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Drupal 7 update

 

The end is nigh. Next year, in November 2022, Drupal 7 will reach the end of life.   

While we have helped many clients switch to Drupal 8 or 9, there are many more organizations out there that have not yet made the move. Those organizations could end up in a difficult position when the upgrade is more of a requirement due to an aging site and the lack of community support.  

While upgrading to a new version of Drupal is historically a costly endeavor, the time has come for organizations to bite the bullet and realize that maintaining an end-of-life content management system (CMS) may end up being more costly than many organizations may realize. This is especially true if the site includes custom development of unique functionality and solution integrations.  

Moreover, there needs to be a shift in mindset. More than any other version upgrade in the history of Drupal, an move from Drupal 7 should be viewed as a long-term investment in your organization’s website and its web presence.  

 

The Web (and Drupal) Is Always Evolving  

At Unleashed, we often use the saying, “the web is fluid and always in motion.” This is true across web technology and certainly with community-supported open-source CMS solutions, like Drupal. Because it is open-source, the supporting community constantly explores ways to improve the product and identify innovations to integrate into the solution.  

The Drupal CMS operates using the scripting language PHP—on top of a web server and a database server—along with many other components. Additionally, what makes Drupal even more appealing to many uses is that the website functionality is extended through modules, which may be created and maintained by the Drupal community, or custom modules created by a development team for a specific client use case. The components are then implemented with special modules, called “themes,” which yield structured and styled HTML, with appropriate supporting elements like CSS, JS, images, and other resources.  

Together, these components can create powerful and dynamic websites that deliver on the unique challenges of different site users. However, these components cannot remain static in a rapidly developing and improving web technology environment. Performance and functionality are continually improving and, simultaneously, raising users’ expectations.  

As a result, the Drupal community is always pushing the technology forward, and the Drupal core and related elements are enhanced in each major release. For example, Drupal 7 is functionally and architecturally different from Drupal 8, just like Drupal 6 was different from Drupal 7. Although concepts carry over, the codebase is not compatible by design. Work must be done by experienced Drupal developers to migrate code and content from an older major version to a newer major version of Drupal.   

 

What End of Life Means for Drupal 7  

In November 2022, your organization’s Drupal 7 website will not explode or dissolve on your screen. It won’t be that dramatic or that quick. However, it does mark the end of an era for Drupal and a major step backward toward making your website antiquated.

Officially, per Drupal.org, the end of life for Drupal 7 will mean:  

  • The community at large will no longer create new projects, fix bugs in existing projects, write documentation, etc. around Drupal 7  
  • There will be no more core commits to Drupal 7  
  • The Drupal Security Team will no longer provide support or Security Advisories for Drupal 7 core or contributed modules, themes, or other projects
  • Reports about Drupal 7 vulnerabilities might become public, creating 0-day exploits  
  • All Drupal 7 releases on all project pages will be flagged as not supported  
  • Drupal Core will show up as unsupported  
  • Drupal 7 may be flagged as insecure third-party scans as it no longer gets support  

While these changes might not be felt right away, it will significantly impact your ability to grow and maintain the site. Ultimately, it will mean your site will fall behind the state of web technology. The good news is that there is a clear path forward.  

 

A New Approach with Drupal 8  

Without hyperbole, Drupal 8 was a game-changer for the open-source community and for Drupal users.   

When Drupal 8 was released, it came with significant improvements and enhancements as you would expect with any major CMS release. These improvements include new workflows, a layout builder, workspaces, simplified installations, enhanced security, improved performance, etc. However, beyond these upgrades, there were two even more notable improvements.  

  • Major In-Release Enhancements: Drupal 8 included a new release strategy that allows Drupal to introduce major features in the current release and not have to withhold those updates until a major release.   

  • Smooth Transitions: With Drupal 8, an in-place upgrade philosophy was adopted to minimize the need for code rebuilds when moving a website to a new Drupal CMS release.

As a result, moving from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 (and later Drupal 10, 11, 12, etc.) will be no longer require a major code rewrite. Instead, the process will require an audit and adjustment for deprecated code, which is significantly easier than rewriting code.  

