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April, 2022

Planning For the End of Drupal 7

Josh Skelly
Josh Skelly
CEO

As we get closer to the end-of-life for Drupal 7, we’ve summarized some of the most commonly-asked questions we’ve received from clients and potential clients about this important transition. If you have any questions about your Drupal upgrade not addressed below, feel free to contact us to discuss your project.

When do I need to upgrade my Drupal 7 website? 

Short answer: Complete your upgrade by November 1, 2023, and budget up to 12 months to do so.

After November 1, 2023, the Drupal project will no longer support Drupal 7. The Drupal project is governed by a self-organizing set of active users, developers, and organizations that support Drupal.

However, the Drupal project has extended the timeline for Drupal 7 twice already. Drupal 7 was originally scheduled to end in November 2021, but given the impact of COVID-19, was extended to November 2022, and then again to November 2023. It is possible, although unlikely, that the Drupal project will choose to extend the timeline to November 2024. 

Drupal core usage statistics indicate that as of April 2022, about 52% of all websites using Drupal are still running Drupal 7

Image Depicting Use of Drupal Version Use from 2012 to 2022

Source: Usage statistics for Drupal core, Drupal.org (Image captured April 13, 2022)

Most Drupal upgrade projects with a budget of over $200,000 take approximately 6-9 months to complete. If you’re hiring an agency, don’t forget about the several months you’ll need to find, evaluate, and contract with a qualified Drupal agency.

 

What does End-of-Life mean?

Short answer: Security and bug fixes will not be updated after this date resulting in potential vulnerabilities for your website.

In the field of technology, end-of-life (EOL) means the end of the useful life of a product. It doesn’t mean that the software will stop working. Drupal 7 is likely to continue working for a long time beyond that, perhaps five or more years.

However, once Drupal 7 reaches EOL, a key concern is that the software will no longer be supported by the Drupal project. Critically, this means Drupal developers will no longer fix bugs in the existing software and the Drupal Security team will no longer provide security advisories or security updates for Drupal 7. 

 

What are the differences between Drupal 7, 8, 9, and 10?

Short answer: New features in Drupal 8 and 10, and much simpler upgrades for future versions.

The changes from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 are among the most significant in Drupal’s history. Drupal 8 is built on a different platform entirely, called Symfony. Symfony is a popular framework that will make it easier to develop and support Drupal in the longer term. Drupal 8 also introduced a number of new features. See below: “What are the advantages of upgrading?”

Drupal 9 is the same as the last version of Drupal 8 (version 8.9). Drupal 9.0 did not include any new features but removed older code (called deprecated code) that was no longer recommended in Drupal 9. Drupal 9.1 onward will continue to add features every six months. Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 was the easiest major Drupal upgrade in a decade.

Drupal 10 is planned for Q4 2022 and is expected to also be a straightforward upgrade. Drupal 10 will be a refined version of Drupal 9. Some of the new features planned for Drupal 10 include more improvements to the authoring experience and will also update the version of the underlying framework, Symfony, from version 4 to version 6.

 

Why should I upgrade from Drupal 7?

Short answer: Innovation, security, performance, and authoring experience are critical improvements made in the latest versions of Drupal (8+). 

Drupal 7 was first released in January 2011 and will be nearly 13 years old by the time it reaches its end-of-life. The fact that the software has lasted this long and is still powering your website is a testament to how well it was designed and supported.

There are many reasons to upgrade. But here are four main reasons:

  • Innovation. If digital is a core part of your business strategy, Drupal 7 is no longer delivering the innovation it once did. Drupal 7 is 11+ years old and has already been receiving less support as the community focuses on Drupal 9 and 10.
  • Security. This is a deal-breaker for many organizations. Once Drupal 7 reaches its end-of-life, the Drupal project will no longer publish security updates for Drupal 7. Potential vulnerabilities discovered after the end-of-life will result in your Drupal 7 website being vulnerable to compromise.
  • Performance. How quickly a page loads impacts conversion rates and is an important factor in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In Urban Insight's experience, Drupal 9 demonstrates significant improvements in performance. Other performance improvements include enhanced accessibility for users who may have disabilities (often referred to as Section 508 or WCAG compliance).
  • Authoring user experience. The administration tools for adding, editing, and managing content have come a long way since Drupal 7. Your authors’ experience with creating content and new pages in Drupal 9 is significantly enhanced and offers greater flexibility.

