Drupal is one of the most powerful and popular open source Content Management Systems in the world.  On June 3, 2020, the Drupal community released the latest and greatest version of the platform, Drupal 9.  

While the release of a new version of Drupal is cause for celebration for many, for others it is a source of stress.  The Drupal community has traditionally actively supported only two major versions of the platform.  So with the release of Drupal 9, that means sites running on Drupal 7 are on the clock.  The Drupal community currently plans to end support for Drupal 7 in November of 2022.  

In this post I will walk you through what the end of life for Drupal 7 means and how you can move forward if your site is built in that Drupal version.

Why is it bad to keep running my site in Drupal 7?

Running a website is a lot like owning a car.  You need to perform regular preventative maintenance to ensure things continue to run well.  For a Drupal-based website, that means that a few times a year (at least) you need to update core Drupal and the contributed modules that power your website.  If you fail to make these updates, your site becomes vulnerable to hacks and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. 

Once Drupal 7 reaches end of life in November 2022, the Drupal community will no longer maintain Drupal 7, meaning no security updates.  The makers of contributed modules will also stop performing updates.  While it will be possible to continue in Drupal 7 after November 2022, keeping your site in Drupal 7 is not advisable.  

If your site is critical to what you do, you need to be making plans to get it out of Drupal 7 in the near future.

Why is migrating from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 or 9 such a big deal?

Prior to the release of Drupal 8, the Drupal community prioritized innovation over providing developers with an easy migration path. When a major new version of Drupal was released, core Drupal functionality was completely rewritten and new technologies were embraced.  

The downside of this approach is that migrating a site from one major Drupal version to another (say Drupal 7 to 8 for instance) was not easy.  There were a number of challenges:

  • The way core Drupal accomplishes key functions changed dramatically from version to version.  This means that many site features had to be rebuilt from scratch when migrating.
  • The design theming systems between major versions traditionally completely changed.  This means that a lot of work was needed on the theme to get the site looking right.
  • The API used to power custom modules completed changed from version to version.  This means that custom modules often have to be substantially rewritten when you migrate to a new version of Drupal.
  • Due to the lack of backward compatibility, a significant number of the community contributed modules that power many site features simply don’t exist in a major new version.  Modules you used in Drupal 7 are very likely not to exist in Drupal 8 or 9.

Due to these and other factors, moving from Drupal 7 to 8 or 9 is more of a rebuild than a simple upgrade.

The good news is that with the release of Drupal 8 and 9, the approach has completely changed.  The Drupal community has made easy migrations and backward compatibility a priority.  Moving from Drupal 8 to 9 is a cakewalk compared to going from Drupal to 7 to 8. 

What should I do if my site is Drupal 7?

Moving your site off of Drupal 7 is likely going to be a lot of work.  Given that I would use Drupal 7’s end of life as an opportunity to really think about what you want to do with your website.  If I had a site that was built in Drupal 7, I would ask myself two questions:

  1. Am I happy with the design, structure, and functionality of my current site?  Or are there changes and enhancements I want to make?
  2. Am I happy with Drupal or do I want to explore other platforms?

If you are happy with your site and with Drupal, the most efficient approach is going to be to migrate from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 with the goal of recreating your site as is.  While this upgrade will be time consuming, it will be less work than starting over in a new platform.

If you want to make changes or improvements to your web program, it makes sense to do them in conjunction with the upgrade.  Why spend the time recreating a design you don’t like or implementing a feature you no longer want?  Given the complexity of the move off Drupal 7, you can save time and money by combining the technical upgrade with a redesign project.  

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.