Is it a good idea to Decouple Drupal with Client-Side frameworks?

  • By : Shefali
  • Date :1-12-2017

To go headless or not isn’t really something you would want to come close to considering in a real world scenario. In the digital world, however, it is a tricky decision to make. The expectations of end users are soaring higher and higher with each passing day. Big guns like Twitter, Facebook, Gmail etc. have been spoiling them rotten by providing some impressive application-like user experiences. And we have no choice but to at least get close to offering a swanky UX.

There is no doubt that Drupal on its own can deliver a rich user experience to the end user but when it comes down to instantaneous responses for a request, it does fall short. In a decoupled Drupal architecture, instead of the Drupal’s theme layer, a client-side framework like AngularJS, React or Backbone.JS is used. So a user request does not have to be processed by the server all the time, which can improve the speed and UX of your Drupal website.

Categorizing Decoupled Drupal

In a traditional Drupal CMS architecture, the browser invokes a request that is processed by PHP logic which then renders the HTML and sends it back to the browser. Of course, the developer can embed Javascript for some client-side improvements but this can result in a situation where different client-side frameworks are being used for different modules. Thus making it an extremely complex system.

If you are looking to preserve your Drupal Theme layer and yet be able to provide immediate responses to the browser, the Progressive Decoupling approach is your best move. Here you can have your cake and eat it too! The initial application state is rendered by Drupal which can be then manipulated by client-side coding. Modules can be written in PHP or Javascript while you can avail the powerful performance benefits of Drupal.

And then there’s the Full decoupling – where Drupal’s presentation layer is completely replaced with a client-side framework. This allows an uninterrupted workflow as the client-side framework also acts as a server-side pre-renderer. Drupal CMS is purely used as a content repository that takes care of all the back-stage jazz. When you completely ignore Drupal’s theme functionality you are also letting go of some effective performance benefits that Drupal provides. Also a lot of rebuilding would need to be done to fully decouple the administrative interface and front-end of a Drupal website. Using Javascript on the server-side also complicates the infrastructure requirements.

Is it a good idea?

So traditionally, Drupal is meant to do both – content management and rendering the front-end for the whole website. A lot of pressure, don’t you think? Drupal experts believe that Drupal’s strengths lies in the power and flexibility of its back-end and that it needs to be service oriented first instead of HTML oriented. Decoupling Drupal means letting some other system manage the front-end while Drupal takes care of the back-end system. Why is it a good idea to decouple Drupal, you ask?

  • Detaching the front-end from the back-end content management system, will allow for more flexibility and efficiency of the Drupal content model. Just like how delegating work decreases your workload and increases productivity.
  • Front-end developers can have full control over the presentation, UI design and UX of the website. The combination of a great client-side framework and a seasoned front-end developer can get you a website with a rich, faster, application-like user-experience, and seamless interactivity.
  • Both the front-end and back-end developers can work independently which can lead to efficient and speedy delivery of a project.
  • If you ever want to redesign your website, you won’t have to re-implement your Drupal CMS. Likewise, revamping your back-end system can be accomplished without having to alter your front- end.


Although decoupling can help you achieve your goals of an uninterrupted and application-like user- experience, it might not be a good fit for everyone. Here’s why –

  • Websites like News sites or Blogs, which don’t really need much user interactivity, will not benefit from decoupling their Drupal website.
  • When you fully decouple your Drupal website, you are letting go of some of the top (and free) functionalities that come with the Drupal theme layer like the block placements, layout and display management, content previews, UI localization, security features like cross-site scripting (XSS), etc. Some of them cannot be replicated by a client-side framework.
  • If budget is an issue you need to keep in mind about the price you will have to shell out for experienced front-end developers. Also the cost for rebuilding a missing (otherwise freely available) Drupal feature from scratch.

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