 

What are my options if I don't upgrade from Drupal 7?

Short answer: The most likely options are to migrate to a headless content management system (CMS), convert to another CMS, convert to static HTML, get an extended support agreement, or use Drupal unsupported (which is not recommended).

Here’s a summary of the likely options if you won’t — or can’t — upgrade from Drupal 7.

1. Migrate to a headless Content Management System (CMS)

A headless CMS is a back-end system where the content database is separated from the front-end presentation layer. Content that is stored in a headless CMS is delivered via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), for display across websites, web apps, and other devices.

Traditional CMSs like Drupal 7 were not built as API-first platforms, so the front-end and back-end are tightly connected or coupled. Drupal 9 is designed as an API-first CMS to allow for a headless or decoupled CMS.

Migrating to a headless CMS provides numerous advantages such as:

  • Faster and more flexible content delivery compared to traditional CMS 
  • Support for omnichannel content delivery, which means content stored in your database can be updated once and delivered across multiple websites, web apps, and other devices at once.
  • Enhanced security, scalability, and availability
  • Simpler deployment
  • Lower hosting costs

The front-end for a headless CMS (sometimes referred to as a headless website) can be built in the web framework of your choice. Headless websites and web apps alleviate the limitation of bulky plugins and templates that are common with traditional CMSs, allowing for streamlining and separation of front-end and backend development efforts. Many headless websites are built using static site generators that offer improved performance and faster load times, resulting in stronger SEO.

Some notable open source headless CMSs include Strapi, Ghost, WordPress and headless Drupal 9. Some notable closed source headless CMSs include Contentful, Storyblok, and Sanity.

Some notable open source JavaScript frameworks that work well with headless CMSs include Gatsby, Next.js, and Nuxt.

2. Convert to another content management system

This may be the time you look around at other content management systems. The other likely open source content management systems include WordPress and Backdrop CMS. 

WordPress is the most-used open source content management system in the United States, powering about one-third of all websites. However, WordPress has its own set of upgrades and end-of-life challenges. 

Backdrop is based on Drupal 7 and has a built-in upgrade path from Drupal 7. Backdrop can be an alternative for people with Drupal experience, but it is a permanent replacement, and there are no upgrade paths to future versions of Drupal. 

3. Convert to static HTML

Under this option, you are converting your site from Drupal 7 to static HTML, the most basic way to display content on the web. This might be an option if you are no longer updating your Drupal 7 website, and simply want to keep the content available on the web as an archive. 

4. Extended Support (“ES”) Agreement

If you are unable to upgrade to Drupal 9 or 10 before Drupal 7 reaches end-of-life, you can hire a company that has been vetted by the Drupal Association to offer extended support for Drupal 7. These companies will continue to provide bug and security fixes for Drupal 7. 

This is likely a short-term solution since the Drupal 7 ES program is projected to run for three years, so enterprises must migrate or move to another platform by November 2025.

Both Pantheon and Acquia, two of the leading Drupal hosting companies, plan to provide extended support for Drupal 7. The cost of extended support could be significant.

5. Use Drupal 7 Unsupported

It is possible to continue to run Drupal without support. Drupal 7 will not simply stop working on November 1, 2023. However, security and other updates will no longer be released by the Drupal project. It is possible that you could use security patches from companies that are providing extended support (the patches these companies release will probably be open source), but these patches might be delayed, and these companies will certainly prioritize their own clients. This is probably the least viable option.

 

Will future Drupal upgrades be as complicated as upgrading from Drupal 7?

Short answer: No.

The upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 or Drupal 9 is significant and typically requires rebuilding the website in the latest version of Drupal.

Future versions of Drupal (at least through Drupal 10) will be much easier. Starting with Drupal 8, the focus on enhancements in Drupal is more frequent, but smaller improvements. Importantly, major version upgrades are now part of the incremental upgrade process. For example, Drupal 9 is the same as the last version of Drupal 8 (version 8.9). Drupal 9.0 did not include any new features but removed older code (called deprecated code) that was no longer recommended in Drupal 9.

 

Who decides when Drupal upgrades will happen?

Short Answer: The Drupal project maintains the upgrade schedule.

