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Decoupled Drupal: A Guide for Marketers

Kristin Janeiro | Content Marketing Specialist

January 25, 2018

If you are considering a move to Drupal 8, or upgrading your current Drupal platform, it’s likely that you’ve come across the term “decoupled Drupal”, aka “headless Drupal”. But do you know what it means and what the implications of decoupled Drupal are for marketers? In this guide we will define decoupled Drupal and share three reasons why marketers should consider a decoupled architecture as they evolve their digital experience platforms.

What is Decoupled Drupal?

Think about your favorite department store. You walk in and enjoy the ambiance, interact with the items across departments, maybe chat with an employee, but you never venture into the back of the store. The back of the store exists to house items that employees can access and feature in the departments for customers to see.

With decoupled Drupal, a website visitor will not interact with Drupal directly, much like shoppers do not interact with the back of a brick and mortar store. The visitor will see pages created with Javascript frameworks (like Angular.js, React.js, or Ember), rather than a traditional Drupal theme. The Drupal CMS serves as an interface for editors to enter content, but its primary use is as a store for content.

To put it very simply, decoupled Drupal separates your front end experiences from the back end CMS. Here’s an image to help you visualize the difference between a more traditional Drupal architecture and a decoupled Drupal setup.

image of decoupled Drupal architecture vs. more traditional Drupal setup

If you would like to dive in further, here is a great blog by Dries Buytaert on decoupled Drupal architecture in 2018.

Why Should Marketers Consider Decoupled Drupal?

Make Multi-Platform a Breeze

If you are a large organization with many digital properties to maintain and update, then a decoupled Drupal backend can make your life a lot easier. By serving as content repository, the decoupled CMS allows you to serve up dynamic content across many different places, including mobile apps, voice tech platforms, IOT devices, and to future tech down the road.

Create Beautiful Front End Experiences

It’s no secret that traditional Drupal architectures come with some design limitations that can prevent designers and front-end developers from properly implementing a modern design system that offers exceptional user experience.

Decoupled Drupal facilitates the use of external design systems. In this approach, Drupal is only responsible for gathering data, passing that data to an external design system, and handing over control of the markup to that system, ensuring that your content will present beautifully across all of your digital platforms.

Boost Marketing Agility to Provide Superior Customer Experience

Updating and redesigning digital properties quickly and with customer expectations in mind is a huge and never-ending challenge for marketers, not to mention a huge investment of time and resources across development, design, and marketing departments.

Updates and redesigns within a traditional Drupal architecture typically take quite some time because both the back end and the front end must be modified, meaning that you the marketer are relying on both developers and designers to complete the project. CX is evolving so fast that by the time you wrangle your development team, bring in design, and agree on the way forward you may find that your proposed changes already look dated!

Decoupling your Drupal CMS allows you to make upgrades to the back end without impacting UX on the frontend. And in turn, you can make design and UX changes to the front end independently from the back end.

In a decoupled architecture you keep the CMS as a long-term product on the back end, but can make important front end UX changes that impact customer acquisition and retention more frequently and more cheaply.

Decoupled Drupal is not for everyone. If you only need to manage content for your company’s website and do not maintain multiple digital properties, a more traditional Drupal CMS architecture probably makes more sense for you. It’s time to consider decoupled Drupal if you are a large organization with several uses for the same content, such as multiple sites displaying the same content or a stable of various front-end devices.

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