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02Jul2020

The most frequently asked questions about Joomla 4

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3366 hits Updated: 12 July 2020 Blog
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What we know (and a lot about what we don’t know)?

Should you wait or should you “go”?

Is there too much hype about Joomla 4?

The JED and Joomla! 4

If you would like to skip the introduction and go straight to the FAQs,  click here

A brief history of Joomla! 4

We don’t know for certain when the Joomla! 4 project startedI have been unable to locate any primary sources that indicate how proposals for a new upgrade to J! 3.x came into being and I have to rely on secondary sources that suggest J! 4 originated in 2016..  It’s not vital that we know exactly when J! 4 started; we know it’s been around for a few years.  When new projects kick off there’s usually lots of initial enthusiasm:  people eagerly set about their preparations in anticipation of a new product that’ll be “just around the corner”.  Before long, though, the distance to “the corner” seems to grow larger:  people agitate for “situation reports”—a sure sign of that sinking feeling—when they realise the end of the journey seems to be nowehere in sight and it appears that no one seems to be in the driver’s seat.  In fact, because people have been waiting with bated breath for the imminent arrival of J! 4 for such a long time—“keeping their eye on” J! 4— a lot of people are living with broken websites, unmaintained websites, hoping that J! 4 will miraculously appear and cure their problems.  Hope is not a strategy to run a business—let alone a website; it’s just another excuse, in a long list of excuses, that people make for not doing what they should be doing.

The Joomla! Project Roadmap is an “interesting document”.  If people are basing their businesses—to use Joomla! 4—on that document they could be in for a long wait:  the latest update of that documentdated 28 January 2020 gives no timeframe when J! 4.0.0 stable might be available (unlike previous versionssee https://web.archive.org/web/20180623151651/https://developer.joomla.org/roadmap.html dated 7 June 2018 that forecast J! 4.0.0 stable by end of the 2018 calendar year).  In short, no-one knows when the first stable version of Joomla! 4 will be released.

In the meantime—half-way through 2020, after four years, 12 alpha and three beta releases of J! 4—people are becoming agitated about what to expect and as well as questions about Joomla’s future both as a product and as an organisation.  This article addresses some of the important questions that the community has been asking over the past six months.  We do not have all of the answers; this article draws on snippets of information, “reading the room”, conjecture and guesswork.

Summary of Joomla! 4’s new features

If you search Google to find the “most exciting new features in Joomla! 4”, this is what you’ll find:

  • Bootstrap 4 Integration
  • More friendly Back-end UI
  • Coding improvements
  • New front-end template and back-end template
  • New Media manager
  • Simplified installation process
  • Faster page loading times
  • Features to improve SEO.

Official marketing of Joomla! 4 has been slow to appear and sparse in detail.  Therefore I’ve had to rely on information from websites that are not affiliated with the Joomla! project, magazine articles, forum posts and little else.  Some of the information that was published around the time the Joomla! 4 project began is now so outdated as to be almost useless; there have many changes in direction between the project’s conceptual phase and the current implementation.  For example, compare the screenshots of the conceptualised frontend and administration interfaces with what they look like today:

 
Proposed design
As it looks today

Joomla! 4 current state-of-play

The current situation with the Joomla! 4 project is complicated and difficult to explain.  As a long-term member of the Joomla! community, I have noticed the face of Joomla! has changed over the years.  When I first joined The Joomla! Forum™ I appreciated the active engagement with and helpful advice from other Joomlers everywhere.  The Joomla! Forum™ was the centrepiece of discussions and robust debate about the Joomla! project.  Although specialist technical discussion has always been separate from the community forum, the forum was the primary vehicle for Joomlers to engage on a wide range of subjects including documentation, new ideas, Joomla-related events, magazine contributions, announcements as well as self-help advice for people having problems with the CMS.  The community forum allowed for the exchange of views, opinions and news between “the devs” and general community.  Over the last few years—in particular, since the time when the J! 4 project commenced—more of the specialist areas that support the CMS have gravitated away from the forum.  The current situation is that technical specialists rarely visit the forum to engage with “ordinary” users.

It’s difficult to explain what is happening with the Joomla! project for a number of reasons.  Official commentary is limited to supportive, positive observation, that is, Open Source Matters [OSM] devotes a large amount of its time silencing criticism from within the community.  Outsiders may be unaware that OSM has weaponised the Joomla! Code of Conductsee https://www.joomla.org/about-joomla/the-project/code-of-conduct.html to limit freedom of expression by people who are members of the Joomla! community.  Indeed large amounts of OSM Board meetings are consumed by examining reports of code of conduct “violations”—the discussions are held in secret—and issuing warnings, threats and excommunication from the J! community.

