The big change that’s coming to Drupal and why you should act now

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If you’re responsible for one of the 700,000 websites running Drupal 7 right now, you’ll have heard about the big change coming to Drupal.

The release of Drupal 9 and the subsequent withdrawal of Drupal 7 and 8 marks a step-change in the platform’s development and a significant shift in technology, with implications for security.

Here’s what’s happening – and what you need to do.

What’s happening to Drupal 7, 8 and 9?

On June 3 2020, the first version of Drupal 9 will be released. It will be the newest version of the popular open-source content management system.

In November 2021, Drupal 7 and 8 will reach end of life. These versions won’t get any more updates, bug fixes or patches from Drupal.org or Drupal’s developer community.

What does this mean for my Drupal website? If you’re running Drupal 7, you’ll need to migrate to Drupal 8, then Drupal 9, by November 2021, to ensure your site stays secure.

If you’re running Drupal 8, you’ll also need to migrate to Drupal 9 by then too.

Why are Drupal 7 and 8 being withdrawn?

Drupal 7 has proved hugely popular since it was released almost ten years ago – hence why Drupal have supported it for so long. But it’s now showing its age and it needs to retire.

Drupal 8 onwards relies on well-established third-party PHP frameworks. This makes for a better, more robust product. But it also means that Drupal now has to keep in step with these frameworks as they evolve. So Drupal has aligned its product releases with theirs.

One of these frameworks, Symfony 3, is reaching end-of-life in November 2021. It’s Drupal 8’s biggest dependency. So when Symfony 3 is withdrawn, Drupal needs to be using Symfony 4 or 5. That’s where Drupal 9 comes in.

What does this mean for my Drupal 7 or 8 website?

From November 2021, Drupal.org and its community won’t test, update or issue any security patches for Drupal 7 and 8. This is critical. It means your site could become vulnerable if you remain on 7 or 8.

Should I upgrade from Drupal 7? If you’re running Drupal 7 right now, you have four options if you want your site to remain secure and supported:

1. Upgrade now to Drupal 8, then to Drupal 9 later

2. Upgrade later to Drupal 8, then to Drupal 9

3. Stick with Drupal 7 and engage specialist ongoing support

4. Do nothing and plan a new website on another CMS platform before the end of 2021

Why you should upgrade to Drupal 8 now

The upgrade to Drupal 8 is significant and might require a lot of coding. The structure of the technology that underpins Drupal 8 is very different from Drupal 7. This migration needs careful planning and will take time and effort.

However, Drupal has promised the upgrade from Drupal 8 to 9 will be an easy transition.

What are my other options?

The re-platform from Drupal 7 to 8 is a big one. The migration from 8 to 9 is not. That’s why Drupal recommends you split the process and move to Drupal 8 first. If you leave it until later, you risk rushing through a major migration and an additional upgrade, in order to meet the November 2021 deadline.

You can stay on Drupal 7, and even have a reasonably secure site with the help of niche support companies. But that can get expensive quickly, and you’ll still have a site running on a legacy framework.

What does Drupal recommend?

Drupal.org has strongly recommended that Drupal 7 sites are migrated to Drupal 8 as soon as possible. That’s what our team of experienced Drupal developers recommends, too.

Re-platforming now will avoid a last-minute rush next year and gives you a realistic timeline to adopt Drupal 9 before Drupal 7 and 8 are withdrawn in 2021.

Migrating to Drupal 8 also offers significant benefits to security, performance and functionality.

So if you can upgrade now, you should.

How hard is it to upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8?

The upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 is significant. At Cyber-Duck, we advise breaking it down into four key stages:

1. Audit

The audit is key. It establishes what functionality your Drupal 7 website uses and how that functionality is provided in Drupal 8. This stage is also an opportunity to review your site and content and see if it meets your users’ current needs.

2. Recommendation

The audit informs the recommendation for the new site. This covers the technical spec for the new site, plus any changes you decide to make to UX, information architecture and content.

3. Migration

The next step is the re-platforming itself. All custom modules will need to be migrated, along with your content. Alternative modules will need to be identified (or created from scratch as new custom modules). Your website’s front-end presentation will need to be completely rewritten, because of the structural changes from Drupal 8 onwards.

4. Review

After the migration, there’s a stringent testing process to ensure the re-platforming is complete and has been successful.

How hard is it to migrate from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9?

Drupal says that the step from Drupal 8 to 9 will be simple. That’s why they recommend upgrading to Drupal 8 as soon as possible, to give you time to migrate, and then a straightforward level-up to Drupal 9 when Drupal 7 and 8 reach end of life.

What risks are involved in a Drupal upgrade?

Because Drupal is such a flexible, powerful CMS, every site’s risk is different. Generally in our experience, custom-coded modules, third-party integrations and data migration carry higher risk. But it’ll depend on your specific setup.

And the good news…

There is risk here. The change from Drupal 7 is a major one, and I don’t want to take away from that. But there’s also opportunity. If you start planning your upgrade now, you’ll have time to consider what site improvements you can make, to carry out proper user research and usability testing, and you won’t have the pressure of an end-of-life deadline looming over you.

So if you act now, you can benefit from Drupal’s enhanced platform sooner, with a site that’s in a stronger position, and you’ll be able to move to Drupal 9 in good time, too.

Turning a stressful situation into a positive? I think we could all do with a bit of that right now.

If you’d like to get more detail on the changes coming to Drupal, our free guide to Drupal upgrades has all the information, plus expert advice from our Drupal developers on how to handle the transition.

Danny Bluestone, founder and chief executive officer of Cyber-Duck

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