by Elliot Christenson on September 20, 2018 - 1:07am

Drupal 8 was released on November 19, 2015 - nearly three years ago. The drastic architectural changes created a difficult upgrade path for those running Drupal 7. With the huge amount of investment in Drupal 7 over the previous 5 years, this set off shockwaves of fear across the Drupal ecosystem. Recently, Dries Buytaert, the project lead for Drupal, announced the planned launch of Drupal 9 in 2020. That signals the "End of Life" of Drupal 7 in November 2021. When do I need to upgrade?

By the way, that is more than ten years after the release of the first version of Drupal 7!

It's also the date of the "End of Life" of Drupal 8 (more on that later).

I'm On Drupal 7, So I Have to Upgrade to Drupal 8 by November 2021?

If you aren't getting support from a company doing long-term support for Drupal 7, then you'll actually need to upgrade to Drupal 9!

PHP versions, Symfony versions, and other software roadmaps necessary to keep your website running safely and securely can be confusing and complicated to follow! If you don't, Dries's announcement might be causing you some renewed anxiety. After all, you had three years to upgrade your Drupal 7 site to the shiny new Drupal 8 codebase. If you couldn't do it in the previous three years, why would you be able to over the next three years? That answer is complicated - and depends on your site!

So If I Upgrade to Drupal 8 Today, I Have to Upgrade to Drupal 9 by November 2021?

Maybe, but that's not nearly as bad as it sounds. :)

The secret of D9 is that it's really just the next iteration of D8 - it's not going to be a complete rewrite like D8 or D7 or earlier major versions were.

The plan is that it's going to drop deprecated APIs, and update 3rd party dependencies (like Symfony) - and not much else. In fact, the goal is to allow contrib modules that don't use any deprecated API to be compatible with both D8 and D9, without needing to have two separate versions of the contrib module (like we have always done in the past).

Upgrading from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 will be more like upgrading from Drupal 8.5 to 8.6.

So I Never Have to Upgrade to Drupal 8 or Drupal 9?

Well...

We've been providing Drupal 6 Long-Term support for over 2 years (as one of the two vendors officially blessed by the Drupal Security Team), and I think we've proven that commercial Long-Term Support works! We've made dozens of security releases, and kept hundreds of sites supported and maintained, and plan to continue to do so for a while.

We're even working on getting Drupal 6 core and popular contrib modules updated to run on PHP 7.2. :-)

So, if you don't update to Drupal 8 or Drupal 9, we're going to provide Drupal 7 Long-Term Support (just like we've been doing for Drupal 6).

But if you don't plan to purchase Long-Term Support from us or another vendor, then you really should plan your upgrade by November 2021.

Is Drupal 7 Dead Already? Be Honest!

The Drupal Community has committed to getting Drupal 7 to work on the newer versions of PHP through November 2021. Drupal 7 needs adjustments to completely work with PHP 7.2. Since the earlier versions of PHP are all being "End of Life" as well, this is a necessary step to keep your Drupal 7 site safe and secure. PHP is the programming language Drupal is built on, so changes in PHP have massive effects on what happens with Drupal! If all of that sounds a little familiar, it's because myDropWizard announced recently that we would update Drupal 6 to make it compatible with PHP 7!

Drupal 7 is far from dead.

How Hard Is it Move to Drupal 9 (from Drupal 6 or 7)?

Since Drupal 9 is going to be so similar to Drupal 8, moving to Drupal 9 (from Drupal 6 or 7) should be pretty much the exactly same as upgrading to Drupal 8.

The changes announced shouldn't make life any harder for anyone who's already on track to update to Drupal 8 before November 2021!

OK, So How Hard Is It to Move to Drupal 8 or 9?

It is significantly easier and more practical to move to Drupal 8 in 2018 than it was in 2015. Many of the best modules have gotten incorporated into Drupal Core, still others have been obsoleted by new and better ways of doing things, and the rest have largely gotten updates to Drupal 8 compatibility! The Drupal 8 ecosystem is now really great, and myDropWizard is committed to Drupal 8 as well as Drupal 7. We built our Roundearth platform on the modern Drupal 8 Core!

