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Drupal Wishlist

November 5 2009 : posted under drupal testing best practice architecture

Drupal has a lot of great strengths and some weaknesses

The following are the key areas of Drupal that (as a programmer) I would like to see improved.

Negative testing 

Drupal only seems to test the positive path, that is that given the right inputs you get the right results and apart from security nothing else matters.

The result of this is that incorrect inputs result in silent failures that can be very hard to debug.

By testing that incorrect inputs also provide dependable results with clear error messages bug fixing becomes much easier and development time can be reduced.

Of course it isn’t possible top test for all possible bad inputs – but just catching some of the likely errors can be very helpful.

Database abstraction

If Drupal (and contributed modules) could provide functions to manage their data, thereby removing the need for developers to either access data directly or work via the GUI – then many development tasks would become easier.

This would have particular benefit for the deployment of upgrades to large sites as all the changes could be written into update hooks.

Stronger encapsulation

I find it particularly noticeable when writing “unit” tests for Drupal that the encapsulation could be stronger. Pervasive use of globals, direct database access, and static variables for caching make it very hard to test Drupal at the unit level – most tests end up running at the integration level which while still useful is much slower and harder to integrate into the regular development cycle (code, test, repeat – then commit).

Upgrades with backwards compatibility

Major Drupal upgrades are not compatible, and minor upgrades don’t add features.

The biggest impact this has had on me and other professional developers I know is that it removes the main incentive to contribute – namely to fix problems in Drupal projects currently in progress.

Define hooks

A hook is a PHP function that is named foo_bar()

Well I know that, and I know how to use them and even create new ones – but I think a more complete definition would help clarify the purpose of hooks and perhaps more importantly better named hooks would provide the developer with a better idea of when hooks are called.

I think that hooks probably provide more than one service, some hooks are really event handlers (hook_cron() hook_validate() ) others are a kind of interface (hook_view(), hook_update(), hook_insert() etc).

If you think of hook_form_alter() as an event handler rather than for what work is typically done at that event you might rename it hook_form_build() which might help developers learn when it is fired and also provide hints as to other ways it might be used (eg you could use it to log the number of times a form is displayed on a site).

Separate the toolkit from the components

I love the way that drush isn’t a Drupal module, its independent of production code – I think it would be great of more tools provided this ability.

With a strong API it would even be possible to use just the API of something like CCK and remove the GUI entirely from production – thus removing one way that a client who demands the admin password can break the site.

Choose a target

Drupal tries to be all things to everyone: but this isn’t possible.

I don’t think you can have a product that runs on low end servers with out of date versions of PHP, works the same on any database (even SQLite) and still meets the needs of enterprise level teams.

Drupal needs to pick a target and focus on that – otherwise other products will come along and do a much better job for specific sectors of the market.

It seems like there is a similar issue with the user interface


Generally I’d like to see a much tighter Drupal with more focus on best practise and a clean API.

Whether that is what the rest of the Drupal community wants is another thing.