I'm not sure what the plans are for further development on the core Layout module but it would be great to see it develop into a fully fledge visual layout builder. WordPress for years has many choices of a visual builder and Drupal is heading in the same direction as it brings many benefits to both the end users and developers.
Backdrop is always talking about making it easier for the end users and there's nothing more easier than to have the tools to create and manage your own site layout and theme templates without coding. Just take a look at the success of Squarespace but Backdrop has more advantage since it is an open system that any developers can build on top of it to further extend the Layout module for additional features. So perhaps this should be a priority for Backdrop since it would solve most of the usability goals Backdrop has set out to achieve. Also, getting this out before Drupal would put Backdrop ahead of the game. Sure Drupal has already launched Layouts but it still has a long way to a finished product.
One thing which i think limits the use of Layouts is the pre-defined layout templates. Why not get rid of that and allow end users to define the own layouts on the fly? One of the Layout builders i have been very impressed with is DXPR (formerly Soopertheme) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIqGHm5UfBo The only thing i dislike is having to activate this from the managed display page. It should be done with the Layout page like this (demo of Layouts in Drupal 8): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUkpzSllO30 and render Layouts either for site-wide, certain content-type(s) or specific node pages.
In addition, a combination of both would be the ideal way. Layouts module works like how you see it in the Drupal 8 demo (above link) but without the pre-defined layout templates to choose from. Instead, the use of visual layout builder to build out the layouts (columns and rows) on the fly and add content is a better solution, imo. We can go a step further to allow for adding widgets (tabs, social, forms, events, quick links, image sliders and etc), not just blocks. Pre-defined layout content sections would be nice too for those that want to quickly add a section (ie, pre-defined header or footer section) without spending too much time to create them. Or even custom pre-defined layout content sections that can be saved and reuse (maybe on other sites as well).
Just in case you did not realize this, you can build custom layout templates in the UI in Backdrop using the "Flexible templates" functionality.
Thanks, I'm aware you can create your own layout template. However, that's still a pre-defined custom layout template. What i meant in my post was creating a layout on the fly, ie, adding columns and rows as you go along when you add blocks to the template.
I have to admit though, i'm not a long term user of Backdrop so i don't know every ins and out of this cms. So maybe i've missed out on something regarding the flexible templates functionality i don't know about?
But i believe for any modern cms, a visual layout builder is a must and i see Backdrop having a lot of potential going forward coming from a long time user of Drupal 7.
@b2b check out this post under "Flexible layouts (configurable in UI)":
On your site go to Structure > Layouts > Templates and look for the "Add flexible layout template" link.
Thanks. I am aware that you can add your own layout template as you have described. But what i was suggesting was to actually build it out as you go along adding extra columns or rows you see fit on the fly, and at the same time adding blocks.
The problem with these custom layout templates is that you cannot go back and change them (so not very flexible) in the UI if you needed more rows or columns. Or maybe, i'm missing something?
It's not in the same screen as when adding blocks, but you can definitely modify the flexible template after it's saved, using the "Configure Regions" action:
Looks like our docs need updating -- I don't even see this awesome (buried) feature mentioned:
Posted a documentation issue here:
My humble opinion is that Visual Layout Builder is a terrible creation of the modern Internet. They make websites heavy, bloated and very poorly optimized for search engines.
If you want a real website, you will need to learn at least a little HTML and CSS. Or you will look for a specialist who understands this.
Visual Layout Builder as an idea are in one direction with the idea not to seek a doctor, but to prescribe treatment yourself without at least a minimum of medical education.
Visual Layout Builder has already led to a split in the Wordpress community itself, I guess you know that Wordpress fork www.classicpress.net already exists, and there are probably many others I don't know about.
But I know that if Backdrop CMS ever will introduces Visual Layout Builder into its core, I'll look for another content management system.
Here are some interesting readings on this topic:
Yes, valid point. It will bloat the system but it's a trade off between making a site more user friendly for the end user. With some good caching system in place these days, it really shouldn't matter. 'poorly optimized for search engines' will depend on how the layouts are rendered.
I hear this all the time and this argument is getting a little tiresome. Isn't it about time to give the non web developers the tools to built a real website (whatever you mean by that?). I'm sure it wouldn't be difficult for them to pick up a little knowledge on the way and if they need something more customised, they will hire someone with more expertise.
I'm a developer myself and i think it's a great use of resource that i can work on other parts of the internal website and offload creating pages to my client. If they needed a custom layout, that can be done by a design team without Backdrop knowledge of creating an actual theme.
This can open up doors to others would may not have experience with Backdrop but are familiar with visual editors to quickly work with Backdrop.