So, your needed features are probably now available in Drupal 8 - even if they weren't at launch in 2015. However, what's also amazingly improved is the upgrade path. For simple sites, it's phenomenally simple to move your content from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. Your mileage may vary with more complex sites, but the good news is that there's no reason to suspect that the upgrade path from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 will get worse. It will likely get better.

That said, upgrading to Drupal 8 (or 9) is still a big investment, so we fully understand that some organizations won't be able to manage it in time, and that's why we plan to provide Drupal 7 Long-Term Support.

So, Why Are We Moving Beyond Drupal 8 Already?

Unlike the move from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 and then again to Drupal 8 - which required massive re-engineering of legacy websites, the plan for Drupal 9 is to be 100% compatible with the latest released version of Drupal 8. Drupal 9 will simply drop support for modules that weren't following up-to-date standards of that latest Drupal 8 version. So, in many cases, the same module code will work in Drupal 8 and Drupal 9 for a good amount of time. The focus on backward and forward compatibility was a lesson learned by the entire Drupal community.

The planned major version jump from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 is because the Symfony 3 PHP framework that lies at the core of Drupal 8 is itself moving on to newer versions. Like Drupal 7, Drupal 8's "End of Life" is also scheduled for November 2021. It's this last part that made many people nervous! The pending "End of Life" for Drupal 8 so soon after they spent so much effort upgrading is sure to fill anyone with anxiety. The plans to update seem sound, and the timing seems appropriate, so that should help calm some of the fears.

What's the Short Answer? When Should I Upgrade?

  • Drupal 6? You should already upgrade if you don't have D6LTS. We've been providing Drupal 6 Long-Term Support (and will continue to do so for the forseeable future :-)
  • Drupal 7? You should make plans to upgrade by November 2021 - or make sure you have D7LTS engaged before then.
  • Drupal 8? You should make plans to upgrade by November 2021 - but that should be easy! Upgrading from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 will be more like upgrading from Drupal 8.5 to Drupal 8.6. By this time Drupal 9 should have been out for about a year.

There are all sorts of reasons why organizations don't update to the latest software - most of it boils down to budget. Small organizations with simple sites can't afford thousands of dollars to upgrade to the latest version of Drupal. Large organizations with comparatively complex sites can't always afford the expense of every upgrade either.

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Comments

For many smaller sites the added overhead of Drupal 8 (or 9) makes little sense. I am grateful for your support for Drupal 6 beyond its official end of life, and it is great that you will provide long term support for Drupal 7.

The alternative you do not mention is moving to Backdrop CMS, which is far closer to Drupal 7 than is Drupal 8. Have you considered working with Backdrop CMS in connection with long-term-support for Drupal 7? It seems the sanest solution.

Thanks, John :-)

The alternative you do not mention is moving to Backdrop CMS, which is far closer to Drupal 7 than is Drupal 8. Have you considered working with Backdrop CMS in connection with long-term-support for Drupal 7? It seems the sanest solution.

We're interested and supportive of Backdrop for sure! We'd like to see it succeed and it definitely fills an important gap. That said, it hasn't really factored into our plans as of yet.

Drupal 7 is still alive and well, and will be supported by the community for another 3 years. A migration to Backdrop is still a migration to new platform/community, and so you have to consider the modules available there, their available support and future. We're still really hopeful that Drupal 8/9 will grow to become better options for more sites (primarily smaller sites) by the time Drupal 7 reaches it's End-of-Life. And if they do, Drupal still has a much bigger community and options for support (both volunteer and paid).

Of course, it's possible all of that could change or not work out the way we are hoping! Backdrop's community is constantly growing and becoming stronger. Maybe that'll even accelerate with Drupal 7's End-of-Life? We'll certainly keep watching, and talking to customers and community members, and adjust our plans accordingly :-)

To me, D8 still is like -dev branch. I hope D9 is going to be something like "stable" :)

I think that might turn out to be true. :-)

For example, many of the things that Drupal 8 was supposed to bring (like, layout in core, etc) will probably be finished and stable by Drupal 9. Also, the "conversion" to a newer OOP-style of doing things wasn't nearly complete when Drupal 8 was released (and so you have a confusing mix of hooks and more modern OOP stuff), but very well might be finished by Drupal 9. So, maybe 10 years in the future, we'll look back and say "Drupal 8 was the BETA version of Drupal 9?" ;-)

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