May 8, 2024

Drupal vs WordPress: Is The Tide Turning with Drupal Starshot?

Drupal vs WordPress: Is The Tide Turning with Drupal Starshot?
Within the Open Source CMS World, the debate of Drupal vs WordPress has been a longstanding one (but perhaps not always a logical one). As a developer with over two decades of experience, I've worked extensively with both systems, watching their evolution side by side with keen interest. WordPress has long been hailed as the king of usability, loved by beginners wanting to get online quickly and without hassle, but recent advancements in Drupal suggest the gap might be closing and with the announcement of Drupal Starshot, Is Drupal catching up and preparing to take on Wordpress at it's own game?

The Dominance of WordPress

WordPress remains the dominant platform with over 40% of all websites on the internet using it compared to Drupal with around 2%. Its intuitive user interface, vast library of plugins and themes and endless amount of online resources make it an attractive choice for beginners and experts alike wanting to get online quick and hassle-free.

Another appealing factor for beginner users with Wordpress is the large amount of cheap & easy hosting options. Nearly all larger hosting companies offer cheap one-click Wordpress site installs and hosting so you can spin up a new Wordpress site in a matter of minutes and start using it for a few dollars per month. While there are Drupal specialised hosts they are more development orientated and as a result cost more and take longer to set up even if you get more resource & power in return.

From a client perspective in my day job we work primarily with Drupal clients and while more and more companies are adopting Drupal or a decoupled Drupal setup company-wide the vast majority of clients and their employees are far more comfortable with and have more experience with Wordpress for the reasons already stated above. This for me is the gap Drupal Starshot is trying to fill without directly trying to take on Wordpress.

Introducing Drupal Starshot or Drupal CMS

As a developer I look at Drupal as a framework rather than a CMS, providing me with the building blocks to build as I please without a tonne of functionality and "opinions" I'm never going to need. The core APIs in Drupal are designs to be expanded and customised for whatever need you can think of.
This, for me is what actually makes Drupal less beginner-friendly and far more developer-friendly than it perhaps ever planned to be.

In recent years, Drupal has undergone significant improvements in terms of user-friendliness and accessibility. Historically known for its steep learning curve, the release of Drupal 8 marked a turning point for Drupal, making it more intuitive and user-friendly to the end user but also more predictable and sustainable for developers with the adoption of the Symfony framework under the hood.

The introduction of numerous initiatives like Layout Builder, Media Library, a new admin theme, Configuration Management, Auto-updates, Decoupled architecture as standard and more have further improved the user and developer experience making Drupal a more viable option for technical and non-technical users. From a developer perspective and business owner who uses Drupal on a daily basis these initiatives are really exciting to follow and Drupal Starshot on first glance is no different.

Introduced at DrupalCon 2024 in Portland, Drupal Starshot is the latest Drupal initiative to stir up excitement (and likely some concern) within the community. With Dries, the Drupal founder admitting freely that Drupal lacks the beginner-friendliness of some of it's competitors, Drupal CMS or Starshot as it will be known aims to be Drupal's answer to providing beginner-friendly, easy to use CMS out of the box.

From my first look it appears that Drupal Starshot will be like many Drupal distributions of the past; Drupal Core, a handful of useful contrib modules, configured and ready to use and then some specific custom features added on top with, in this context the aim of making Drupal as beginner friendly as possible.

There are numerous Drupal distributions already available on and Github allowing you to download a ready made "recipe" of Drupal angled at a certain type of website (ie. education, commerce, social, intranet, publishing etc). Most of them are the result of Drupal companies working in and learning what certain niches have in common and then sharing their codebases in the spirit of Open Source.

From the Portland announcement, Dries stated Starshot is not a fork of Drupal Core (phhhewww) and in the near future will offer 2 download options:

  1. Drupal CMS (Starshot)
  2. Drupal Core

What this means unlike other contrib Drupal distributions is Drupal Starshot will be an officially supported and maintained distribution of Drupal with Drupal core available for downloading separately.

The specifics of Starshot are yet to be known but the wheels are in motion with a lofty goals of it being ready for downloading within 8 months (early 2025) so watch this space. I'll update this post as more specifics are announced.

Is Drupal too hard for beginners?

Nearly 20 years ago I first downloaded and installed Drupal on then Windows XP machine with WAMP and as a then beginner within 2 days I concluded it was too complex for me in terms of the learning curve and swiftly starting looking at alternative Open Source options. Spoiling alert: I came back to Drupal a few weeks later and the rest is history!

Would I do the same if I was starting out again now with the progress Drupal has made in lessening it's learning curve?
Hard to say, the installer is easier, Composer makes dependency downloading easy, admin theme/UI is slicker and now with Gutenberg a primary page builder option in Drupal as well content creation has got fun but somethings are still lacking and developer orientated: as a beginner you don't care about dependency or config management, nodes and entities just don't make sense and while I dislike that nearly every Wordpress plugin has a better paid version, when you just want to "get the job done" a paid plugin is highly appealing especially when they are generally built solely with the end users goals in mind.

From my developer perspective, Drupal wins hands down every time, it's modular, has great core APIs and is built to naturally be expanded and built upon but from a beginner point of view there's is definitely a lot Drupal Starshot can improve on so it's great to see this idea come to fruition.

The Growing Overlap Between Drupal and Wordpress?

While Drupal and WordPress still have distinct advantages and disadvantages, their overlap appears to be growing with Drupal readily trying to become more beginner-friendly with recent initiatives and compliment it's already established developer-friendly image.

Wordpress was built primarily with blogging in mind which in my view allowed it to focus on a more defined target user; generally non-technical bloggers. With blogging, the content is the focus and Wordpress through it's simpler interface, customisation options in the UI and the Block Editor (Gutenberg) allows users to do just that. Drupal on the other hand isn't niche down to a single target audience or need so it naturally makes sense (to me) that it's more of a framework or start point to a large variety of needs and in this lies the challenges of best trying to fit the needs of many.

Although a Wordpress site nowerdays with enough time invested can be built into just about any type of website you can think of, it doesn't mean you should! Professionally, I've worked on large Wordpress sites with millions of pieces of content, exploding postmeta database tables and custom functionality and while the sites "works" in my developer brain I'm often left thinking this is not a sustainable way to build by forcing a tool built for a specific need into doing something it wasn't designed for and that's where a framework like Drupal comes in.

In my view the comparison between Drupal and Wordpress might be an obvious one but it doesn't really make sense, Drupal is a framework and Wordpress a Content Management System (CMS) for blogging, the target audiences and needs are and were very different but as a beginner I would say that Wordpress still has a greater appeal and edge.
As a developer or a developer coming to Drupal or Wordpress from other frameworks I think you will likely find Drupal far more appealing with what feels like it's limitless possibilities, clear modular structure and PSR-4 namespacing.

In conclusion, Drupal and Wordpress are overlapping more and more but just how far it will go remains to be seen.