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Drupal 7 Configuration Management Best Practices

Sometimes it is required to reconfigure a web application that is already deployed in a production server. This is an inherently hard problem since the live system cannot afford extended downtime or functionality regressions. Specifically, a staging process is required so that developers can implement the required changes or new features, test them and then deploy them on the live system. Downloading a full copy of the live web application, implementing and testing the required fixes and then re-upload the new version is not a viable option because in the meanwhile the live system may have generated new transactional data. I.e. while the developers are busy implementing the fixes and testing them, users of the live system may have created new content (e.g. upload they may have uploaded new pictures), new orders if the web application includes an e-commerce component or changed their personal data in their profiles. As a direct result overwriting the live system with the new version that includes the desired fixes or new features will lead to unacceptable data loss. Therefore, the staging process must allow only the configuration changes to be pushed upstream into the production system while the content of the production live system remains intact.

Organizing Features

Features can play an important role in the configuration management of your site, and as the site grows it becomes increasingly critical to decide on a sensible organizational structure for features and stick to it. Otherwise, features can become entangled with one another, creating a messy web of dependencies and overlapping functionalities. This can be especially problematic in projects where several developers are working together.

Using Features to Manage Development

Features provides a centralized place to manage, configure and export components and write them to code. This convenience makes Features an excellent tool for managing changes between development environments and version control in conjunction with Git, SVN, or other version control systems.

This page lays out an example workflow for managing site development with Features:

Features: Moving Site Configuration to Code

Consider this scenario: you have created a custom content type on your local development server with several core and contributed field types specific to your application. Additionally, you have meticulously configured specific views for this content type, and created a custom user role that provides permission to add, edit, and delete content of this content type.

At this point, the content type lives in the database, not in code, so moving it to a remote server without overwriting the remote database presents quite a challenge. There are typically three ways to accomplish this:

Version Control and Configuration Management

In a typical Drupal development situation, a developer will work locally and push code and files to a remote server. In this setup, version control is crucial. What happens if a mistake is made and we need to roll back the code? What if multiple people are working on the same code? Implementing version control with a tool such as Git is a critical step in solving these common development workflow challenges.


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