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What's New in Drupal 7

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Drupal is one of the most popular content management systems (CMS) out there. To mark the new year, Drupal 7, the next major version of Drupal, is being released! In this article, I'll walk you through some of the most exciting new features.


New Themes

The old themes have been replaced with powerful, new ones.

If you've worked with Drupal 6, you may have noticed the default "Garland" theme looks a bit outdated by now. Furthermore, using Garland for site administration and content editing is, frankly, not very intuitive.

Drupal 7 changes all that! The old themes have been discarded and replaced with a powerful theme trio:

  • Bartik - The attractive new default theme your users will see
  • Seven - The new administrative theme. If you've worked with Drupal 6, you will love this new administrative theme (more about that in a following section).
  • Stark - A blank theme that helps theme developers (aka the themers) understand Drupal's default HTML and CSS

As always, these themes can be replaced by a theme you download and install from Drupal.org or by a custom theme of your own making!


Revamped Admin Interface

One of the most intrinsic functions of any CMS, be it Wordpress, Joomla, or Drupal, is to provide an easy way for end-users to update content. Drupal 6 has some very good administrative themes, such as Rubik, but Drupal 7 makes creating, updating, and editing content far simpler. Take a look at the following short video to get a feel for the new administrative interface:



A video demonstration of the Drupal 7 Administrative Interface

Improved Theming Layer

Meaningful HTML is not a strong suit of Drupal 6, but Drupal 7 delivers big-time.

Another important features of any CMS is the ability to take full control over the look and feel of the site you're building. Drupal 6 has a fantastic theming layer, but it does have a few quirks that are ironed out in Drupal 7. As a note, template files in Drupal end with the .tpl.php extension, which is often pronounced "tipple-fip" for brevity.

If you've worked with Drupal 6 themes, perhaps the biggest change you'll notice is the introduction of html.tpl.php, which is used to display the basic html structure of a single Drupal page, including DOCTYPE, head, html, and body. In Drupal 6, page.tpl.php used to include these elements, but is now used specifically to display the content of a single page. This change should free themers from declaring DOCTYPES, head, etc. in multiple files, thus making maintenance and changes simpler.

Unsemantic class names have been renamed. For example, the class block-blog-0 has been renamed block-blog-recent, and block-profile-0 has become block-profile-author-information. While this may seem minor, meaningful and semantic classnames can greatly speed up theme development and make debugging CSS issues clearer.

There's far too much to cover in one small section, from hidden regions to new PHP functions. If you're interested in learning more about changes to the theme layer, check out the following links:


jQuery Updates

For the front-end developers out there, this is a big one. Unfortunately, Drupal 6 still ships with jQuery 1.2.6, and upgrading isn't simple. Luckily, Drupal 7 ships with jQuery 1.4.4, which is significantly faster than jQuery 1.2.6, and provides developers with access to fantastic features such as .delegate() and $.proxy().

Drupal 7 ships with jQuery 1.4.4

In addition to updating jQuery, Drupal 7 will also ship with jQueryUI 1.8. jQueryUI is a smart addition which should help standardize many UI components, such as tabs, drag & drop events, or accordions. There are loads of Drupal modules which try to fulfill these tasks in Drupal 6. Therefore, standardizing around one UI library in Drupal 7 should make front-end development and maintenance easier.


Drupal 7 Ships with CCK

CCK is the Drupal equivalent of WordPress' custom post types

For those unfamiliar with Drupal, CCK stands for Content Construction Kit, and it is one of the coolest features of Drupal. While CCK used to be an add-on module, it is now included with Drupal 7 by default.

Essentially, CCK allows you to quickly create new content types, such as an article, blog post, or even music album. You can easily add fields to your content type using the administrative interface. For example, you could add Album Name, Tracks, Producer and release year to a music album content type. Once the content type is created with the appropriate fields, content contributors can start entering in content while you work on the technical parts of the site! If that explanation didn't get you excited about content types, check out this quick video:



A video demonstrating the Content Construction Kit:

RDF Support

Drupal 7 is the first major CMS to implement RDF.

Have you heard of the Semantic Web, otherwise known as the Giant Global Graph? According to Wikipedia, the semantic web is a group of methods and technologies to allow machines to understand the meaning - or 'semantics' - of information on the World Wide Web. In practice, the semantic web should vastly improve search engines, mashups, and data mining.

But what technology is used to implement the semantic web on our sites? That technology is called RDF. Drupal 7 is the first major CMS to implement RDF.

If you haven't heard of RDF yet, and remain unconvinced of its usefulness, I would highly recommend you watch the following video from DrupalCon to get an idea for what RDF can do for your site: The story of RDF in Drupal 7 and what it means for the Web at large.


Conclusion

This article has covered many of the most exciting features of Drupal 7, but there's even more! For those interested in Drupal module development, Fields are being overhauled and should make the creation of modules even simpler. Installation profiles have become easier to create and maintain. What are you favorite features of Drupal 7? Tell us in the comments!

Download Drupal 7.

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