What is Drupal?

Drupal 8 logo

A quick introduction if you've never used Drupal before

In the easiest of terms, Drupal is an open-source content management system used by people who want to build websites. But honestly? It’s way more than that.

First, a little back history.

Drupal was created by Dries Buytaert in 2000 while he was a university student in Antwerp. Finding themselves in need of a way to communicate, he used wireless interest to create a local area network message board for himself and his fellow students. The experiment was stable and successful, so much so that students began recommending additional features they could use. Dries worked on improving the network but eventually opened it up to other developers to allow them to both explore the code and create new offerings. Thus its open-source status was born.

In 2001, Dries decided to officially release the software to anyone who might wish to use it. When registering his domain name, he accidentally misspelled the word for “village” in the Dutch language and instead of “dorp” wrote “drop” instead. Since the domain was available, he stuck with it. “Drop” in Dutch is “druppel” and thus the software name Drupal came to be.

What is Drupal? A collage of posters from worldwide community events

Open-source? So what?

Those of you who know me, know I’ve supported Cascade for the last several years here on campus, and the Cascade Server software application follows a pretty standard process: a company of X number of employees envisioned, created, developed, marketed, and released their product for X amount of dollars per year for a license. Patches and new offerings come as their X number of people can create, test and release them. That’s the norm.

Drupal isn’t the norm. Drupal isn’t even a companyDrupal is a community.

Since 2001 the interest and involvement in the Drupal community have exploded. Over a million sites use Drupal[1], over a million people are registered community members, and hundreds of thousands of those members actively contribute to Drupal's growth and success.

The nearest thing one might point to as a company is the Drupal Association, which "is an educational non-profit organization that tasks itself with fostering and supporting the Drupal software project, the community, and its growth.” [2] The Association is comprised of 17 unpaid, volunteer members[3] who handle and administer the financial donations from other organizations and corporate sponsors that go toward education, events, and development projects and support the community so it can continue to develop Drupal.

So you see where this is leading? Drupal is created and maintained by everyday people like you and I—people who are passionate about making and using the software.

Dries himself said, "It’s really the Drupal community and not so much the software that makes the Drupal project what it is. So fostering the Drupal community is actually more important than just managing the code base.”[4]

Do-ocracy in action

Were you to think that having about a million people dabbling with code sounds like a recipe for disaster, I could certainly understand why. Being new to Drupal, I read around a little, looking for information to explain how on earth this works when there’s no defined leadership structure since, apparently, the Drupal Association doesn’t actually manage projects. What happens when you have hundreds of thousands of people working in the same kitchen?

What I found is…well…frankly, amazing. Absolutely everything about Drupal is about people volunteering their time, passion and expertise. It’s not just rock star programmers either. Here’s a list of the areas where community members contribute:

  • user support
  • documentation
  • translations
  • testing
  • design and usability
  • donations
  • development
  • themes
  • marketing

You can see where so many different skill types can come into play in that list. The most respected people are the ones who do—do the code, do the write-ups, do the support that helps new users.

An adage of sorts exists among Drupal users that goes something like this: “if you have the time to complain about it, you have the time to be doing something about it.” Documentation is missing? Write some. A module could be improved for countless users if it just had this one little widget? Code it. Maybe you can do some, but not all of it because you're still new to programming? Collaborate with others. That is how things are accomplished. The Drupal conventions and camps, held in various locations each year, are a way for the commmunity to meet, to refine the near and future vision of the software, and network with others to make it happen. 

It's a beautiful marriage of Mahatma Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and Yoda's “Do or do not. There is no try." 

The Process

It’s easy to see that anyone can be a hero in this story. If you’re super excited about not just using Drupal, but also joining in, let me help you get started.

  1. Get an account on Drupal.org
  2. In your new Drupal account, enable the Contributor Links block on your new account's Dashboard (Your Dashboard > Add a block > Contributor links). This gives some handy prompts to inspire you into action.
  3. Read the overview of ways to get involved.
  4. Pick from the list of contributor tasks and start making the world a better place.

Getting involved is only the first stage. A contributor to a project will submit an update and the community itself tests and reviews the contribution thoroughly. Not just any code will be added to the core of Drupal; the community takes pride in digging into the nitty-gritty to make sure it’s up to its exacting standards, else it gets sent back for more work before another review process will take place. Drupal even has a page detailing coding standards so everyone is striving to meet the same strict requirements.

You, SiteFarm and Drupal

Becoming part of the community brings many benefits; a sense of belonging, mutual support, specific knowledge and sharing, and innovation through participation.

To a smaller, though no less important extent, SiteFarm aims to foster a similar community of Drupal users here on campus. Come join us—learn something new, contribute ideas, participate in the development and certainly add to the conversations taking place that will affect the direction of SiteFarm here at UC Davis!


  1. Usage statistics for Drupal core: https://www.drupal.org/project/usage/drupal
  2. About the Drupal Association: https://assoc.drupal.org/about
  3. Are the Association members being paid to do their work? https://assoc.drupal.org/about/faq
  4. Getting Involved Guide: https://www.drupal.org/getting-involved-guide