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My first ProcessWire website: peopleandplanet.org


artfulrobot
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Here's a copy of my blog with some reflections on building my first site with ProcessWire as someone coming from Drupal: peopleandplanet.org

ProcessWire is an open source CMS Content Management System or Framework (CMS / CMF respectively) using PHP and MariaDB/MySQL. It's been around a while, humbly gathering users and sites. I spent a good while reviewing lots of open source CMSes recently as I have previously relied on Drupal 7 (excellent) and didn't like Drupal 8+ nor BackDrop (a fork of Drupal 7). WordPress? not with Gutenberg/React and all those plugin ads, thanks.

Turns out I'm quite picky about CMSes! This is because my role is developer, trainer, implementer, themer, discusser of problems and solutions and dreams. I have personal relationships with my clients and am here to help. So I need a system that makes it simple for them to do as much as possible without me, while also being flexible enough for me to rapidly develop new features. So I was shopping for me and my clients, not just one of those parties.

ProcessWire seemed a good balance, and once I started developing with it I was hooked. I've now launched my first site with it: peopleandplanet.org and my clients are pretty pleased with it, and I have another job in the pipeline.

Templates and pages

In ProcessWire, everything (even users!) is a Page, and every Page has a Template. So in Drupal-speak, it's kinda like Page = Content/Entity and Template = Content/Entity Type. A Template is configured with lots of options and describes what fields apply. Templates don't all need to be renderable, but typically are, so generally have an accompanying Template File.

Key implementation decisions I made

There are many ways to generate and theme page HTML in ProcessWire and I went through them all! Here's what I settled on:

  1. Use Page classes: these are PHP classes which add/bend functionality for a particular page/template. Doing pre-processing of data this way seemed the cleanest way to organise things, using inheritance to share code between similar templates.

  2. I used the excellent Latte templating engine instead of plain PHP or other options like Blade/Smarty/... Latte is context-aware which makes templates cleaner and clearer to look at and safer because it knows to escape content in one way as HTML text and another as an attribute, for example. The final clincher is that it uses the same syntax as PHP itself, so as a developer hopping between PHP and Latte, there's much less brain strain.

  3. Use PageTableNext. This is similar to Drupal's Paragraphs or Gutenberg's Blocks (ish). It allows a page to be built from slices/sections of various different templates, e.g. I have things like "text" and "text-over-image" and "animated stats" etc. These let authors make interesting pages, applying different preset styles to things, giving a good mix of creative control and theme adherence.

What I liked

Beyond the above features, I liked these things:

  • Fairly unopinionated: the core is quite small and everything is a module, so when you write your own module, you have similar level of access. e.g. I was able to make a core module behave differently by using hooks rather than having to maintain a patch of a core code file.
  • The selector API is a domain-specific query language for fetching page data that makes a lot of common things you need to do very easy and clear to read. I like readable code a lot.
  • A lot of basic CMS features are implemented really nicely; thought has gone into them.
    • e.g. Drupal has a redirect module that can add redirects from old URLs when you update the 'path alias' for a page - great - but ProcessWire's implementation (a) prevents you making circular redirects which is a quick way to kill a Drupal site by accident that's happened more than once, and (b) has some useful rules like let's only do this if the page has been in existence for a little while - because typically while first composing a page you may change the title quite a few times before you publish.
    • e.g. when you save a page that has links to other pages in it, it stores the page IDs of those other pages too, and when the page is fetched it will check that the URLs exist and still match the ID, fixing them if needed.
  • Images - have 'focus' built in as well as resizing etc. so if a crop is needed you can ensure the important content of the image is still present.
  • Booting is flexible; it enabled me to boot ProcessWire from within Drupal7 and thereby write a migration script for a lot of content.
  • There's a good community on the forum. A forum feels a bit old fashioned, but it's good because you can have long form discussions; it sort of doubles as a blog, and a lot of new features are announced in forum posts by Ryan and others.
  • The Tracy debugger is mind-blowingly good, just wow.
  • Modules - third party or core - are typically very focussed and often tiny. This is a testament to what can be achieved throught the flexible and well-designed APIs.
  • Weekly updates on core development from both the lead developer on the blog and the community, both with RSS feeds so it's easy to keep updated.

