Undergraduate Education Drupal 7 Site Upgrades to Backdrop CMS Penn State University

Drupal logo with arrow pointed to Backdrop CMS logo

The Penn State University Undergraduate Education (PSU UE) team had a collection of websites for their various programs and units, which included a variety of Drupal 7 sites. These sites had been built or inherited over the years and were in various degrees of consistency in style and functionality. A full redesign or restructuring was not planned, but with Drupal 7’s end of life approaching, a solution was needed.

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While we didn’t do a complete redesign, we synthesized the various themes into a single unified theme and a single unified layout in Backdrop, with configuration options to allow some flexibility on a per-site basis. As a part of this process, we were able to provide a more consistent appearance across sites and in the user interface while also helping the sites more tightly adhere to PSU’s branding guidelines.

Many pages had hard-coded display elements which we were able to move into a more reusable component-style workflow using the Paragraphs module. This allows content to be edited, reordered, and styled directly in the admin interface rather than requiring code edits in the theme. The configuration system in Backdrop has made it possible to reuse these Paragraph types across all of the sites to help make site administration much more consistent and flexible.

Sustainable and Accessible Authoring

The process of moving to Backdrop also meant moving to current versions of various libraries that are included with Backdrop by default, such as CKEditor 5 and the latest release of jQuery. We were able to move to Gin, a modern, configurable administrative theme that improves the editorial experience. We removed any modules no longer needed and consolidated others. We fixed some bugs on existing modules and ported modules that we wanted to use in Backdrop but which were not yet available, then making them available in the contrib space.

Our accessibility expert did a review of each site to provide guidance to the PSU team on content areas where they could focus which needed accessibility improvements, and to ensure the technical details were in order. Again, in many cases this process allowed us to make fixes that could be shared back to the contributed modules we were using and to Backdrop core, so that they could benefit anyone in the Backdrop ecosystem: menu improvements, Ajax filters that announce changes to screen readers, and so on.

Implementing a git-based workflow with a custom upstream and configuration in the version-controlled repository is a mental shift from the old way of doing things, but it makes ongoing maintenance much more manageable for the PSU UE dev team. Changes can be worked on locally, then committed to the repo and pulled to the dev, staging, and live environments for each site as needed.

“Aten Design Group has a great team, which is the key to a successful project. Their staff is excellent to work with; it’s truly a team effort. Moreover, they’ve excelled at project management and web development. We’ve been really pleased with everything they’ve done.”

Is your website still living on Drupal 7? Get in touch with us to see if it’s a good fit for an upgrade to Backdrop CMS with Drupal 7 end of life coming on January 5, 2025.

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