A Beginner’s Guide to Distributions: A fast-track to Drupal development

In the next few weeks we’ll be featuring distributions which can give you a fast track to developing with Drupal. We’ll be introducing a new distribution each week until our webinar on May 28th, where my colleague Jakub Suchy will answer all your questions about using existing distributions or deciding when you should build your own.

Distro? What is this magic you speak of?

Imagine if someone would let you download a copy of their working site so you could reverse engineer it. What modules did they use? How did the implement layouts? How did they model content types? You could get lots of questions answered very quickly.

A Drupal distribution, or “distro” for short, is exactly that. Drupal itself can leave new users scratching their heads. Because Drupal doesn’t force a specific use case, this makes it hard for people to see how to implement specific features.

That’s where distributions come in handy. These are Drupal projects that collect people with the same ideas to solve common problems. Whether that is e-commerce, conference scheduling, intranets and project management, there are many great distros which have risen to the top over the last couple of years.

What does a distribution typically include?

  • A downloadable exported site archive with an installation profile
  • Usually some kind of set-up configuration options (features you can select)
  • A selection of contributed modules and custom modules
  • Configuration settings for the modules
  • Content types, and sometimes sample content
  • Themes of varying configurability and varying flexibility
  • Documentation
  • And in some cases commercial support options

Many distributions have evolved and changed, Commons 3.x looks nothing like the earlier versions. So even if you were already familiar with distributions I hope you’ll find something useful in this series.

How to try Drupal distributions

There are many distributions, and in fact many of our clients opt to develop their own distributions for their brands. We also have partners who have moved to a product model of service where they release the code for free and sustain their business on services and development around their distributions.

You can see 
an up-to-date list on Drupal.org. However, we’ve whittled down a selection box of goodies here on our downloads page: https://www.acquia.com/downloads

From there, you can download them and import and install them as you would any version of Drupal. Though, I recommend two faster options:

Install straight from Acquia Dev Desktop 2

Select + to add a new Drupal site, and you can opt to select any of the distributions available. They will be downloaded in the background and installed speedily!

Here you can read about which distributions are available through Dev Desktop 2: 

You can import any valid Drush site archive so you’re not limited to the distributions listed in the menu!

Here you can find documentation on importing any site.

Install on Acquia Cloud

Without needing to install anything you can make 
a free Acquia Cloud account. Then you can install any Drupal distribution from the options.

If you already have an Acquia Cloud account, you can find the “Install Drupal” option in your workflow page, Dev environment.

From there you can select any of the distributions on offer. You could also install from any valid site archive, so you’re not limited to just the distributions available in the menu! In the series we will show you how to bring in other distributions.

install a distribution on acquia cloud

What we’ll do in this series

As I started to write a simple blog post about distributions it became MUCH longer, and I didn’t want to deluge you with a huge long post, I figured this warranted some in-depth discussion. This is also going to give me time to bring in some experts from within Acquia who develop distributions on a daily basis. They can give you some more insight as well. 

This is what I have planned. Each week, we’ll look at examples of distributions and understand their use-cases. We'll compare as well. 

  • What are some of the differences in distribution development?
  • Why are some distributions easier to use out of the box, or some harder to extend or change?
  • What to consider if you want to build your own distribution, and why would you?

I hope you'll join me. I'm looking forward to your questions.

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