Four Kitchens: AstroJS and Drupal

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Mike Goulding

Senior Drupal Engineer

Mike has been part of the Four Kitchens crew since 2018, where he works as a senior engineer and tech lead for a variety of Drupal and WordPress projects.

January 1, 1970

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There are many different options available for the organization or team that decides it is time to decouple their Drupal site. There are frameworks that are designed for static site generation (SSG) and there are others that use server-side rendering (SSR), with many that claim to do both well.

React and NextJS have been popular options for a while now, and they are well-loved here at Four Kitchens as well. Another framework that is a little different from the above is Astro, and it may be worth considering.

What is Astro?

Astro is an interesting framework to work with, and it only becomes more so with time. Astro’s website makes claims of performance advantages over many other frameworks in the space. The full report can be found here.

More interesting than performance claims are some of the unique features this framework brings with it. Astro has many official integrations for other popular JS frameworks. This means, for example, that part of a page could use React, while another part could use Svelte. An even more ambitious page could use Vue, React, and AlpineJS for different components. While these examples are not a typical or recommended use case, they do illustrate that flexibility is one of the real strengths of Astro.

This flexibility doesn’t come with a steep learning curve, as Astro makes use of enough familiar pieces so that newcomers aren’t immediately overwhelmed. It is possible to write Astro components in a straightforward manner, similar to HTML, and still incorporate JavaScript XML (JSX) expressions to include data in the component’s output. There are a couple of tutorials for getting started with Astro, and they do a good job of giving the general structure of a project along with some scenarios that are unique to the framework.

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(Also, Houston is an adorable mascot and I am here for it!)

Using Astro with Drupal

Despite all of the integrations that can be found in the Astro toolset, there is notably one key thing that is missing: There isn’t an existing integration for Drupal! The list of content management systems (CMSs) that Astro recommends are specifically headless CMSs, which make for a more natural starting point for this setup than converting a Drupal site.

Never fear, though! Drupal may not specifically be on that list, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something that should be considered. Astro has that incredible flexibility, after all, and that means there are more options than it seems on the surface. All that is needed is an endpoint (or several) to fetch data from Drupal, and things are looking up once again.

Using the Drupal GraphQL and GraphQL Compose modules, it is possible to quickly get data ready to expose from Drupal and into the hands of a decoupled framework like Astro. With that, it becomes possible to fetch that data within Astro and build our frontend while taking advantage of many of the features that Astro offers. This can also be done with REST API or JSON:API, but for our purposes, the consistency and structure of GraphQL can’t be beat when crafting a decoupled integration with Drupal.

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Using the fetch function that is available to Astro, (and JavaScript in general), we can get data from just about anywhere into our Astro components. This blends well with the head start from the compose module, as you can take an existing Drupal site and be ready to connect to a frontend framework very quickly. This means quicker prototyping and quicker assembling of components.

Astro also supports dynamic routing out of the box, which is an essential feature when connecting to a Drupal site where routes aren’t always structured like directories. Using this wildcard type of functionality, we can more easily take an existing site — regardless of the structure of the content — and get output into Astro. With the data from the routes in hand, we can get to the fun part: building the components and taking advantage of more of the Astro’s flexibility.

Flexibility is key

For me, Astro’s strength doesn’t solely come from the speed that it builds and renders content or the ease of building pages in a familiar JSX or Markdown pattern. Its real strength comes from the flexibility and variety of build options. While it does a great job handling some functionality on a given component or creating simple pages for a blog listing, it does even more with the ability to bring in other frameworks inside of components. Want to add a search page, but there isn’t an existing integration for Astro? If there is one for React, that works here, too! Do you have an internal team member really excited about building personalized content with Vue? Bring that in, and that component will work as well.

While the reality of the implementations may be a bit more involved than described on the tin, it is surprisingly easy and encouraged to bring in live updating components inside of Astro. This changes what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill frontend tool into something much more interesting. Astro does shine in its own right, especially with statically generated pages and content. It just wouldn’t be doing anything especially new without bringing in other frameworks.

This is also where bringing a CMS like Drupal into a decoupled setup with Astro is intriguing. There is an opportunity for highly dynamic pages that wouldn’t work with a traditional static framework while still getting the speed and benefits of that approach. Drupal sites are typically very quick to update when content changes, which can be a sticking point for working with a decoupled architecture. How often should the frontend be rebuilt and how much can caching make up the difference? With having some parts of the site use components that can update more easily on the page, there benefits of both approaches can come through.

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