Are You Prepared?
Editor's Note: This article was written prior to Drupal 7 end of life being extended to 2023. It has been updated throughout.
As the internet continues to adapt to new regulations and functional requirements, your powerful, world-class Drupal website must evolve to stay compliant. Drupal 7 reaches End of Life (EOL) this November
2022 2023. ( In reverse order, D8 reached EOL in November 2021). Make sure your website can meet your organization’s KPIs. Check out the details, risks, and our 7 Steps to Prepare for Drupal 9 Upgrade so that your D7 website does not fall behind!
As a leading Drupal agency and proud open-source community supporter, Unleashed experts are sharing key information about Drupal's history, how to prepare for a Drupal 9 upgrade, and what the future holds for the leading open-source software.
Drupal is an open-source content management system (CMS) written in PHP, a widely used programming language. The Drupal CMS is a free, powerful, flexible, functional, and secure platform that allows organizations to build a website by selecting and adding modules. While a small team works on Drupal's core code, most of Drupal's evolution can be attributed to the worldwide community of Drupal developers who create and share the tens of thousands of modules currently available for use on the platform.
Past Drupal Upgrade Challenges
To better understand the importance of the Drupal 9 upgrade, it's helpful to be aware of Drupal's history and past versions.
In the first few years after Drupal’s launch in 2001, the key Drupal community members made a fundamental software design decision not to carry legacy code forward into newer versions. In effect, the newest iterations of Drupal would not be backward compatible. This decision made it easier for the developer community to build and maintain the efficiency and flexibility of the platform over time.
Consequently, this strategy made it more difficult for website owners to easily upgrade Drupal to each of the latest versions of the CMS. For example, the path from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 or 9 often requires an almost full rebuild of the code and structure because the codebase of Drupal 7 is fundamentally different than both Drupal 8 and 9, and not compatible by design. These upgrades can be expensive and prohibitive to the many firms that rely on Drupal.
How Drupal 9 is Different—and Better for Your Website Upgrade
Understanding users' upgrade concerns, especially regarding the upgrade expense, Drupal engineers began to look at platforms with layers of code, which allowed newer software versions, like Drupal 9, to have more frequent yet less intensive processes.
The Drupal 9 upgrade features a core code as a separate layer, which allows Drupal to make future updates more seamless and less expensive.
Simply put, if Drupal were a train track, upgrading from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 would be like building an entirely new train track and station.
But with these latest updates, the Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 upgrade (and future Drupal 9 to Drupal 10 upgrade) will be like adding new stations onto the same track. There will be some planning and expense, but it will be much less of a burden than building a brand-new track.
When does Drupal 7 Reach End-of-Life Status—and What Does That Mean for You?
Drupal 7 will reach EOL in November
2022 2023, which means that the larger Drupal community will no longer support websites built on Drupal 7 (or earlier). Though websites built on the Drupal 7 can still function, it will be more challenging and far more costly to maintain due to the lack of Drupal community support. Bug fixes, new modules, and security patches will be the individual’s responsibility as the Drupal community only supports the two most recent versions of the software to keep the platform moving forward.
Why Should You Upgrade?
Overall, remaining on sunsetted versions of Drupal will be notably more expensive and burdensome for users in terms of management and updates, will be less secure, and may eventually not connect with other upgraded internet technologies. Drupal 9 offers more features and modules than previous iterations, allowing developers to more easily take advantage of the Drupal community to improve user experience and meet digital goals.
While the move from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 is a significant undertaking, it’s a great opportunity to refresh or redesign the website, reevaluate content strategy, audit site architecture, and prepare for future advancements.
3 Risks Associated with Delaying a Drupal Upgrade
Risk 1: Security
Drupal’s paid security team monitors the core code and makes patches to protect site security. If a website is utilizing an out-of-date version of Drupal, it will need to be frequently monitored and tested to ensure that there are no areas for exploitation. Depending on the size of the site, security testing can quickly eat up a website’s budget and increases the risk of being hacked tenfold.
Risk 2: Functionality of 3rd Party APIs
The second-largest risk is that any Application Programming Interface(s) (API), a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other, will stop working once out of date. For example, if a site includes a shopping cart API, the site's functionality, and business, can be dramatically impacted.
Risk 3: Ongoing Maintenance and Support
Another risk is the lack of resources to maintain your website. Over time, it will be more difficult to find developers that are willing and able to maintain an outdated version of Drupal. Developers understand that technology is fluid and quickly evolving, meaning the most skilled will move on from outdated software, which will likely make it more difficult—and definitely more costly—to find developers to work on out-of-date versions.
A Drupal 7 Upgrade will Improve User Experiences
Because web technology and web experience features evolve quickly, it can be difficult to predict what features will appeal to audiences as each generation of Drupal is more powerful and functional than the last.
Page speed plays one of the most prominent roles in user experience. By upgrading to the latest version of Drupal, websites can achieve maximum efficiency, allowing content to render more quickly and preventing users from experiencing frustrating page load times.
In addition, upgrading to Drupal 9 will positively impact mobile functionality and responsive design of several popular modules. As mobile users increasingly take over web traffic, the Drupal community is responding by building modules accordingly for Drupal 9 for a cleaner, more seamless user experience.
Our 7 Steps to Prepare for a Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 Upgrade
Each upgrade path is unique, and the Unleashed team is sharing our recommended steps that organizations should consider before embarking on the Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 journey:
Identify the main functions and goals of your website.
Assess your current website for areas that need to be changed or improved upon. Think about the information architecture, responsive design, and content strategy.
Perform a content audit. Evaluate the value of your website’s content, as well as its overall function, then get rid of any content that does not improve the site’s value.
Audit your existing Drupal modules to determine how much work the upgrade process will take.
Evaluate your team’s skillset to determine if you have the expertise required to upgrade in-house, or if you need to contact an outside vendor to assist with the upgrade.
Make a clearly outlined plan revolving around key performance indicators, budget, and a realistic timeline for completion, with quality assurance test built in. If you are using an outside agency, you will need to develop a clear outline of what is expected on the new website, also known as a statement of work (SOW).
Work with a development partner with proven experience in this realm, to help you avoid known challenges and to properly plan an effective pathway for your website. We think we might know somebody who can help!
Our experts at Unleashed hope that this list has been helpful in planning out your Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 migration. We understand you want this to be a quick and seamless process, ensuring high value to your business. If you have any specific questions or are interested in having our team lead you though this transition, please get in touch with us!
We’d love to hear your Drupal stories in the comments!