For these reasons independent commentators, like me, have to be careful what we write.  As people have (many times) reminded us—and I’m often singled out as someone who needs to be reminded—”if you don’t have something nice to say then it’s better to say nothing at all.”  This leaves me in something of a predicament when it comes to observing discussions that express an opinion on something.

The result from this changes over time—particularly the decreased reliance on the community forum as a communications vehicle for specialised groups—has seen a partial fracture within the community as a whole.  On one hand we have “ordinary” users and on the other hand we have “the devs”.   While the forum was the centrepiece of the community at one time it is no longer the case today.

The most often-made criticism

I could probably take any one of hundreds of forum posts as an example, but this is one of the more “polite” ones:

[For] years the devs … kept Joomla moving forward.  I think comments like [others posted by the devs] will only lead to a fight and a fork.a forum user, Joomla forum, 17-Apr-2017

I do not know if “the devs” are listening to the public feedback about their work or if they actually care.  Our biggest worry is whether J! 4 will be a product that keeps Joomla moving forward or whether it will be a dead weight that will tank the project and drown all the hard work that everyone else has invested over the years.  Four years is a long time to run a project (even if it the project is open source and driven by volunteers).  Patience is not infinite; J! 4 is testing people’s patience.  We are not suggesting that the J! 4 project should be scrapped but it’s my view that the project’s goals may be too ambitious and “the devs” are over-confident.

It is probably better to make small gains, incrementally, with smaller steps than to try to achieve everything all at once.  It is better to celebrate small achievements, no matter how insignificant, than to draw unfavourable attention to a major disaster.

The JED and Joomla! 4

Joomla Extensions DirectoryWhat is the JED?

The Joomla Extensions Directory [JED] is a website.  According the owners of the website, the JED is “the official directory for Joomla components, modules and plugins”.  It is true that the JED is a catalogue or directory of products but what makes this directory official—as opposed to, say, an unofficial product catalogue—is an intriguing question to begin with.  Does the word “official” add weight or meaning to what this directory contains?  Who or what makes directory—out of all the millions of places on the internet where people can obtain Joomla add-on products—an official directory?  Is there a penalty for people who may use products that were obtained from other sources?

According to its operators,

The listings and reviews listed in the JED have been submitted by the community and are for general informational purposes only.  Listings do not constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by Joomla or OSM.

Because the listings and reviews are provided by others, Joomla, OSM, and the JED team cannot be held liable for accuracy of the information.  Visitors wishing to verify that the information is correct should contact the parties responsible for creating the content of the resource.

The information on this website is presented “as is” without warranty of any kind. OSM disclaims all warranties, whether express or implied, including the implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, or non-infringement.  In no event shall OSM be liable for any damages whatsoever, including, … damages … even if OSM has been advised of the possibility of such damages.JED Terms of Service (Section 11)

In other words, the listings in the JED are not created by the operators of the JED, although some basic checks are performed (e.g. licensing, copyright, naming conventions, etc.) before a product can be listed.  The JED website operators are not obliged to verify the claims of products listed in the directory, although if users of the JED complain often enough about extensions that consistently meet minimal consumer expectations then those products may be de-listed.  Therefore, in terms of how “official” this directory is, it’s comparable to making an ambit claim like “Google is the official search engine for the Internet”.

The JED is the so-called “official directory of Joomla extensions” because the people who operate the directory say it is.  I believe it would be better to describe the JED as the most commonly sought-after catalogue of products—that may or may not necessarily work—for people who build websites with Joomla!  There's a big difference between something that claims to be official and something that is simply used a lot.  For comparison, here are some things that are “official”:  passports, currency, birth certificate, income tax assessment notice, motor vehicle registration, marriage certificate, death certificate.  These official documents grant certain legal rights to those who possess and use them.  A person has no rights, and may face legal consequences, if they use such items from unauthorised or not officially recognised sources.  Does this mean that a person who obtains software from outside the JED would be subject to consequences for using an “unofficial” product?  Certainly not!