Most importantly for me - Visual Layout Builders grossly violate one of the basic principles of modern web design at least after 2000 - the separation of design from content. They take us back to a time when websites were made with tables, when content was mixed with countless instructions to the browser on how to present it to the end user, presenting content without any reasonable semantics.
A lot have change since then... Anyway, it was just a suggestion. Maybe you are right, Visual Layout Builder is a bad idea but i wondered why so many large Drupal web development companies are embracing it?
@amilenkov I disagree with you re "real" websites and "real" developers. I would like these connotations to not have a place in the Backdrop community, as such discussions are what drove me away from the Drupal community.
@b2b I started watching the DXPR video you linked to, and then I stopped the moment I realized that it is yet another Gutenberg clone. I really dislike those, because they basically "hijack" the body field (or any field), making it a single huge "Frankenstein" blob that saves everything in a single place in the database. That ruins the structural, field-based, data-centric way that content editing works in Drupal/Backdrop, which is an idea I'm not a fan of. It also makes it very hard to query the content added to those fields, so it basically makes it impossible to use tools like Views with your content.
On top of that, and to make things worse, I believe that this "visual content editor marketing war" that I have been noticing during recent years has the only goal to create app stores for the companies behind them, by providing "premium" versions of widgets, which site owners/builders would need to purchase. They are just making an attempt to hook into the huge existing user base of popular CMSes like Drupal/Wordpress etc. It's a marketing campaign, and sorry but I'm not buying.
So long as these builders are based on 3rd party, paid, non-open-source libraries or services, they can never be included in Backdrop core. They can live in contrib though. So if there are D7 modules that integrate these libraries, I'm sure that they can be ported to Backdrop, and they can remain in contrib-land for those of us that need them.
What I like though is your suggestion to allow editing rows/regions of the layout template being used from the block management UI (not from the front-end though). We need to be careful with that, so not to bloat the block management UI (it is already too complicated/intimidating for novice users), but I think that it could be a possibility we should explore.
Many thanks for you detailed reply. I think you have made a lot of good points that i never really dig deeper into.
I'm reluctant to agree but i think you are right, perhaps a contrib module is really where it belongs. This can also open up to a myriad choice of builders to use as a drop in replacement if someone prefer a specific CSS framework over another which would be overtly complicated if it was to replace a core version (and defeats the purpose of having it in core to begin with).
There have been some attempts at creating a builder in Drupal 7 over the previous years but often they are full of bugs or project abandoned, sadly.
It would be great if this is something worth looking into as it would really make the layouts more flexible.
I apologize for expressing myself in an inaccurate and ambiguous way.
I did not mean to make a connection between "real" websites and "real" developers, nor to oppose them to "bad" websites and "bad" developers. I did not want to offend any of the participants in this discussion, but I now realize that what I have written may be understood it in this an unexpected way for me way, so I apologize again.
My position was on distinguishing REAL websites from FAKE websites.
In my practice I encounter many of them - fake websites. And their developers are not real, good or bad developers, they are not developers at all, they are thieves and crooks.
They use the ease with which Wordpress works, the availability of many beautiful WordPress themes, and especially in recent years - the abundance of powerful Visual Layout Builders to create and sell, and prices are not cheaply, to their customers absolutely useless websites. Yes, these fake websites very often look wonderful and spectacular with the help of ready-made themes and the abundance of ready-made photos that one can find on the Internet.
However, after half a year or a year, the owner of such a fake site turns to me and asks for help - why do I not have any calls from the site, I paid a lot of money, and I have no any profit for this site?
This has never happened before, but for 2-3 years these cases have been increasing from month to month. That's why I started to remember working with WordPress again (I used Wordpress 10-15 years ago, before I started working with Drupal then there were no Visual Layout Builders), I learned somehow how to work with these Visual Layout Builders - I can't tell the client, let me make you a new "real" site with Backdrop, after all the person has invested money in him/his website, I'm trying to repair the already available "fake" site into at least some more "real".
All these fake cases that I was commissioned to review gave me administrative access to admin panel and hosting account to see what was done on the site - all these fake websites are made with Wordpress, a very spectacular ready-made and in most cases paid theme that has tens of thousands of active installations somewhere in the world, AND of course, with someone from existing Wordpress Visual Layout Builders. The more fake the site, the more complex Visual Layout Builder uses.
What is typical of all fake sites that I have checked - they do not have any statistics or tools for analyzing visits. So the first thing I do is install a visit analysis tool to find out what's going on with the site.
And when I was wondering how this was possible, my wife told me - no wonder, it's on purpose, the people who made these fake websites don't want their owners to know that they don't have visits.
