Drupal Commerce 2, like Drupal 8, was a big change from previous versions. The code base is much different and it’s quite a learning curve when moving from Drupal 7 to the more complex approaches in Drupal 8. However, this is good. The new versions are modern and all around better. I’ve had a number of revelations while working with Drupal Commerce 2 and Drupal 8 that made me smile. In this post, I’ll explore one revelation I had while working with Drupal Commerce 2’s checkout handling and how it’s forward-thinking development has paved the way (and encourages all new checkout panes to follow suit) for headless ecommerce using Drupal.
Drupal Commerce 2 checkout is not a form… say what!?
Generally, when you think of checkout, you think of it as a sequence of events and one big final submission. This is further driven home by the idea that you can, and should, be able to go back and edit your checkout choices before the final submission. In Drupal Commerce 2, going back and forth between checkout steps is supported, but there is no final submission handler that saves everything.
Wait, what? That’s right, there’s no need to save all the data on the checkout form once checkout is completed. You see, all checkout panes (a step in the checkout process) have a submission event that gets called when it’s time to save the data. So if you’re going to save data in a checkout pane, you gotta do it after your customer has moved forward in the checkout process but before your customer is ready to commit to the checkout pane’s final value state (complete checkout). Submission is perceived to be at the end of checkout, not before.
On the surface that might make sense, in fact, this workflow being so obvious might even blind you to the implications. Since each pane is basically handling its own submission workflow, you can’t allow your form state to persist choices and not make a decision until the end. You’re probably, like me, thinking that saving data and reacting to data is the same thing. But this assumption is old, out of date, incompatible with best practices, and in checkout for Commerce 2, causes design problems.
Explanation through an example: A checkout newsletter subscription
A common want is to include a little checkbox underneath a contact information email field where new or returning customers can opt-in to a newsletter. Sure, that’s no big deal, right?
Our customer expects that things in checkout aren’t real until they complete checkout (i.e. nothing is saved until they actually place the order). On the other hand, Drupal Commerce 2 expects all panes to save their data after a “continue to next-step” button gets clicked, submitting that pane.
Here’s how the checkbox would be made using our current form submission logic:
- Create a CheckoutPaneBase object that collects data through a checkbox
- On the pane form submission, subscribe the customer to your newsletter
Do you see the problem? If we react on pane submission (our only choice in our current way of thinking), we’ll subscribe the customer to our newsletter well before they are done with checkout. In fact, each time they see the first page of checkout and proceed to the second, they will be subscribed to our newsletter. Not only is this not what the customer would expect, but subscribing them multiple times is totally unnecessary and would likely cause problems. Subscribing the customer on pane form submission is the wrong approach.
This is where things get really trippy – and awesome and beautiful and wonderfully clever and great. You see, Drupal 8, which Commerce 2 is built around, has been designed to not require forms, form states and value persistence in order to trigger important actions. This is a whole new way of thinking and maybe the most important to our discussion. Previous to this, most Drupal 7 developers would have assumed that all forms require user-facing interfaces that would be submitted, but that is a pretty brutal assumption and has plagued a lot of Drupal installations over the years. If that was still the case, then form submissions are something that headless implementations of Drupal would never really trigger. There must be a better way.
Headless decoupling breeds better code using events
If checkout was a single form with a final submission handler that submitted payment, subscribed users to newsletters, saved addresses to profiles, and did all the things you would expect all at once, then all the code that manages these things would have to react to a single form submission.
However, if we use Drupal’s built in event system instead, we suddenly have much greater degree of control. But before we get into that, let’s first take a quick look at what events are and where they come from.
Drupal 8 made a big shift towards being object oriented by adopting Symfony within its framework. Symphony provides a number of components useful in modern object oriented programming, one of which is events. Events in Drupal 8 give developers a new way to extend and modify how interactions with core and other modules work. If you’re already familiar with Drupal 7, events are basically meant to replace hooks. Drupal 8’s event system documentation helps us to understand the basic concepts and components making up the event system.
- Event Subscribers – Sometimes called “Listeners”, are callable methods or functions that react to an event being propagated throughout the Event Registry.
- Event Registry – Where event subscribers are collected and sorted.
- Event Dispatcher – The mechanism in which an event is triggered, or “dispatched” throughout the system.
- Event Context – Many events require specific set of data that is important to the subscribers to an event. This can be as simple as a value passed to the Event Subscriber, or as complex as a specially created class that contains the relevant data.
Source: Drupal.org documentation, Subscribe to and dispatch events (link)
Getting back to our checkout scenario, if you use the events system and your checkout completion is simply a state transition from Draft to Completed, then other modules could subscribe to that transition event, take the saved data from the different pane submissions, and do whatever they want with it.
Do you see the beauty here? By forcing checkout panes to submit before the final submission, we (module builders, implementers, etc.) have a baked-in reason to store checkout decisions on the order so that order events can access them separately, giving us the ability to create orders with checkout decisions saved that can skip checkout completely and still have the events trigger the needed actions. This is quite powerful and opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Of course, since this is an implicit design choice, it’s up to the author of the module or code to see the reasons and embrace them.
Entity + event-based instead of form-based
So to complete our newsletter subscription pane example using our new knowledge of events instead of form submissions, here’s what we would do:
- Create a CheckoutPaneBase object that collects data through a checkbox and saves it to the order (either through a field value or the ->setData typed data interface.
- Save this value on pane submission but don’t act on the value (i.e. don’t subscribe the user)
- Create an event subscriber and use the transition event you want to use as a trigger. Completing checkout makes the most sense.
- Treat the order value as a “request subscription to newsletter.” Then, when the event fires and the event subscriber runs, it can look for the saved value and set the user to subscribed or not after it returns. This allows us to handle someone going through an event twice for some reason, like for multiple orders, etc.
Your customer gets subscribed to your newsletter when they, and you, expect them to. No forms needed. ISN’T THAT AMAZING!
Thanks to the many authors of Drupal Commerce 2, including Bojan Živanović and Matt Glaman, that implemented this design choice years ago, many modules and implementations are simply technically better and likely ready for headless implementations now that headless is all-the-rage.
And best of all, from a developer standpoint, this also means the bulk of your most critical automated tests that interact with your code doesn’t have to access the checkout form. They simply have to have orders that get transitioned. This makes writing tests, which equates to better code, simpler.
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