The time has come to close the book on our government Drupal distribution, aGov. We are no longer actively developing sites using aGov, and instead are focussing our efforts on the new GovCMS Drupal 8 distribution. Here’s a short history of aGov and how we got to this point.
/ 11 February 2019
Why we developed aGov
PreviousNext has a long history of developing sites for government at all levels. Back in 2012 there was a big shift in government moving towards accessibility, security and mobile support. There were many government sites built using legacy software that were too expensive and complex to update to conform to these requirements. At the same time government was embracing open source as a legitimate replacement.
We were seeing an increasing number of government agencies coming to us to help them meet these requirements, and we were implementing the same changes on each and every project.
aGov was developed as a response to this. The intention was to create a serious alternative to legacy applications, that could be spun up with minimal effort.
Drupal 7 was not very accessible out of the box, and aGov combined numerous contrib modules and a base theme that helped it meet WCAG 2 AA compliance.
aGov takes off
Thanks in part to the aGov distribution, we saw a huge adoption of Drupal in government. Agencies were able to create sites relatively easily, and host where ever they chose, be that in the cloud or on-premise. At its peak, aGov was in use on 600 sites and has been downloaded almost 200,000 times, consistently staying in the Top 20 Drupal Distributions on Drupal.org.
Distributions versus Starter Kits
Back in 2012, Drupal distributions were seen as the answer to the code reuse problem. In Drupal 7, configuration is all stored in the database, making it difficult to manage. The solution was the Features module, which had to accommodate myriad different configuration formats and try to wrangle them all into code that could be deployed. As aGov was typically modified and extended in 99% of cases, this configuration was difficult to maintain and supporting upgrade paths for each and every site was near impossible.
We improved the situation with a 7.x-2.x release and later with a 7.x-3.x release, however the inherent limitations of Drupal 7 were still there.
Around the 2nd half of 2014 we worked with the Australian Department of Finance to fork aGov to the GovCMS distribution. GovCMS is a hosting, procurement process and Drupal distribution to allow government agencies to build and deploy Drupal websites with minimum friction. The potential of Drupal and aGov was now being realised in a comprehensive Drupal SaaS platform.
The Department of Finance took ownership of the GovCMS codebase, however we still saw a need for more complex sites that would benefit from aGov, so decided to keep it alive. In aGov 7.x-3.x we incorporated UI Kit, the government design system, and in 2015 started active development on a Drupal 8 version.
PreviousNext invested large amounts of time into the Drupal 8 release, which greatly increased our overall expertise and confidence in using it.
Drupal 8 solved a lot of the problems aGov was initially created for. First class accessibility and mobile support, as well as a comprehensive configuration management system that made moving configuration changes around a breeze.
As such, the Drupal 8 version of aGov was much smaller and simpler than it’s Drupal 7 equivalent. This also meant we would often use vanilla Drupal 8 instead of aGov when working on government sites as there was less need for an ‘opinionated’ (read inflexible) solution for different sites.
Maintenance Fixes Only
For the last two years, we have been supporting aGov, by updating core and contributed modules. However, as we no longer use it ourselves, there has been little impetus to extend or enhance the distribution. It became apparent that we could no longer continue to support it alone.
After six years since its original creation, we will be marking the project’s Maintenance Status as Seeking New Maintainer and its development status as No further development. We will no longer be active in the issue queue or creating new releases.
If you are a user of aGov, you will be still able to upgrade Drupal core and contributed modules on a site by site basis as before. If you encounter upgrade issues, you should create tickets in the project where the issue occurs.
If anyone is interested in taking over maintainership, please contact us through the project’s issue queue.
Where to from here?
Late last year the GovCMS team successfully launched its Kubernetes-based hosting platform, and improved developer workflows. With 247 live websites and 48 site currently in development, the Drupal-based platform is stronger than ever, and continues to grow.
PreviousNext has been developing GovCMS sites since day one, and we’re continuing to grow this part of our business. Dropping support for aGov is going to free up some of our time to put to better use on the future of government sites in Australia.