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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Complaining about Drupal

Kindly allow me to bitch some more about Drupal. I'm a bit frustrated.
  • Array parameters: just about every function in Drupal takes an associative array:
          'field_name' => 'publication_datum',
          'cardinality' => 1,
          'type'        => 'datetime',
          'settings'    => array (
            'granularity' => array (
              'month' => 'month',
              'day' => 'day',
              'year' => 'year',
              'hour' => 0,
              'second' => 0,
              'minute' => 0,

    This effectively defeats any auto-complete you might have had in your php editor. Of course I see why they did it; it makes everything 'neat', and it certainly is flexible. Except now you're not only unclear about what you should pass into a parameter, you don't even know the parameters. Add-on modules could look for any key, and there's no way to find out, except by proper documentation (which is rare) or poring over the source code.
    Distinct advantage for the lazy coder: if you need to send an extra variable, you can just hitchhike along with any array that's headed in the right direction if you make sure the key isn't taken.
  • Template naming: do you want to override the rendering of a particular element? You could hook into a theme process function and mess around with the render array or whatever, but the easier solution is actually to give a template file a cryptic name with lots of dashes. This file name functions somewhat as a css selector: the more specific ones override the more general ones. Thankfully there's a module to help you pick a template name: Theme developer offers a plethora of  possible template names for each part of your page. That's pretty handy, but also indicates I'm not the only one who has trouble keeping track.
  • The hooks! Oh, the hooks! There are hundreds of them, and you can go ahead and create your own if the fancy strikes you. Hooks takes different numbers of parameters, of different types (and with or without &), and there is no way to find out without, once again, checking the documentation or the source code.
    I know, PHP does not have strong typing, but the small amount of meta data that would otherwise be available is eradicated by kinda sorta duck typing that's going on in Drupal. Again: I can see why they did it, and it is even clever. But it's still frustrating.
The basic problem it comes down to is this: a lack of discoverability of features. When I'm developing a Drupal module I will have dozens of tabs open in my browser, looking for a clue how to use a particular module. Open source is good; it allows me to figure out what's wrong, even if I did not write the code. But just providing the source code is no replacement for proper documentation and sample code. It's just lazy.


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