Drupal 7 end-of-life frequently asked questions
Drupal’s popular “7” version is reaching its end-of-life next year. But what happens if you’re still using it for your website?
It means no more community-based updates like bug fixes, new features or security updates. There have been many changes in the 10+ years since Drupal 7’s inception and a move to a modern version will require a rebuild.
Still, organisations that haven’t yet moved from Drupal 7 have options, depending on their needs, and the appetite for investment. These are the questions that we are asked frequently about staying on Drupal 7:
How long will Drupal 7 be supported?
Drupal 7 has been nearing end-of-life for a while now, but the Drupal community will officially stop supporting it on 1st November 2023.
The date for when official support was meant to come to an end was originally set for November last year, but the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to many organisations’ intentions to upgrade. So Drupal 7 was given another year of grace. This is because, even though Drupal 7 is outdated – it was first released in January 2011 – it is still very much in use.
Many websites, including government departments, educational institutions and multinationals, are still on Drupal 7. But that doesn’t mean it will be supported indefinitely, and the end-of-life date will be re-evaluated annually.
What is the latest Drupal version?
Drupal has seen many iterations in its lifetime, and upgrading a site from one iteration to the next was always challenging. So where are we now?
Drupal 9 was released in June 2020 and Drupal 10 is planned for December 2022. But the good news is that upgrading has become quite smooth since Drupal 8 thanks to inbuilt backward compatibility and updated underlying libraries.
Drupal 9 carries forward the philosophy of continuous innovation that began in Drupal 8. And this is the big challenge with all versions of Drupal prior to Drupal 8 – the big “rebuild”.
Up until Drupal 8, to move from one version to another required rebuilding your entire site and then migrating the content (the same as if you were moving to a different CMS). The advent of Drupal 8 – released in late 2015 – heralded a significant departure from this paradigm: from Drupal 8+ rebuilds are not required.
Each new version of Drupal is the same as the last minor release of the previous version. This means that Drupal 9.0 is the exact same as Drupal 8.9, except deprecated code was removed and some new features were added (yay for new features!).
Drupal 10.0 will be the same as Drupal 9.x (whatever that last minor version of D9 will be).
It is quite easily explained using the train analogy. The case until (and including) Drupal 7 was this: Think of your website as a train. Upgrading to a newer version meant moving the train to a completely different track. But from Drupal 8 onwards, new major versions are just stations on the same track.
Drupal 9 was developed based on the existing architecture and is updated every six months with minor updates, ensuring that it always incorporates the latest technology and best practices, and evolves with constantly changing standards. So therefore, Drupal 10, will be a refined version of Drupal 9.
What are key migration differences for Drupal 8 vs Drupal 9?
There are two key differences between Drupal 8 and Drupal 9:
- Updates of the dependencies to versions which will stay supported
- Removal of the deprecated code before Drupal 9 release
As mentioned previously, unlike previous new major versions, Drupal 9 is not a reinvention. It was largely built in Drupal 8 through deprecating APIs and updated dependencies. Essentially, these two differences aside, Drupal 9.0.0 is the same as Drupal 8.9, the last Drupal 8 minor release.
However, the benefits of moving were evident early, and companies who decided to make the jump were glad they did so. Drupal 8 has actually already reached its end-of-life (on November 2, 2021, before the release of Drupal 9.3.0). This was due to the end of life of PHP web application framework Symfony 3.
But the Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 upgrade process is much easier than previous major-version upgrades and there are many automated tools available to assist with the upgrade.
What if I stay on Drupal 7?
So what happens if you miss the November 2023 date? Will your site still work? Will it still be secure?
One of the reasons behind the end of life extension for Drupal 7 is that it is currently used by 55% of all the websites who use Drupal! That’s a large number of websites to just cut support from, but it has to happen at some point.
The bottom line is that if you miss the November 2023 date, your site will still function. But as technology keeps evolving, Drupal 7 will keep falling further behind. And without active community support, there will be no more bug fixes or feature updates to modules and Drupal core.
Not only will your site fall behind as new innovations are introduced, but security will eventually become an issue, and your site’s functionality may be affected. It also may not work adequately with other plugins, as they advance or are decommissioned in favour of other tech or newer versions.
Is it better to upgrade from Drupal 7 to 8 (and then to 9) or directly to 9?
