Drupal 9 Planning

Updating your website platform is not a trivial task. It requires organizational and departmental commitments. It has historically been triggered by compelling events, such as a re-brand, security issues, user experience issues, administration requirements, etc.

As Unleashed’ clients travel on their digital journey with our team, they are increasingly recognizing the value of updating their content management system (CMS) to stay ahead of challenges—before they happen—and to maximize the benefits of web technology. Conversely, the ability to update your CMS is becoming less and less difficult with each version.

Updates are a notable benefit of open-source technologies, like Drupal, that have a large community of developers and users pushing the software forward to enhance performance, security, functionality, and user experience.

Since 2000, Drupal and its supporting community have continued to evolve. Drupal 6 arrived in 2008, Drupal 7 in 2011, and Drupal 8 in 2015. Each one offered significant upgrades and was followed by numerous in-versions updates. Now, Drupal 9 looms with the release scheduled for June 3. It is a significant one and should be on the roadmap of any user running a Drupal website.

You may have a Drupal website and a few questions about migrating to a newer version. Unleashed is prepared to help you with each step in your research, planning, and implementation.


Continuous Evolution of Drupal

At Unleashed, we like to say, “the web is fluid and always in motion.” This is especially true with community-supported open-source software, like Drupal, which has evolved dramatically over the years.

The Drupal CMS operates using the scripting language PHP—on top of a web server and a database server—along with many other components. Functionality is extended using Drupal modules created and maintained by a community, or custom modules created by a development team for a specific website’s use case. The visual components are implemented with special modules, called “themes,” which yield structured and styled HTML, with appropriate supporting elements like CSS, JS, images, and other resources.

The Drupal core and all these related pieces are improved in each major release. For example, Drupal 7 is functionally and architecturally different from Drupal 8. 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. Some of this strategy changed for Drupal 8 and future planned versions of Drupal to ease the burden of an upgrade.

What does that mean to you? How can we help you plan?

  • Drupal 6 reached its end-of-life (EOL) on Feb. 24, 2016.
  • Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 will reach EOL in Nov. 2021, which is related to the EOL of Symfony 3, a Drupal 8 dependency.

We will evaluate the facts and the community’s resources to help make some recommendations.

Like Drupal 6, both Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 will continue to function beyond the EOL date. However, the community will no longer provide security updates. The underlying version of things like PHP may be left insecure. There are some less-than-ideal ways to overcome these concerns in the short-term, like using a static website generator for public-facing websites. Ultimately, you should keep November 2021 in your roadmap, and you should plan for an upgrade to a newer version.


History of Drupal Migrations, Up to Drupal 7

Up until recently, all versions of Drupal have software functionality that is not backward compatible with a previous version. This was a design decision made to keep the codebase light.

Migrating from an older version to Drupal 7 meant rewriting code and migrating content—either using migration tools or manual data entry. Most organizations use this as a time to redesign their website and clean up content. This process is relatively expensive, which takes roughly the same effort as building a new website. Often, organizations are motivated to upgrade to avoid security concerns, which is a healthy, proactive strategy. An upgrade is a great opportunity to refactor functionality, revise architecture, refresh branding, and improve user experience.


Migration to Drupal 8 from an Earlier Version

Drupal 8 delivered many bold changes to help address some concerns:

  • The ability to replace functionality in Drupal core and mark old methods as “deprecated code” to be removed in Drupal 9—easing the upgrade path later.
  • Reduce the long-term expense of upgrading to newer versions.
  • Utilize Symfony as a website framework to standardize an object-oriented approach.
  • Create a routine release schedule for minor version upgrades—every six months.
  • Introduce large components to Drupal core as experimental initiatives in each minor version, kept if they prove successful after a year.

Migrating from an older version of Drupal to Drupal 8 is a wise investment, which can stabilize ongoing improvements, well beyond just Drupal 8. As with any upgrade, you benefit from modern functionality, performance, and other valuable features. You can leverage the latest efforts from most of the Drupal community.

Once your website is on Drupal 8, you should continuously monitor changes between minor versions for deprecated code. This step helps you prepare for an upgrade to Drupal 9 and reduce that workload.

Like a migration to Drupal 7, there is a need to rewrite code and migrate content. This effort is the same, but the last time it will be such a burden with a Drupal update. The same is true if jumping from Drupal 7 (or earlier) to Drupal 9. Moving forward, updating gets easier.


Migration from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9

Moving from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 is an in-place upgrade. Deprecated code must be audited and adjusted, which is easier than major rewrites. The community will do this for many contributed modules, and your team can help that effort for anything in-progress. For some websites, the transition from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 can be as easy as installing it, with little to no changes. Content migration is not needed unless you decide to change your information architecture, design, or some underlying functionality.

Overall, an upgrade from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 may be very little effort for most websites. Therefore, if you are on a website older than Drupal 8 and thinking about waiting until Drupal 9 is released—think again. There is no need to wait. Upgrade to Drupal 8 and be ready to move into Drupal 9 before November 2021.


Tools & Resources