Joomla 4 – a quick look at the Alpha release

by Agata Urbaniak

Late last year the first alpha version of the next major release of Joomla, version 4, was announced. It is a big deal as the previous major release, version 3, was released all the way back in September 2012. The stable version will probably come out some time around the 6th anniversary of that event (it’s planned for the summer but, realistically, we can expect some delays). How much of a headache can we, web developers, expect when the time comes to upgrade?

First of all, as it usually happens with pretty much everything, early adopters will suffer the most. Stable version doesn’t mean a version free of bugs. Things crop up as soon as that release is out and thousands of people install it on their websites. If you absolutely must, go for that 4.0.0 release. Personally, I will probably wait for 4.0.2 or .3 so that the early kinks are all ironed out. Especially since the websites I’m dealing with aren’t my own personal ones but our clients’.

Other than that, it might be a pretty smooth transition and it mostly depends on how quickly the 3rd party extension developers catch up with the Joomla upgrade and also how much your website depends on those extensions. In terms of vanilla Joomla, the past versions 3.7.x and the future versions 3.8.x and 3.9.x will resolve most of the compatibility issues to make sure your website is Joomla 4 ready. You will also be required to run PHP 7 on the server.

What’s already been introduced is the custom fields and the new router, among other lesser enhancements. Unless you’re a developer, Joomla 4 will mostly mean a brand new back-end interface, which I must admit is pretty slick as well as fast/responsive, but not much else. As soon as you start browsing the new interface, you realise it’s pretty much same old same old. The functionality and structure is almost identical, it just looks a bit different. It takes nothing to get used to it.

There are welcome changes, some of which are already in place, for example being able to create a new category as you’re creating a new article. But, frankly, it’s mind-boggling how in 2018 it’s still not possible to add an article to more than one category. That and the concerns raised in my previous post, Joomla! 3.7 Custom Fields and why we’ll stick to a CCK, basically mean we’ll still be opting for a CCK.

There’s also a new Media manager that will allow to do basic image edition, which unfortunately at this point is too glitchy to properly test, as well as performance and SEO enhancements and new default front- and back-end templates running Bootstrap 4. What justifies the new major release are the changes that are in the process of being implemented in current 3.7.x versions onwards, not exactly what will come when you hit that upgrade button to get version 4.

Having built websites using Joomla since 2005, I’ve worked with all its major releases and I still remember how cumbersome and demanding it used to be to upgrade to a major release, sometimes requiring to basically re-develop a website. But when I look back at the last time I was truly excited about new Joomla features, I come to the conclusion that it must have been the release of version 1.5 back in 2008. Since about version 2 it became easier to go from major release to major release but I must admin Joomla has been a bit of a steady Eddie since then, slowly pushing forward in terms of enhancements but without any groundbreaking changes. It’s still a very decent platform, especially when paired up with a CCK, just not a clear first choice anymore.