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June 8, 2016

Laravel – what is it, and why Itomic has embraced it

By Ross Gerring

Itomic has embraced Laravel because CMS’s like Drupal and WordPress can’t do everything.Drupal v WordPress logos

Itomic was founded in 2000 when quality, affordable CMS were literally non-existent. So in common with other web agencies, we built our own. It was (and still is!) very popular. It’s called Nucleus, and although it’s built using open source technology (Zend Framework) it’s essentially a home-grown solution. Which means that although non-Itomic developers can work on it without restriction, they would definitely prefer not to, because the initial learning curve would be quite steep, and there’s no broader community of developers to assist or support them.

We could see the writing on the wall for Nucleus when Drupal and WordPress really started to mature into high quality – and free – CMS. A very hard combination to compete against! If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em…. so Itomic rapidly became Drupal and WordPress experts.

Drupal and WordPress are excellent at helping non-technical people to manage content (text, graphics, etc.) on their sites. They are, after all, content management systems! Furthermore, their functionality can be extended in a myriad of different and sometimes amazing ways through configurable add-on software (also known as plug-ins or modules) and/or custom-coding. But the fact remains that, first and foremost, they are content management systems.

We’ve always prided ourselves on being the company that is more technically capable than your average web agency. When your average agency says “too hard”, we say “bring it on”. Great attitude, but sometimes this means that we’ve had to battle and bend a CMS a bit too far outside of what it was primarily designed to do. Sure, such customisations are fully-integrated into an existing CMS website which is a definitely “a good thing”. But the downside is that the time and cost to achieve and maintain such outcomes is sometimes too great.

We knew there had to be a better way.

Enter Laravel.

What is Laravel?

Let’s start with the Laravel Philosophy in full:Laravel logo

Laravel is a web application framework with expressive, elegant syntax. We believe development must be an enjoyable, creative experience to be truly fulfilling. Laravel attempts to take the pain out of development by easing common tasks used in the majority of web projects, such as authentication, routing, sessions, and caching.

Laravel aims to make the development process a pleasing one for the developer without sacrificing application functionality. Happy developers make the best code. To this end, we’ve attempted to combine the very best of what we have seen in other web frameworks, including frameworks implemented in other languages, such as Ruby on Rails, ASP.NET MVC, and Sinatra.

Laravel is accessible, yet powerful, providing powerful tools needed for large, robust applications. A superb inversion of control container, expressive migration system, and tightly integrated unit testing support give you the tools you need to build any application with which you are tasked.”

A web application framework is a faster, more flexible way of building highly custom (“bespoke“) web-based software projects. It’s a “looser” construct than a CMS, but not as loose as the programming or scripting language in which it is written, which in Laravel’s case is PHP.

Laravel isn’t a CMS, and a CMS isn’t a framework, but:

  1. Drupal sits somewhere in between a CMS and framework by sometimes calling itself a CMF: a content management framework. This is in recognition of the higher-than-average opportunity to more heavily customise it relative to other CMS.
  2. A CMS can – and often is – built using frameworks such as Laravel. For example, two CMS built with Laravel are October and AsgardCms. And the latest version of Drupal – version 8 – has Symfony at its core. Which framework an application is built with is transparent to the end users.
  3. A framework can be built from a framework! Indeed Laravel itself has some Symfony components at its core.

When to use a CMS, and when to use a framework?

When the core of what you want to achieve online is all about the efficient, easy, management of online content (text, graphics, etc.), perhaps by multiple authors, then you should start your project – but not necessarily finish it – with a CMS like Drupal or WordPress. Conversely, where content management is not the core deliverable, then you should consider going down the framework path. But note that this is not a strictly “choose one or the other” scenario. Choosing some blend of both may well be smartest approach. Use a CMS for the content management, and then Laravel or similar for the highly custom components – and integrate the two if relevant. In other words, some projects scream “CMS!”, other projects scream “Framework!”, and there’s lots of grey area in between. Assuming your web developer or web agency is familiar with both, then naturally you should allow yourself to be guided by them. And always get a 2nd or 3rd opinion if unsure.

Why did Itomic choose Laravel?

In the same way we kept an eye on Drupal and WordPress for some years before we jumped on board, so too we’ve been keeping an eye on Laravel. And its time is now, as you can see from the graph below.

Google trends shows the rise in popularity of Laravel
source: Google Trends Jan 2004 – May 2016. Click on graph to see the latest trends.

 

More specifically:

  1. We really enjoy creating amazing online solutions, and Laravel gives us the opportunity to break free of the constraints that Drupal and WordPress necessarily impose.
  2. Laravel is indeed a pleasure to work with. It’s been built by developers, for developers. As the Laravel Philosophy states, happy developers make the best code, and the best code will result in better business outcomes.
  3. Laravel is extremely well supported & documented, including some of the most professional online tutorials for developers we’ve ever seen over at Laracasts.

Will Itomic continue to build and support Drupal & WordPress?

Of course! For the foreseeable future, CMS-driven websites will be the principal online representations of organisations. We see our adoption of Laravel as highly complementary (not competitive) to the business of building and supporting CMS websites.

What has Itomic achieved with Laravel (so far)?

Some examples:

  1. We’ve nearly finished building our own CRM for Itomic. It will allow us to provide an enhanced, more customised service for our valued clients.
  2. We’ve built a system to help manage the distribution of early learning books and resources to new parents in Western Australia.
  3. We’re building a large, flexible product database for a major Australian car parts manufacturer.
  4. We’re putting the finishing touches to a virtual tour management system for a major new hospital.
  5. We’re about to start rebuilding, in Laravel, an aging website directory service that we originally built in Drupal 6. Today, Laravel is the optimal choice.

In summary

One of the most over-used phrases in IT is “we’re excited”. But we really, really are 🙂 . With Laravel we’ve a new-found freedom to innovate for our clients and ourselves.

Want to talk web applications and Laravel? Call us, 24/7, on 1300 ITOMIC, or +61 8 6210 1364 if outside Australia. Or contact us via our website.