Update: The Drupal Association announced on 23 February 2022 that Drupal 7 end of life was extended by one year to 1 November 2023. It also announced the end-of-life date will be re-evaluated annually.
If your organization is still using Drupal 7, it's time to get serious about migrating to Drupal 9. Drupal 7's end of life is approaching, and there is a lot for you to think about. So we've assembled some commonly asked questions to help guide your next steps.
What Does "End of Life" Mean?
On 1 November 2023, the Drupal community will officially stop supporting Drupal 7. That means no more community-based updates like bug fixes, new features, or security updates.
How is Drupal 9 Different from Drupal 7?
Familiar functionality like content types, views, taxonomy, roles and permissions, and the separation of content and presentation is still in place. However, there are huge leaps forward in terms of technology, architecture and features. Let's see some of Drupal 9's key benefits when compared to Drupal 7:
- Major improvements to the editor experience - Drupal 9's editor experience is more accessible and user-friendly than ever, with intuitive, thoughtfully designed tools. Editors are empowered with drag-and-drop page layouts, edit-in-place capabilities, integrated workflow management, and a recently-introduced content-staging feature called Workspaces.
- API-first architecture - With an emphasis on web services with REST and JSON, Drupal is built for flexibility and interconnectedness. The option to go headless/decoupled allows Drupal to function as a data service for applications, or simply free developers to create themes and interfaces with their preferred frameworks. Drupal 9 can also readily share data and integrate with other technologies and services.
- Improved performance - With Drupal 9, your website will benefit from performance improvements, including more sophisticated caching schemes, the BigPipe core module that supports lazy loading of selected elements, and more efficient coding conventions.
- Technology and architecture - The building blocks of the platform have been reworked to become more powerful and future-ready:
- Object-Oriented Programming
- Symfony & Composer
- APIs and RESTful Web Services
- More data source options
- Headless/Decoupled capability
Why Are We Upgrading to 9 Instead of 8?
Drupal 8 reached end of life on November 2, 2021. While the Drupal 7 date was pushed out an extra year due to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, Drupal 8's end of life was driven by the end of support for Symfony 3 and could not be changed.
All that said, it's not necessary to migrate to D8 before D9. While Drupal 9 includes a number of improvements over Drupal 8, it maintains backward compatibility and is largely the same under the hood.
Migrations from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 were also anticipated: Drupal 9's core Migrate Drupal module provides tools to help you get started with migrating from Drupal 7.
How Much Work Is It to Upgrade from Drupal 7 to 9?
There's really no getting around it: this is a major upgrade. Starting with version 8, Drupal's underlying technologies and architecture were thoroughly renovated to create a more powerful and future-ready platform.
This creates exciting possibilities for both organizations and their end-users, but it does require significant resources and planning to make that leap. There are new technologies and practices to learn, modules and themes to rebuild, content to be audited, and goals to be reimagined.
The good news is that this is a one-time deal. Along with its architecture, Drupal's approach to version releases was revamped. In the future, upgrading to a new major release will be more like keeping up with minor releases, and won't require a major overhaul.
What If I Stay on Drupal 7?
Obviously, moving from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 is a big job. But what happens if you don't?
First, rest assured that your site will continue to function. However, without active community support, there will be no more bug fixes or feature updates to modules and Drupal core. Some limited security fixes will continue through November 2025, via the Drupal 7 Extended Vendor Support program.
However, as more time passes, you will fall further behind innovations, and it will become increasingly challenging to meet your users' needs.
Security will become more of a concern as the community-based Drupal Security Team stops monitoring Drupal 7 and releasing security advisories and updates. Finally, any third-party plugins or other integrations may eventually stop working, as their providers deprecate them for more modern technologies incompatible with Drupal 7.
Maintaining full functionality will require large amounts of maintenance time or paid agency support. This cost will only exist to maintain the status quo, not result in financial growth or operational improvements.
Staying the course with Drupal 7 may feel like the simplest choice, but, in time, it will drain more resources and put your organization's mission at risk.
Should I Switch to a Different CMS?
Moving from Drupal 7 to 9 might be a significant undertaking. However, it will probably be more expensive and disruptive to change platforms entirely. If you move away from Drupal, you'll need to reassess the architecture, capabilities, and features of your website and its integrations from scratch. There's also a cost to onboarding on new technologies and product ecosystems.
But more importantly, you'll be losing the benefits that only a content-rich open source platform can provide: its flexibility and security, the improvements to accessibility and content editor experience, and efficient data portability. All that said, don't underestimate how much your team will appreciate the improvements that Drupal 9 has to offer. If your team is looking to upgrade their Drupal skills to get ready for Drupal 9, our Drupal training programs are designed to help you.
What If a Contributed Module Is Not Available Yet for Drupal 9?
Running the Upgrade Status module will help you identify which modules have Drupal 9 versions available or recommended replacements. If a module you're using is not available in Drupal 9, you can check if the functionality you're looking for is now available in Drupal core, or see if another module is available that provides the same feature. Remember that moving to Drupal 9 tends to reduce the number of contributed modules a website needs.
If there's no module available, this guide to upgrading modules to Drupal 9 will help you get started.
Where Do I start?
Initiating the migration from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 is much like launching any major project. Before digging into how to approach specifics, take some time to evaluate the technical aspects and what this project and the new platform mean for your organization.
- Evaluate your UX - Moving to Drupal 9 can be an opportunity to make big improvements to your user experience and functionality. Identifying whether this is a major goal should be the first step since it defines so many aspects of your project.
- Identify your stakeholders - How have your audiences and stakeholders evolved since your last big rebuild? Who are they today, and what do they need from this?
- Define your goals - What is your organization's mission? How do you measure success? How can your new platform contribute to that success and better serve your stakeholders?
- Assemble your team - Who do you have that can contribute to this project? Who are you missing, and can you get them?
- Audits and self-assessment - This is a big one. Content and technical audits are your opportunity to evaluate what you've been working with critically. What needs to be migrated, reworked, or discarded? What expertise is missing from my team, and what would it take to acquire it? What is the scope of our project, and do we have the resources to handle it ourselves?
- Seek outside help where needed - After getting as far as you can with these questions, explore your options for teaming with an agency to provide the support you need for a successful migration.
Will I Have to Do This Again for Drupal 10?
Don't worry. Moving from Drupal 9 to 10 won't be another big project.
Drupal 10's release is scheduled for June 2022, with a final fallback date of December 2022. When that happens, the upgrade process from Drupal 9 to 10 should be relatively simple, as it has been going from Drupal 8 to 9.
This should be your last big Drupal migration, and if you need us, we're here to help.
+ more awesome articles by Evolving Web