I'm currently working on several such fake websites made with Wordpress, I've fixed them a bit to combat the terrible for me Visual Layout Builders - which create some visibility for the content on the web page through extremely complex and confusing code, which I would do the same with a few lines of plain HTML code and some simple CSS inline rules in the content field of the page, I registered them in the Google Search Console, added some useful content and started waiting for results.
And the results are tragic - a month after a month such a website is not visited by anyone other than me and its owner. From time to time, some accidental bounce from Google, which immediately leaves the site, despite the beautiful design with a spectacular ready-made theme. It's just that because these websites are useless to visitors. They are made with a single purpose - to to entice the customer to pay, to give him a spectacular fake appearance of a real website, without any responsibility for the future development of the site and no benefit to the site owner, that has payed with hope this site will help his/her business.
This is what I meant when I wrote about a "real website" - one that is made with care and responsibility to the owner of the site, with responsibility to his business. A real website is an investment, not a pointless expense for something useless. It may be small and simple, but it works, finds customers for mu client and appears in Google results. And when I make real sites, I am not only interested in the price that the client will pay me, but in the future development of the site, its market success and its maintenance for many years to come.
This is what I meant when I wrote about a "real website" - one that is made with care and responsibility to the owner of the site, with responsibility to his business. A real website is an investment, not a pointless expense for something useless, even if it has a false appearance of something effective and professional.
And that's why I'm angry at Visual Layout Builders - not because they help "bad" web developers (I am writing "bad" for connection with context, it is clear to me and I share the value that we should not distinguish between bad and good developers because, as someone here wrote me recently, something wonderful - "we are all constantly learning") or weak developers with little knowledge, such me myself, but because very often Visual Layout Builders help FAKE web developers who make such fake web websites.
And I argue that "fake" developers exist and should be condemned by the community, they should not be weak or bad developers, they can even be real experts in programming or development - they are fake developers not because of lack of knowledge but because of lack of morality.
I believe that website development is a very complex and responsible professional activity, and if this is something you offer to clients for a fee, you should have at least minimum professional training for this activity - the more, the better. but the good knowledge of HTML and CSS is an absolute minimum obligation for a professional web developer. I emphasize - a professional = who develops sites for a fee.
I end this post with a little more about Visual Layout Builders and Backdrop.
I agree that there are probably many cases in which they would be useful, I imagine an association or church community that has no budget to hire a web specialist or agency, but has an energetic member of the community who has no knowledge of web technologies, but wants to help your community. In such cases, Visual Layout Builders would be completely useful.
Only please, if Visual Layout Builders are ever added to Backdrop CMS, let it be in such a way that this functionality can be easily ant totaly turned off, for example by a person like me, who has no problem developing their own template, their own theme, and who creates all the content and especially design on the site with pure simple semantic HTML. Even in my websites from the very beginning of development I create my own text format Coder, based on Full text, but without any filters except "Correct faulty and chopped off HTML" I never use CKEditor, I prefer handwritten clean and well thought out HTML code. I enable CKEditor only for content types that are available for editing by the site client or external visitors
It would be awful for me to struggle with some Visual Layout Builder in Backdrop, just as I have to do it in Wordpress in the post-Gutenberg era.
I apologize again - I didn't wan to offend anyone.
I should have added, the option to enable and disable the builder is a good idea since i understand not everyone will feel comfortable or like using it.
As for fake websites, technically there isn't fake or real websites as they are all generated from the same code that gets rendered on a web browser. A better example of a fake website would be a phishing site, imo. But i get your point between someone that pretends to have the knowledge and skills required to create a custom solution and someone who can, from their hard work and acquire such skills to do so.
However, there's nothing wrong with designers or developers that sell their services to build sites whichever way they see fit for their clients' requirements, even if visual editor builders are used. After all, would you think it's cheating to use a ready made cms (like Backdrop), contrib modules or even a web framework to get the job done instead of building everything from scratch? There are plenty of web businesses that offer such services on Squarespace and WordPress and these businesses also offer custom build solutions. It's finding a balance between what client needs are and their budget. Even if a person only knows how to build a site with a visual editor builder, that is fine too because they learnt a tool to get a specific job done. Of course, the lack of coding knowledge would mean he/she might not be able to get far completing a site but again, that depends on the website specifications and requirements. I know site builders using Drupal that don't have any coding skills but they are able to build out a complete site for their clients and I think that is a great achievement for Drupal.
Anyway, i don't want to go off topic here. I agree with @klonos, having a visual editor builder as a contrib module and not in core would make more sense.