For some sites, the transition from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 may be as easy as installing it, with little to no changes. As a result, content migration will not be necessary unless the client elects to update the information architecture or alter the design.   

While the economic uncertainty of 2020 may have caused some delays, the broader Drupal has started to embrace the newer versions.   

 

The Waiting Game on Drupal Upgrades  

With a large variety of Drupal clients, a typical response when a new Drupal version is released is “let’s wait until the next one.” It is a thought that has some merit.   

Historically, when a version of Drupal is released, there is probably a period of time when it makes sense to wait, especially if the site uses a lot of community-based plugins. If this is the case, there may be a brief lag between when the plugin might need to be updated to maximize compatibility with the latest iteration.   

https://www.drupal.org/project/usage/drupal

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drupal-weekly-project-usage

 

Before Drupal 8, this was a very valid and popular approach. As you can see above, the move off of Drupal 7 has been slow and steady since Drupal 8 was released in 2015.   

That was a logical approach for many organizations. Depending on where you are in the lifecycle of your website, migrating from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 may not have made any sense if you knew Drupal 8.1 or 8.2 or 8.3, etc. was coming along soon and the platform would be more mature or, more importantly, community-support modules would be ready for Drupal 8.   

In an earlier time when a different approach was used, it might also make sense to wait until Drupal 9. However, with the more fluid updating from 8 to 9, that logic no longer holds.   

 

Getting Off Drupal 7 Comes at a Cost  

You really couldn’t blame users for waiting on doing an upgrade to a new version of Drupal. In many cases, it can be a time-consuming and costly endeavor that can take tens of thousands of dollars and require hundreds of manhours.   

This is especially true of complex websites. The more complex the site, the longer a migration to a new platform will likely take. Some of the factors that will impact the level of technical expertise necessary for a migration, includes:  

  • Number of custom modules
  • Number of integrations
  • Need for custom integrations 
  • Number of existing content types   
  • Number of content types on new CMS  
  • Amount of content to be migrated  
  • Number of customer fields  
  • Number of views to be recreated
  • Will there be a visual redesign?

Of course, there are many other factors, and a true discovery will be necessary to truly understand the scope of the project. Note: That’s also why you should be wary of any proposals that don’t take into account variables that need to be identified during discovery.  

The point is that there will undoubtedly be a cost associated with a migration away from Drupal 7, and it could be significant. The good news is that you will never have to go through that level of effort again once your organization has moved to Drupal 8 or 9.  

 

The Cost of Doing Nothing  

While there still may be an urge to wait, there is a hidden cost to doing nothing. This urgency is driven, in part, because most websites don’t really have “nothing” as an option.  

Many of our clients – and most organizations with high-functioning and highly engaging websites – are continuously enhancing their websites, including the use of development to create new functionality and integrate new solutions to improve user experience.  

Unfortunately, these enhancements will also likely require rewriting once the organization pulls the trigger and makes the necessary leap to Drupal 8 or 9. The result is that developers end up doing the work twice and costing more to the client in the long run. In some cases, it could result in tens of thousands in redundant costs in web development projects.  

This is a more tangible cost, while there is also the cost of missing out on the advantages and benefits of Drupal 8 or 9 (listed above), plus all of the innovative modules that are coming out specifically to perform with the latest iterations of Drupal. 

 

Drupal.org: Adoption of Drupal Versions

Before Drupal 8, this was a very valid and popular approach.  As you can see from the chart above, the move off of Drupal 7 has been slow and steady since Drupal 8 was released in 2015.  

That was a logical approach for many. Depending on where you were in the lifecycle of your website, migrating from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 may not have made any sense if you knew Drupal 8.1 or 8.2 or 8.3 etc. was coming along soon and the platform would be more mature or, more importantly, community-support modules would be ready to perform on Drupal 8.  

In an earlier time, it might also make sense to just wait until Drupal 9. However, with the more fluid updating, that logic no longer holds.