Inline edit links, but not editing inline

It's heartwarming, really encouraging to see that Drupal 7 is undergoing a usability review. Drupal's a massively functional CMS, but all the functionality in the world won't help you when the average (for which read: can't write HTML, let alone PHP) CMS user can't discover it. There's a common misconception that usability is the finishing touches you add to an application if you've got time, the icing on the cake; but if your application lays any claim to maturity then its usability is the cake, and all that functionality you were so proud of is, without usability, just eggs and flour.

One of the main usability improvements suggested by the usability team---and largely shouted down by the technical team---is the ability to edit inline on the page: that is, to log in as an admin, then have any bit of the page "active", so that if you click on it then it becomes an edit box with the text inside. Flickr does this especially well, letting you edit title and description on photo pages and lists of photos by just clicking on the apparently uneditable text. But Flickr has the advantage that there's very little form on top of its content: it's a delivery mechanism for the raw metadata about photos, and the photo itself.

The other end of the spectrum---which complex CMS sites have every right to sit on---is a rich and complicated mapping between the storage of a node's content in the database and the eventual display of it in the browser. take a page from a recent Torchbox project at random, how would you expect areas of this page from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's website to behave when you clicked on them? If you have to hardcode print statements in your PHP templates, what do you print? How do you get editing inline to work? What happens when content is brought in from other, related nodes, and mixed in with the other content before display.

I can appreciate both sides to this story of user experience versus technical practicality, although it's not sufficient to expect the usability team to discard the idea merely because there's no correspondence between page content and database content: that's only an argument for why Drupal doesn't currently have edit-on-page. The usability project is moving forwards rapidly, and while there's clearly a tension between usability for the CMS user and feasible technical limitations---usability for the developer, if you like---it will need to be resolved soon for this marvellous work, and a great opportunity, not to end up wasted. And resolving that conflict will involve some sort of compromise, for both sides.

One possible compromise would be to offer edit links, when Drupal can spot a sort-of 1-to-1 correspondence between a fragment of page content and the node that supports it. Page templates and views---specifically hook_preprocess_node and hook_views_pre_render---know full well that what they're processing is a node. And they generally know what field the node title will be in. So let Drupal rewrite the title, to add an "edit inline" link. If anyone clicks on this link, then pop the node-edit form up in a lightbox for editing.

Here's some screenshots of what I've been working on, in an attempt to get people interested (click for bigger.) Firstly, here's what the anonymous site visitor sees:

Homepage for an anonymous site visitor

Next, here's what happens when a user has just logged in. Note that the brilliant Admin menu module kicks in, giving the user a black navigation bar across the top. But, more pertinently, each node title also now has an "[edit inline]" link beside it:

Homepage for a logged-in admin user

If the logged-in user clicks on one of these new links, then our edit-inline module kicks in and, using the equally brilliant Drupal Thickbox wrapper module, provides a stripped-down version of the node-edit page in a Thickbox overlay, both speeding up node editing using AJAX calls and also letting the user cancel the node-edit procedure and return to the webpage they were on quickly:

Effect of clicking on an 'edit inline' link

To reiterate, you don't have to be on a node's page to edit it. All that matters is that the title of the node you want to edit passes through onee of the supported pre-render hooks. Currently, clicking on save/preview/cancel takes you elsewhere rather than being trapped within the Thickbox, and we're also wrestling with getting CSS and Javascript into the Thickbox overlay to support the nattier bits of node editing, but it's functional and, I hope, gives you some idea of how it would all work given a few more hours of bashing away at keyboards.

Anyway, there it is. A possible compromise. I've mentioned it in a comment on the d7ux blog but I fear I might have been eaten by a spamtrap. If anyone's interested in the project then email me, jp.stacey, either at or, and say hello.


Very nice! Where is this module available from?

Hey Bevan,

Cheers. We're currently ironing out a few bugs with the form submission process (we had to switch to iframes in the Thickbox in the end) and how best to get the code out. I'll let you know when I've got something available.

[...] EditInline was first discussed here. It’s a Drupal module that provides your site with handy editing links, inline with each node title, which rather than taking you to a separate editing page use a lightbox overlay on the current page to provide an inline editing interface. [...]