Some independent commentators are not as forgiving:

[A blot on the Joomla landscape] is its plugin and extension repository.  Although there are more than 7,700 extensions availableAs of the date when this article was published, the number of extensions listed on the JED is less than 7,500 they are restricted in their functionality and many are outdated.  The lack of regularly updated Joomla extensions has hit the overall functionality of the CMS hard.  The Joomla developers need to work extensively on increasing the number of user-friendly extensions in the repository.Hamza Zia, Is Joomla! Still Good: Yes or No?, 21-Feb-2018

The bottom line is this:

  The JED as the “official directory for Joomla components, modules and plugins” guarantees nothing.

  It’s the responsibility of the end user—the consumer, the purchaser of any product obtained from the JED—to resolve problems they may have about whether a product matches an advertiser’s claims.

JED J!4 Beta-compatible extensions (click to enlarge)New “Joomla! 4” categories for the JED

In preparation for the release of a stable version of Joomla! at some point in the future, in October 2019https://forum.joomla.org/viewtopic.php?f=262&t=974890 the operators of the JED created a new category for “Joomla! 4 Alpha-compatible extensions”.  Keep in mind that at this time, the Joomla! 4 project had been running for around three years.  At that time Joomla! 4 Alpha had undergone at least eight major rewrites and a further four major revisions occurred subsequently.

As we have discussed above, it’s the responsibility of the end user—the consumer or purchaser of products downloaded via the JED—to ascertain the correctness of any claims made by developers whose products are listed on the JED; this also extends to claims made by advertisers that their products are compatible with any, or all, version(s) of Joomla! 4 Alpha simply because their products are tagged with a Joomla! 4 Alpha-compatible “badge”.  It is my view that this badge is meaningless.

In June this yearhttps://forum.joomla.org/viewtopic.php?f=262&t=980535#p3607124 the JED team created another new category for “Joomla! 4 Beta-compatible extensions”.  “Officially”-speaking,

J4 Alpha and Beta are shown on the [JED] site as a way to encourage the developers to submit J4 Beta compatible extensions.  Of course, they will be removed as soon as the stable version is published.Anibal Sanchez, Joomla forum, 14-Jun-2020

This sounds a little confusing, doesn’t it?  I can’t find anywhere—apart from this reference buried on the Joomla! forum—that, on the one hand, the JED is the “official directory for Joomla components, modules and plugins” except when it comes to listing products about Joomla! 4.  Again it is my view that this Joomla! 4 Beta-compatible badge is as meaningless as the one created for J! 4 alpha in October last year.

Does this mean that there are no extensions written by third-party developers that work with J! 4?  No, it does not mean that.  The existence (or absence) of the J! 4 alpha/beta compatibility “badge” does not imply that an extension will or will not work with Joomla! 4.  I can say, with some confidence, that I know of two extensions listed on the JED that are compatible with the version of Joomla! 4 I use on my test site.  I am also quietly confident—barring unforeseen surprises, that is—that all the extensions I have created will continue to work with Joomla! 4 when a stable version is released at some time in the future.  I will not, however, waste your time or my time making claims about whether the products I’ve written will work with any alpha, beta or pre-stable release of Joomla! 4.  I do not need to be “encouraged” to apply for a J! 4 badge.  Likewise, I will not waste your time or my time checking which of the hundred or so J! 4-compatible badged extensions work and which ones don’t.

Let’s be clear about one thing:  less than 1% of all websites use Joomla! 4; I’ve seen no sign of people queuing up for extensions compatible with whatever versions of Joomla! 4 currently exist.  In fact, there’s plenty of anectodal evidence about unscrupulous advertisers claiming their products are compliant with JED’s terms of service when they’re not!

To summarise:

  The JED is unreliable as a referral source of Joomla! 4-compatible components, modules and plugins.  People who claim their products are compatible with Joomla! today are making claims that have not been tested. There is nothing in the JED Terms of Service that require any claim(s) to be true.

The most frequently asked questions about Joomla! 4

Who is using Joomla! 4 at the moment?

Joomla! Usage by VersionJooma! 4 is still in early beta; its usage accounts for less than one percent of all versions of Joomla! (see chart at right).  The current release is for experienced users of the J! CMS—for developers, experimeters, “early adopters”, testers.  Three important caveats should always be remembered about beta software:

  J! 4 is currently unsupported:  the website owner is responsible for all problems they may encounter.

  The list of features currently available may change; some features may be removed (or not implemented until a later time) and some new features may be added before the product is released to the public.

  Nothing is guaranteed.

This begs the question, “Would I use J! 4 in its present state as the basis for building a website for business purposes?”  Absolutely not!  I think it would be foolish to base one’s business—or, for that matter, recreational website use—on beta-grade software.