The Drupal project maintains a schedule of planned releases for all sorts of improvements, ranging from major upgrades (Drupal 7 to Drupal 8, for example) to minor patches (Drupal 9.1 to Drupal 9.2, for example).

The Drupal project plans to announce by July 2023 whether support for Drupal 7 will be extended another year until 2024. This decision will be based on how many organizations are still using Drupal 7 and also how many developers are actively supporting Drupal 7.

 

Should I switch to a different content management system?

Short Answer: This is highly dependent upon the needs of your website, but the most likely alternative would be WordPress.

Given the investment required to upgrade to Drupal 8 or Drupal 9, this is a sensible time to look around at other content management systems. For most organizations, the most likely alternative is WordPress. 

WordPress is a capable content management system, and it has advanced significantly over the last five years. As the most-used content management system in the United States, it has an active community of contributors, users, and service providers. (Urban Insight also provides WordPress consulting services.) 

In years past, conventional thinking decided that WordPress was not as flexible as Drupal for building large and complex websites. Most developers still support that assessment. A useful analogy from a few years ago was by Lehel Matyus who develops for both WordPress and Drupal. In a presentation, he compared content management systems to furniture: WordPress is most often akin to buying nice-looking furniture from Ikea and assembling it yourself. Drupal is most often akin to a carpenter who will create exactly the furniture you specify. 

 

What are the advantages of upgrading?

Short answer: Drupal 8 and 9 have several key improvements including improved performance, enhanced authoring experience, and better security.

Drupal 8 and Drupal 9 introduced a variety of improvements. Some of these include: 

  • Improved performance (faster website loading, better for SEO)
  • A new visual theme system that makes building pages faster and more secure
  • Better editing experiences for website authors
  • Enhanced multilingual capabilities in Drupal itself
  • Better security
  • Improved website accessibility
  • Many key functions moved from modules into the core Drupal software
  • Web services for sharing data with other systems

 

How much will the upgrade cost?

Short Answer: As with your initial build and ongoing development, this is highly dependent upon the complexity of your existing website.

The cost will depend on many factors related to the complexity of the existing Drupal 7 website. These four metrics tends to be a strong indication of website complexity:

  • Will this be an opportunity to complete a redesign of the existing site?
  • How many nodes are there? 
    • A node is any piece of individual content, such as a page, poll, article, forum topic, or blog entry.
  • How many content types are there?
    • A content type is a pre-defined collection of data types or fields that relate to one another
  • How many modules and how many customer modules are there? 
    • Modules can come as either pre-contributed code that can add new features or alter existing functionality, or as custom modules that need to be newly built by developers.

Here are two recent examples.
 

Drupal 7 End of Life Drupal 9 Project Comparison Nodes Content Types Modules
Drupal 7 End of Life - Drupal 9 Upgrade Comparison


How long will the upgrade take?

Short Answer: Typically 6-9 months from kick-off.

The project duration is dependent on two key factors: 

  • Will the upgrade include a redesign?
  • How much functionality will be added or upgraded 

In general, we see that most Drupal 7 upgrade projects take between 6-9 months to complete, from the point of the initial kick-off meeting. If you’re hiring an agency, don’t forget about the several months you’ll need to find, evaluate, and contract with a qualified Drupal agency.

 

How do we ensure a successful and on-budget upgrade?

Short Answer: If you’re interested in learning about how we’d approach your upgrade, along with transparent expected cost information, please contact us. We’re friendly people, and happy to chat.

Migrating your website directly from Drupal 7 to 10 is the easiest approach, but frequently not the best value. Since much of the website will be rebuilt in Drupal 9, upgrading from Drupal 7 is a great time to evaluate other aspects of your digital strategy. Is this the time to update the information architecture and visual design? Should some content on your website be archived or updated?

Another key consideration is your technical team. If this is the first time your technical team is encountering Drupal 9, there can be a steep learning curve. Upgrading a few smaller sites first or finding an agency or advisor who has completed several upgrades is likely to save time and money in the long run.

Urban Insight has successfully completed over 20 Drupal 7 upgrade projects. We have collected detailed metrics around these upgrades, which we’ve used to create an upgrade estimation model based on the number of modules, custom modules, nodes, and a few other analytics from your Drupal 7 website.