As you can see from the train analogy, there is no upgrade path for Drupal 7, and it does require a bit of work to update and migrate to the next latest version.
Drupal 8 is already end-of-life, so all upgrades will be to Drupal 9 currently, and to Drupal 10 once that is released.
But it is worth it, especially when it comes to the new features and functionality that are released every six months.
Do you have to migrate to Drupal 8 and then Drupal 9? No. Migrations from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 were anticipated and planned for, and Drupal 9 maintains backward compatibility.
Is Drupal still good?
This much-loved open-source CMS has been around for 21 years! It has become known for being secure, reliable and flexible, and it is quite popular – it’s the third most popular CMS by market share, with about 1.7 million websites built using Drupal.
Drupal is fast, simple to update, clutter-free, and up-to-date. It is one of the top performing content management systems and thus it is well-suited to websites with large volumes of traffic and complex sites, and is especially popular with government organisations.
It is flexible and it is easy to integrate third-party tools such as customer relationship management software or inbound marketing platforms.
What is the difference between Drupal 7 and Drupal 9?
The biggest difference is that Drupal 9 has “backward compatibility”. Drupal 7 does not have this. In other words, Drupal 9 is able to use modules, customisations and data originally created for Drupal 8, with some minor alterations.
Because deprecated code needs to be deleted, Drupal 9’s code is clean, the platform itself is nimble and this results in excellent website performance.
Drupal 9 is user friendly, easy-to-use, versatile and scalable. Some more technical differences include a new theme engine called Twig (introduced in Drupal 8), which replaces PHPTemplate in Drupal 7.
Because Drupal 9 requires an up-to-date hosting environment with the most recent PHP database engine or key-value store, it is faster than Drupal 7 and Drupal 8.
Content modelling has been simplified, so Drupal 9 is great for content-heavy web applications. CKEditor, a new text editor, is now available in Drupal 8 and Drupal 9 core, and provides users with many WYSIWYG editing features that were previously only available through extensions.
CKEditor 5 will be available in Drupal 10, and looks amazing! Other features are responsive images, improved multilingual capabilities, JSON:API and more modules out-of-the-box.
What if a module isn’t available for Drupal 9?
A module is a piece of code which can be independently created and maintained for a specific function. This can include anything from an accessibility scanner to a YouTube gallery.
Things have changed significantly from Drupal 7, where the inside Drupal joke was “there’s a module for that”.
However, this saying has lost a lot of its impact, because now Drupal core has adopted many of the features that contributed modules provided, for example date fields, WYSIWYG, CKEditor and link, views, entity reference, etc.
However, if there is a specific module that you need for a website that isn’t in the list of contributed modules (and there are a lot of contributed modules! – check them out here), that module can be ported to Drupal 9/10 by your in-house development team or an external agency such as Annertech.
Many modules can be upgraded automatically, or at least partially. Drupal.org has a step-by-step guide to upgrading modules, along with one on creating modules in Drupal 8+.
The Drupal Association will also be taking additional steps to help with the creation of Drupal-9-and-10-compatible releases in the coming months.
It can take a few weeks to migrate a website without any customised modules and just a few content types. Complex websites will take longer.
How long does it take to upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9?
Unlike Drupal 8 & 9, with their new semantic versioning of releases and straightforward upgrade path, the move from Drupal 7 can be a significant amount of work.
It can take a few weeks to migrate a website without any customised modules and just a few content types. But complex websites, or projects where restructuring is included, will take longer to migrate to Drupal 9. This is largely dependent on the size of the website and the amount of content and features to be migrated.
In our experience, most Drupal 7 site owners have seen their sites grow organically over time, leading to sprawling sites, sometimes with disjointed features and varying styles. As a result, they also see the rebuild process as an ideal opportunity to restructure and revamp their website, to remove what is not working well, and rethink their site. If rebuilding your site, this is the perfect time to reassess its suitability for your needs, but does increase the duration of the project, with some projects taking a few months to complete.
The bottom line is: websites on Drupal 7 are running out of time to migrate - and it takes longer than you think.
It may be a cost outlay that you didn’t want (or expect), and it may take time and resources that you would prefer to allocate elsewhere but it will be worth it in the long run.
It's now time to start planning, if you haven't done so already.
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Stella Power Managing Director
As well as being the founder and managing director of Annertech, Stella is one of the best known Drupal contributors in the world.