This guide covers the various Drupal CMS versions, how long will be supported and how to upgrade Drupal 7 and 8 to Drupal 9. This guide aims to provide information and options to companies and organisations who are currently using Drupal 7, which is being retired in 2022.

The guide covers many topics around upgrading Drupal, whatever version you are on, so be sure to check out the table of content below.
Before we get into specifics, we’ll delve into a bit of historical information around Drupal to give some perspective.

Table of contents

Drupal History 101

If you already know about Drupal and aren’t concerned about the product’s history, you can skip this section. For those interested, read on.

Drupal has been in existence from almost 20 years and launched in 2001. The latest version of Drupal – Drupal 9 – was released on June 3rd 2020 and is the software’s newest incarnation. As of writing, there are three currently supported versions of this popular CMS.

They are Drupal 7Drupal 8 and Drupal 9. Drupal 7 was released on January 5th 2011, as of writing, this makes the CMS almost nine years old. In software terms, nine years is a lifetime, and this version of Drupal is considered old.

Drupal 7’s successor logically was Drupal 8. Drupal 8 was a major overhaul of the systems and was almost a complete rewrite. The rewrite included changing the entire underpinnings of Drupal’s architecture to use the Symfony framework. Moving to Synfony was a large change and, as a consequence, upgrading Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 is more challenging than in the previous versions. The upgrade path from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 which be much smoother.

Upgrade options for Drupal 7 websites

First, the good news, as you’d expect, upgrading your current Drupal 7 website to the newer versions of 8 or 9 is entirely possible. Unfortunately, due to the changes that happened between Drupal 7 and 8 – it is not simply a matter of clicking a button and, hey presto you’ve got an up-to-date all singing and dancing Drupal 9 website.

As touched on in the Drupal history section, Drupal 8 was a major rewrite of Content Management System, and central to this was the introduction of the Symfony web framework which now underpins Drupal. By introducing Symfony, Drupal’s development team reduced the need to write many low-level components that were time-consuming to maintain. They can now focus their efforts on developing great new tools and features, making Drupal the best CMS.

We won’t be exploring Symfony in a huge amount of detail here. That is beyond the scope of this article, suffice to say that Symfony is one of the largest and most well-supported PHP web frameworks. It uses a more modern Object Oriented PHP and an MVC (Model View Controller) pattern, this, in turn, delivers many benefits to the Drupal eco-system.

Secondly, many of the popular contributed Drupal site-building modules that made is so popular, such as Content Construction Kit (CCK), Views and Webform were adopted into the Drupal core offering.

Lastly, and this is possibly the biggest consideration, Drupal’s theme system responsible for all of a website’s presentation was completely changed to a new system called TWIG https://twig.symfony.com/ – this is also part of the Symfony package.

Migration process – How to upgrade from Drupal 7

The process of moving from Drupal 7 to 8 is considered more of a migration than an update. The process would generally follow the following steps.

1. Audit

The audit assesses the website; it’s functionality and how it was built. The process is technical and carried out by the team and includes:

  • Compiling a list of all the site’s modules
    • The team evaluate the modules one-by-one to see if they are contributed (3rd party) or part of the core.
    • Some modules could be deprecated or have moved into Drupal’s core.
    • Custom modules will need to be rewritten or a suitable alternative chosen.
  • An evaluation of the content types and fields
    • These are the building blocks for the content on your site. Similar to the module evaluation, your content types will need to be checked to ensure the fields and data types are still supported.
    • A rewrite or upgrade to a new set of fields may be required
  • 3rd party integrations
    • An evaluation of any payment gateways or 3rd party integrations will be required.
  • The theme system will need to evaluate for upgrading and porting potential.
    • The site’s presentation will require upgrading manual; there is no upgrade path.
    • If the theme uses a base framework such as Bootstrap, this may make upgrading it easier.
    • At this stage, you may wish to consider a design upgrade as part of your site update.

2. Recommendation

After reviewing the information gathered in the audit, we’ll be able to make a recommendation on the best approach for upgrading your site and the time involved.

Some aspects will be straightforward; others will require discussions with you to evaluate the pros and cons of various approaches. Throughout, we’ll work closely with you to guide you through the process and arrive at the best decision for the site and your business.

3. Migration

Using the information and outcomes decided in the previous phase, the migration (update) from your old site to new will begin.

We’ll start with a fresh Drupal 8 installation and migrate all the modules, including custom modules to the new system. Any modules that were custom coded from Drupal 7 will need to be re-written completely to support OOP Object Oriented PHP and the new entity storage models present in Drupal 8.

With the modules and custom code in place, the
content of the website can mostly be automatically migrated with migration scripts. Suppose your live site is continuing to be updated whilst the Drupal 8 migration process is happening. In that case, the content migration may need to be repeated a few times to synchronise all of the content – with the last synchronisation happening before going live.
Lastly, the theming and presentation of the website’s layer is rebuilt to be compatible with Drupal 8. This time is an opportunity to introduce a refreshed or updated design.

4. Review

With the new Drupal 8 site complete, our quality assurance team will run various tests, including visual inspections and technical tests with automated tools.
A user acceptance testing process (UAT) ensures that the new looks and works the way it should.

The benefits of upgrading to Drupal 8 or 9

There are many benefits to upgrading your Drupal 7 site. Here are just a few of them.

  • Increased security: Security support for Drupal will stop at EOL.
  • Better experience and ease of use. Improved features and functionality, new versions of Drupal come with much better media management and layout and content editing abilities.
  • Lower cost of ongoing maintenance and future development work
  • Improved performance. Newer versions of Drupal are faster.

How long will Drupal 7 be supported?

Drupal 7 end-of-life – to recap, Drupal 7 was first released in January 2011 making it over a decade old. Initially scheduled for retirement November 2021, due to COVID-19, Drupal 7 will now reach the end of life (EOL) in November 2022. Writing (January 2021) gives us just under a year to migrate, move or update Drupal 7 websites to a newer version of Drupal. Either 8 or 9. After November 11th 2022 official community support will end, as will automated tests and updates provided by the security team.

How long will Drupal 8 be supported?

Strangely enough, due to the extension to the EOL for Drupal 7, Drupal 8 will now be retired before it. Support for Drupal 8 is dependent on Symfony 3, and Symfony 3’s end of life is November 2021. Consequently, Drupal 8 support will end on November 2, 2021.

Upgrading from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9

Upgrading to Drupal 9 from Drupal 8 is relatively straightforward. Unlike the move from 7 to 8 – A Drupal 8 website can be updated without the need for any major overhauling or rewriting of code.

How Lightflows can help

Lightflows have been working with Drupal for more than 12 years; this means we know the system in and out. As one of the South-East’s premier Drupal development companies is the expert team with a combined experience running into decades.

For more information on how to start your migration process, drop us a line on 01483 688 480 or contact us.