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Upgrading from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9: what site owners need to know

Monday 11 January 2021 Digital Design & Build

Scot Hubbard's picture
By Scot Hubbard

After an extension because of the COVID crisis, support for Drupal 7 will run out on Monday 28th November 2022. Upgrading to Drupal 9 means a full site rebuild – so end-of-life will come around quickly for owners of large or complex sites. Here are the key things you need to know.

In my 13 years as an active part of the Drupal development community, the platform has gone through at least four major versions. Usually, it’s a process of evolution – each version building on and refining the one before.

But when Drupal 7 reaches end of life in November 2022 – eleven years after release – it will be a different matter. The internet is very different today, and the platform’s fundamental architecture is changing in response.

The result is a Drupal that’s more flexible, with better mobile capabilities, and that’s easier to integrate with third-party services and content. But it does mean that sites built in Drupal 7 will need to be rebuilt.

Sticking with Drupal 7 is not a realistic option after 2022

Drupal 7 has been the framework’s longest running and most widely-used version to date – and even though Drupal 8 was released in 2015, there are plenty of websites yet to make the migration.

But persevering with Drupal 7 after 2022 is not a viable option for most major sites. End-of-life means Drupal 7 won’t receive any of the system’s new features or capabilities. Most importantly, there will be no new security updates – which means sites built in Drupal 7 will become increasingly vulnerable to attack. In short, it’s a job that needs doing.

If you’re still using Drupal 7, go straight to Drupal 9

Drupal 9 is the current and best-equipped version. It’s an evolution of Drupal 8, so the work involved in upgrading from 7 to 9 is no greater than from 7 to 8.

Indeed, Drupal 8 will reach end-of-life a full year before Drupal 7 does – so you’d have to upgrade to 9 before the end of 2021 anyway.

(This might seem a little strange, but Drupal 7 was originally scheduled to finish alongside Drupal 8 in November 2021. But Drupal 8 relies on the Symfony 3 PHP framework, which itself reaches end-of-life in 2021 – so Drupal 7 could be extended in the light of COVID, but Drupal 8 could not. Besides, the path from 8 to 9 is much simpler.)

The good news is that some elements – like migrating your data and porting any contributed modules – should be relatively straightforward.

The upgrade is a big job – with significant benefits

There’s no escaping the fact that upgrading from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9  still involves significant work, aligning your front-end code, functionality and theming to fit the new technologies and features.

However, I do strongly believe it’s worth sticking with the platform, for all the reasons you will have chosen it in the first place: it’s a very flexible, extensible system, with wide community support, and its open-source PHP base means you’re not locked in to one provider.

(Admittedly, I’m a longstanding part of the Drupal community – and I have contributed several modules to Drupal.org – so I may not be the most unbiased guide.)

Familiarity is also valuable. Although some aspects have changed, it’s still fundamentally the same platform – so that will minimise the retraining aspects for the team who manage your content.

Drupal 9 also has some significant benefits over 7, including:

  • Many features provided by contributed modules for Drupal 7 are baked into the Drupal 9 core.
  • Vastly improved media handling and media library.
  • Web services in core – allow other consumers to use your content.
  • Editorial workflows available out of the box.
  • Content authors can manage page content and layout more easily with the new Layout Builder.
  • Configuration management built in.

These are just a few of the many improvements made in Drupal 9, most of which simply take the best of the Drupal 7 contributed modules and include them as standard.  This means, with fewer contributed modules to manage, on-going support of your Drupal 9 site is easier than ever.

My view: the upgrade needs to happen, so make the most of it

While the need to rebuild is never welcome news, the upgrade to Drupal 9 does give you an opportunity to look at your site afresh, reflect on your business objectives, and make the most of the new features and capabilities to deliver against them.

And this is intended to be Drupal’s first and last update of this magnitude – the plan is for future updates to be far simpler – so it’s likely to be a rare moment. My advice is to seize it.

We also have a pretty clear view of Drupal’s future direction from here, so it’s worth looking at your longer-term business strategy, considering what role your website might play in future, and devising a roadmap to get you there.

If you’d like some help with that, or you have any questions, we’d be very happy to talk to you. Or you can find out a bit more about our Drupal 9 upgrade services here.

At CACI, our Drupal developers are fortunate to work alongside UX specialists, digital strategy experts, and data engineers – so wherever your strategy is going, we’re in a good position to help.

After an extension because of the COVID crisis, support for Drupal 7 will run out in November 2022. Upgrading to Drupal 9 means a full site rebuild – so end-of-life will come around quickly for owners of large or complex sites. Here are the key things you need to know.

Upgrading from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9: what site owners need to know