What I don't like

  • Logging is weird and non-standard. I prefer one chronological log of well categorised events, but instead we have lots of separate files. This is a bit weird.
  • One thing it is opinionated on is that there should be a strict hierarchy between pages and URLs. I like that level of order, but in real life, it's not what I needed. e.g. People & Planet has three main campaigns and it wanted those at /campaign-name not /campaigns/campaign-name. And we wanted news at /news/2024-03-25/title-of-news-article, but we don't want a page at /news/2024-03-25/ and we want the news index to be under an Info page in the menu. This meant I had to write a custom menu implementation to implement a different hierarchy to display what we wanted it to look (3 campaigns under a Campaigns menu, the news index under an Info menu). There was a page hook for having news articles describe their URLs with the publish date, but this took quite a bit of figuring out.
  • Ryan Cramer leads/owns the project and other contributors are sparse. He seems like a lovely person, and I'm super grateful for his work, but there's only one of him, so this is a bit of a risk. Also, the code has no phpunit tests. Gulp. There have been various initiatives, but this sort of thing needs to come from a core team, and it's not a priority for Ryan. I love tests, they help avoid regressions, help document designed behaviour, etc. Likewise, there's a styleguide, but it's not adhered to, so...

Right decision?

I'm very happy with it, and it seems a great fit for my clients' needs, and they're very happy. All software has risks and I got burned twice with Drupal 8/9 - once backing out after months of development; another project that went to completion I regret and dislike administering/maintaining now. But so far, so good, and I intend to use ProcessWire for other projects (including replacing this website) very soon.

Contributions

I have two ProcessWire modules that are there for anyone who needs them.

  • TagHerder provides a page at Setup » Tag Herder that lists every tag and every page tagged with that tag, and provides three options: Rename the tag; Trash the tag; Replace the tag with another. Useful for cleaning up tags that have gotten out of control!
  • EditablePublishedDate lets you edit the published date of a page. Useful for entering historical page information or such.

 

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Nice write up. Found out about Custom Page classes and Latte after I prototyped my first project with Processwire. Both items help to improve the code structure and keep everything where it belongs to. And thanks to your post, I stumbled over PageTableNext, which seems exactly what I need for another project in the pipeline. After getting used to (and remember) the excellent API and the possibilities offered by Hooks (e.g. to modify the admin page tree based on user roles), I really enjoy to create projects with Processwire so far. 

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Great feedback.

Regarding the second point of the things you don't like, ProcessWire provides core functions to manage the urls as you wish.

Either with URL Hooks or with the templates' URL segments settings you can easily opt out the tree hierarchy structure of the pages.

Thanks for your modules contributions.

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Really great writeup @artfulrobot

5 hours ago, artfulrobot said:

Logging is weird and non-standard. I prefer one chronological log of well categorised events, but instead we have lots of separate files. This is a bit weird.

You might find that TracyDebugger helps with this to some degree - its "Processwire Logs" panel combines all logs into one ordered reverse chronologically. It also highlights when you have new errors / notices since you last viewed the site.

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16 hours ago, Nicolas said:

...ProcessWire provides core functions to manage the urls as you wish.

I started with those, but they're not always the right way. There's also url segments and path() method overrides.

The challenge is: 1. you want pages to be served at your desired url. 2. You want the admin ui to show correct URLs. 3. You want the link adding UI to find the correct URL. 4. You want $pages->get(url) to work. 5. You want the qa checker to work. 6. You want PagePath module to keep up with changes.

If interested, here's a rambling post of my journey, I got there in end (except 2, but, meh!).

 

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