community celebrates.

So when will Drupal 8 be released?

Now we arrive at the big question! At the current rate of progress, we could see a final release later this year, perhaps around the time of DrupalCon Barcelona, at the end of September.

DrupalReleaseDate.com always has a live estimate of the release date. Currently, their prediction is that Drupal 8 will arrive on September 14:

drupal 8 estimated release date

What’s next?

How you plan for Drupal 8 will depend on whether you’re thinking about a new or existing Drupal site:

If you’re planning a new Drupal site: You can expect a stable version of Drupal 8 to ship towards the end of 2015. If you’re sticking very close to the core files, you can launch your site immediately. However, if you’re planning a complex site with many contributed modules, you should use Drupal 7 or plan on waiting for Drupal 8 until well into 2016.

If you already use Drupal 6: Start planning to update. You’ll get security updates for three months after the Drupal 8 release, so you’ll probably be covered only until early 2016.

If you use Drupal 7: Your site has several good years left. Drupal will probably keep providing you with security updates until at least 2018.

Steve Burge
Steve is from Portsmouth in southern England and now lives in Sarasota, Fla. He runs OSTraining.com, which teaches people how to build websites. OSTraining clients include more than 40,000 individuals, plus large organizations such as Apple, Pfizer and the U.S. Departments of Energy, Education and Commerce. Steve has written three books: “Joomla Explained,” “Joomla 3 Explained” and “Drupal 7 Explained.” Those books were the best-selling books for their platforms, so he's busy writing more. Look for “WordPress Explained” and “Drupal 8 Explained” to be published soon.