10+ Tips & Best Practices for New Drupal Developers

Drupal is a powerful open-source content management system that enables developers to create custom websites and applications. If you’re just starting with Drupal, it can be difficult to know where to begin. In this article, we’ll provide over 10 tips and best practices for new Drupal developers. We’ll cover everything from setting up your development environment to creating custom modules and themes. So if you’re just getting started and looking for ways to progress your skills, read on!

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1. Set Up a Local Development Environment

If you’re just starting out with Drupal, it’s important to set up a local development environment on your computer. This will allow you to test out your code and make sure everything is working as it should before you deploy your code to a live server.

There are a few different ways to set up a local development environment, but we recommend using Drupal VM. Drupal VM is a pre-configured virtual machine that makes it easy to set up a local Drupal development environment.

screen shot of drupal vm which is used for local drupal development

Once you’ve downloaded and installed Drupal VM, you can follow the instructions in the official documentation to get started.

2. Use the Devel Module

The Devel module is one of the most useful tools for new Drupal developers. The module provides a suite of tools that can help you with development, debugging, and performance testing.

Some of the features of the Devel module include:

  • Generating dummy content
  • Viewing database queries and performance information
  • Debugging code with the integrated debugger
  • Profiling code to identify performance bottlenecks

To install the Devel module, you can use the drush command:

$ drush dl devel

3. Use Version Control

If you’re not already using version control, now is the time to start! Version control is a crucial tool for any developer, and it’s especially important when working on a team.

There are many different version control systems available, but we recommend using Git. Git is a popular version control system that is used by many developers around the world.

4. Follow Drupal Coding Standards

When writing code for Drupal, it’s important to follow the Drupal coding standards. The coding standards are a set of guidelines that aim to improve the quality and consistency of code written for Drupal.

Following the coding standards can help to make your code more readable and maintainable, and it can also make it easier for others to contribute to your code.

To check if your code complies with the Drupal coding standards, you can use the PHP_CodeSniffer tool. This tool will scan your code and report any errors or warnings.

5. Use Best Practices for Security

When developing for Drupal, it’s important to keep security in mind. Drupal is a secure platform, but there are some best practices that you should follow to help keep your site safe.

Some of the things you can do to improve security include:

  • Keeping your Drupal core and contributed modules up to date
  • Using strong passwords for all accounts
  • Restricting access to admin pages
  • Reviewing code changes before deploying them to a live site

6. Learn the Twig Template Engine

screen shot of twig banner showing green background and white logo

In Drupal, the Twig template engine is used for all templating. If you’re not familiar with Twig, it’s important to take some time to learn the basics. As of Drupal 8, Twig replaces PHPTemplate as the default templating engine, so now is the time to get familiar with its features. 

7. Use the Drupal Console

The Drupal Console is a command-line interface (CLI) tool that can be used to generate code, debug Drupal, and more. If you’re not familiar with using the command line, the Drupal Console can be a bit daunting at first.

However, it’s worth taking the time to learn how to use it. The Drupal Console can be a huge time-saver, and it can help you to automate tasks that would otherwise be tedious.

8. Get Involved in the Community

One of the best ways to learn Drupal is to get involved in the community. There are many ways to do this, including attending meetups, participating in online forums, and contributing to Drupal.

Getting involved in the community can help you to network with other developers, learn new skills, and stay up-to-date on the latest Drupal developments. 

screenshot of drupal community forum

Here are a few places to start engaging: 

9. Write Unit Tests

Unit testing is a crucial part of the development process. Unit tests allow you to verify that your code is working as expected, and they can help to prevent bugs from being introduced.

In Drupal 8, PHPUnit is used for unit testing. If you’re not familiar with PHPUnit, it’s important to take some time to learn the basics.

10. Use Development Tools

There are many different development tools available that can help to improve your workflow. 

screenshot of PhP Storm

Some of the tools we recommend using include:

These are just a few of the many different tools available. Experiment with different tools and find the ones that work best for you.

11. Create Custom Error Pages

If something goes wrong on your site, it’s important to have custom error pages that provide helpful information to the user. By default, Drupal will show a generic error page when an error occurs.

However, you can create custom error pages that are more specific to your site. For example, you could create a 404 page that includes a search form, or a 500 page that includes instructions on how to report the issue.

12. Use Caching Properly

Caching is a technique that can be used to improve the performance of your Drupal site. When used properly, caching can greatly reduce the amount of time it takes for pages to load.

In Drupal, caching is controlled by the caching modes. There are three different caching modes:

  • Normal: Caches pages for anonymous users only.
  • Aggressive: Caches pages for both anonymous and authenticated users.
  • None: Disables all caching.

The caching mode that you use will depend on your site’s needs. However, in general, it’s best to start with the Normal mode and then adjust as needed.

13. Optimize Images

Images can often be the largest files on a Drupal site. As such, it’s important to optimize images before uploading them to save server space and improve load times.

screenshot of tinyPNG's website

There are many different ways to optimize images. Some of the things you can do include:

  • Resizing images to the correct dimensions
  • Compressing images using a tool like TinyPNG prior to upload
  • Using the correct file format (JPEG, PNG, etc.)

14. Use the Administrator Menu Module

The Administrator Menu module is a useful tool that can help to improve your workflow. This module provides a drop-down menu that contains links to all of the administrative pages on your site.

If you find yourself constantly navigating to different parts of the administration interface, the Administrator Menu module can be a huge time-saver.

15. Learn about Theming

Theming is the process of creating a custom look and feel for your Drupal site. If you’re not familiar with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, then learning how to theme can be a bit daunting.

Theming in Drupal 8 is easier than ever before, thanks to the use of Twig. As we mentioned above, Twig is a template engine for PHP, and it’s used to create Drupal themes. Learning the ins and outs of Twig can be a bit of a challenge, but it’s worth the effort.

16. Understand Proper Drupal URL Structure

One of the most important aspects of Drupal development is understanding how URLs work. In particular, you need to understand the concept of “clean URLs.”

Clean URLs are URLs that don’t contain any unnecessary parameters. For example, a clean URL would be something like “example.com/about” whereas an unclean URL might be “example.com?q=node/1”.

Using clean URLs can help to improve the usability of your site, and it’s also important for search engine optimization (SEO).

17. Stay Up-to-Date on Drupal Developments

Drupal is an ever-changing platform, and new features are constantly being added. To stay up-to-date on the latest Drupal developments, we recommend following the official Drupal newsfeed.

In addition, there are many other Drupal-related resources available online, such as forums and mailing lists.

Follow Drupal Best Practices and See the Results for Yourself

Drupal is a powerful platform, but it’s important to follow best practices if you want to get the most out of it. By following the tips in this article, you can improve your workflow, optimize your site for performance, and make sure that your site is as user-friendly as possible.