This is the fourth installment in a series presenting work on shared configuration that comes out of the Drutopia initiative. To catch up, see Part 1, Configuration Providers, Part 2, Configuration Snapshots, and Part 3, Respecting Customizations.
In the next installment we'll start to pull it all together, showing how all the pieces covered so far fit into a solution for merging in configuration updates. But first there's one more piece to add. In this installment we'll be looking at creating and updating configuration alters.
First off, what is a configuration alter?
An alter is an addition, deletion, or change to a piece of configuration.
When we're producing a several packages of shared configuration - what are often called feature modules - sooner or later we need a particular feature to modify configuration that was provided by another feature.
Say I'm producing a Drupal distribution that includes two different features: an event feature and a location feature. Any given site might install the event feature, or the location feature, or both, or neither. (A big part of the point of having distinct features is to make them optional and independent.)
In this example, say the event feature provides an 'event' content type with fields including a required 'date' field. The description of the event content type is: "An event takes place at a specified time." The location feature provides a 'location' content type.
But if I have both events and locations, there's a relationship between them. Events take place at a location. So on a site with both the event and the location features installed, the event content type should get an additional required field, "Venue", that's a reference to a location. When that happens, the description of the original event content type should change accordingly. Now it should read: "An event takes place at a specified time and place."
To make this happen, the location feature (or, possibly, a third feature) is going to have to alter the event feature's configuration.