From an end user’s perspective, alphas shouldn’t be installed.  Betas and RCs are OK to play with as long as you understand that things will be broken and you must report what is broken back to the Joomla project.  Latent stage RCs and the stable is when you need to start testing your sites for migration.  Chances are you’ll be looking at weeks of development time because not all extensions will have J4 versions … [so now is the time] when you should be asking developers about their J4 plans–so you can make plans of your own!Nicholas Dionysopoulos, Joomla Community Magazine, 20-Jun-2020

A follow-up question might be “If I wouldn’t use J! 4 in its present state as the basis for building a website for business purposes, would I consider using Joomla! 4 [after it has been released in a stable form] as a basis for building a website in production?”  I will probably wait some time after Joomla! 4.0.0 has been released before I consider migrating any of my existing [Joomla! 3.x] websites to that.  Until I have personal confidence that Joomla! 4 is better than what I’ve got, I probably would not recommend clients or colleagues to venture into that space as well.  I will take my time, listen to the voice of experience from others, attend conferences, etc. and see how others are going.  I will be remain cautiously optimistic. 

Does Joomla! 4 work?

It’s too early for me to say with certainty.  It seems to work but what would I really know?  I’ve created one test site, installed two extensions on it, played around with some of the configuration settings but I haven’t tried creating any content or “tweaking” that website in ways that normal folk would be doing if they were using Joomla! as a proving ground for launching a website for production purposes.

There’s been a lot of criticism about the new Joomla! 4 administration interface.  Is it easier, better or (even more enjoyable) from the site owner’s viewpoint?

The new interface is different. If I didn’t have over ten years of experience using Joomla! and with no other benchmark to compare it to, I would probably say that the Joomla! 4 administration GUI is pretty reasonable and does the job that it’s meant to do.  The problem for me, of course, is that I have those 10 years of experience and that experience spoils my objectivity.

What features in Joomla! 4 are “exciting”?

I honestly couldn’t tell you if any of these new features excites me to the extent that I’m inexorably drawn to Joomla! 4.  I mean, is Bootstrap 4 integration all that important (from the end-user’s perspective, that is)?  “Coding improvements”?  “Simplified installation” (yes, there are one or two fewer mouse-clicks)?  “More friendly backend UI”?  I’ll leave the commentariat to debate that one!see, for example, https://forum.joomla.org/viewtopic.php?f=803&t=970614.

I haven’t discovered any specific “features” that improve SEO above what we have today but I’m looking forward to finding out more about them.  As for “faster page loading times” I haven’t run any benchmark testing and, does it matter, if my websites (currently load/display in under one second today) load any “faster” than that?

The new workflow process looks interesting but I don’t have a pressing need to utilise it in any specific way that exceeds what I can already do with Joomla! 3.x.

Will I be able to update my existing Joomla! website to version 4?

That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?  There’s an even money bet that, if you have maintained your existing website to the latest version of Joomla! 3.x, and the extensions you’ve installed are compatible with PHP 7.3+, that you will be able to migrate to Joomla! 4.  There may be a few issues with templates (and time will tell what those may be) but, for the most part the migration should be straightforward enough. 

Joomla! 4 may not be for everyone and support will continue for J! 3 for a couple of years, at least, to give people some breathing space while they make their plans.  People procrastinate; that’s just a fact.  There are still people using J! 1.5; there are still people using Internet Explorer.  There are people all around the world who rely on technologies from a bygone age.  Again, time will tell whether Joomla! 4 reaches the same level of acceptance as its predecessors.

You may be able to migrate your existing Joomla! website to version 4 (or it may be better to start over and rebuild your website) but will your users be able to interact with the new website based on Joomla! 4?  Who knows?

The “other things”

Joomla! 4 itself is not the challenge.  It’s all the other things that people will need to do in preparation for migrating their existing websites:  having the right version of PHP, thinking about the next generation of database engine, will all the extensions work (and what if they don’t)?  Those kinds of things.

The biggest cost is time. It takes time to collect information, assess it, process it, assimilate it.  It takes time to analyse the “opinions” from wherever I see and hear them; decide which opinions have merit, which opinions are worth considering and which opinions are prejudiced.  I’ve tried to keep an open mind.  My experiences with Joomla! 4 over the past year haven’t been particularly spectacular or “enjoyable” … but that’s just my experiences … and what would I know (or how should I know) any differently?

About the author:

is a website hobbyist specialising in Joomla, a former member of the Kunena project for more than 8 years, and an active contributor on The Joomla Forum™. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.


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