The best Drupal distributions in 2021
The best Drupal distributions can last only a moment. Today, we are looking at the best ones in 2021.
What is Drupal?
Today’s topic is the best Drupal distributions in 2021. We’ve talked extensively about Drupal in the past, as an alternative for stores with Drupal Commerce or as a perfect web framework with Drupal CMS. Let’s review the Drupal basics.
Drupal is free and open-source software—you can check my article on the meaning of open source if in doubt. Being a FOSS, Drupal offers three attributes: lower costs, flexible development with community support, and maximum security.
These attributes are a perfect fit for content management systems, learning management systems, and commerce stores alike. Multipurpose and highly configurable, Drupal gives any business the possibility to customize their website, both for the front or the back end.
Though Drupal can be very versatile, many entrepreneurs want a quick solution to get going and prefer not to invest in building a custom site. Here is where Drupal distributions enter the playfield.
What is a Drupal distribution?
It’s hard to talk about Drupal distributions because you can't easily pin them down as Drupal Commerce or Drupal for CMS. Why is this? Because of the changing nature of Drupal distributions.
Think about taking a picture of a race that has no end in sight. Yeah, you might be able to tell how the horses are positioned, but you have no clue what the future holds, especially when nobody knows where all of this is heading. Heck, I don’t even know where I’m heading.
This kind of uncertainty can quickly escalate upon anyone who is starting with a Drupal-based project. With over 38,000 modules (yeah, that many), Drupal beginners face a steep learning curve and a good infusion of choice paralysis, one of my worst enemies.
To this daunting experience, distributions come up as a solution. As a way of easing up the process and simplifying how to start, distributions bundle up a set of modules for a given purpose in a prearranged package. Then, users can simply download and install the package as a vanilla copy of Drupal.
It’s not quite a modded version but an expertly curated selection of existing modules. These are usually chosen with a goal in mind: for a learning management system, for government, for commerce, or blogging.
Let’s now see the best Drupal distributions in 2021.
The best Drupal distributions in 2021
As I’ve said before, these distros (distributions) are a snapshot of the options available in Drupal as of 2021. Dear time traveler, if you come from the future, these distributions may still be successful or a complete train wreck, you tell me.
I’ll present a range of options considering different uses: publishing, headless, eLearning, community, and RSVP. Without further ado, let's review five excellent Drupal distributions still in good health as of September 2021.
Lightning is a Drupal distribution that enables developers to create authoring experiences and helps out editorial teams. It provides a simple framework, lightweight documentation, and a set of best practices.
However, this distribution was designed for Drupal 8, which might be reaching end-of-life soon enough. Thank goodness I said that these distros were in good health.
So long, and thanks for all the fish...
Contenta is a content API and content management system based on Drupal 8. It has an active community in GitHub, but its latest release was in May 2019. Contenta provides a standard platform for building headless applications and websites and you can find all their information on GitHub.
We’ve talked before about Opigno, the Drupal learning management system distribution. You can find in-depth information in the article about Drupal LMS and its comparison with Wrupal and Dokeos.
In any case, Opigno is a fully open-source Drupal-based LMS. It provides a secure learning platform for any organization that wants to help people grow, whether governmental, educational, or commercial. Its latest update was Opigno Hybrid 3.0 and was released on September 10, 2021, right out of the oven for you. Unless you come from the future, of course.
Open Social: community
Open Social presents itself as a community engagement platform that allows creating digital spaces for members. Basically? An out-of-the-box tool to create and manage your online community. This distribution is used by many international organizations as the UN, Greenpeace and FIFA, to name a few.
Luckily, this distribution is still being supported by its community, which makes a lot of sense if you think about it. They are the experts when it comes to managing digital communities. It would be the last straw if this were not the case. Open Social offers a real-time chat and collaboration, a section to organize webinars, and a native application.
EasyBooking is an RSVP distribution that allows managing a hotel, inn, or hostel online. Thanks to its set of modules, EasyBooking offers several features such as online booking and availability, calendar administration, responsive design and theme, and more.
Being a Drupal distribution, EasyBooking is completely free and open-source, though you might want to consider investing in a development team if you don’t have enough technical expertise.
Distributions pros and cons
We’ve seen many Drupal distributions, but why is it that developers don’t talk about them? Well, the problem might have deeper roots than just Drupal development. With free and open-source software, a usual problem often arises: competition is fierce, and being up to date is challenging.
This is not only the case of Drupal distributions but also open-source software for creators, open-source development tools, and even open-source operating system distributions, Linux being its biggest representative. With a ruthless process of natural selection, only the versions able to improvise, adapt and overcome get to stay in the race.
Another issue with Drupal distributions is how these canned solutions can be a pain when in need of further customization and changes in modules. Think of buying a piece of machinery designed specifically for the task it is supposed to perform; if you want to tweak or change any part of its mechanism, you will need to consider every other piece the machine is connected to.
On the other hand, when developing a custom Drupal site from scratch, you get to choose and mount everything by yourself, ending up with a truly personalized version. Kind of your own unique piece of machinery thought exclusively for your objectives.
That is why, at Awkbit, we are skeptical of using Drupal distributions. Not because they are bad options, but because, if you have the time and budget to do it, a personalized development can fit like a glove, while a distribution can force you to cut a finger or stitch a new one. Do you want to use a standard distribution? Or are you willing to accept the challenge of building your unique product?