Drupal CMS Versions 7 & 8 Reach End-of-Life in 2021 – Plan Now!
2021 may seem like a long time off, but we’re already halfway through 4th quarter of 2019, so it won’t be long until it’s here. Planning for a software/system upgrade takes time, and there are many factors to consider. You don’t want to be up against the wall and needing to rush an upgrade.
While this article provides some specifics about upgrading the Drupal Content Management System (CMS), these same concepts apply to other software programs you may need to upgrade.
For Starters, What Is End-of-life?
End-of-life (EOL) refers to a date that a piece of software will reach the end of its useful life according to the vendor who created it. At this point, the vendor (or open source developers) will discontinue bug fixes, security patches, and support for the product, and this is an important reason to upgrade to a newer version. The EOL date does not mean the software will stop working, but it’s good practice to plan early and avoid your software being out of date.
Top Content Management Systems
Currently, the top three Content Management Systems on the market (based on popularity and functionality) are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.
Drupal 7/8/9 Background & Planning
If your company is running Drupal 7 (or 8) CMS, then this article will be of particular interest to you. Drupal is a free, user-friendly, open source application written in PHP that is a platform for building and managing websites. It has been announced that the official end-of-life date for Drupal 7 (and Drupal 8!) is November 2021. By that time, Drupal 7 will have been around for 10 years.
There are significant changes between the Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 platforms; so much so that this is the largest transition in the history of the CMS platform. Drupal 8 is a much more robust, modern, and stable platform that can handle large-scale websites with vast amounts of complicated, extensive functionality in addition to major architectural updates.
Because of the significant differences between Drupal 7 and Drupal 8, there may be a large work effort needed for this upgrade (depending on your website). In the past, migrating between major versions of Drupal (i.e. 5 to 6, 6 to 7) required a lot of rework and rebuilding, while upgrading between minor versions (i.e. 7.5 to 7.6) was much easier.
Interestingly, Drupal 8 also has an end-of-life date of November 2021, but the reason for that is actually good news. Drupal 9 is targeted to be released in June of 2020 and will basically be an enhanced version of Drupal 8. Migrating from 8 to 9 is expected to be similar to a minor version update.
While we don’t recommend upgrading to Drupal 9 right when it is released, it’s good to know that the migration from 8 to 9 should be much easier than the migration from Drupal 7 to 8. So, if you are wondering if it makes sense to migrate to V8 with V9 coming out mid-2020, the answer is likely yes. You will be on the enhanced V8 platform and ready for a smooth transition to V9 when it makes sense for your website.
Software/System Upgrade Factors to Consider
I mentioned there are many factors to consider when doing a software upgrade, and here are just a few of those:
- Redesign – a system upgrade is a good time to redesign (and possibly rearchitect) your site.
- Functionality Port Over – for Drupal (and other CMS platforms), there is “core” functionality and plug-ins (add-ons) that add capability. As a result, there may be significant work needed during an upgrade to figure out what is different between the two systems and what is the best upgrade path for the current functionality.
- Enhancements – why just upgrade when you can enhance?!
- Search Engine Equity – this is a critical step that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Your old site, whether you like it or think it gets traffic, has built up search engine equity over time, and you don’t want to lose those search rankings. It is critical you do a mapping of old URLs to new URLs, so Google and other search engines don’t see dead links.
- CMS Training – the new CMS admin may work differently than the old, so it is good to get trained and comfortable with the new system before the site goes live. This way, you’ll be comfortable doing updates within the CMS itself.
- Cross Browser/Device Testing – Please see “Website Testing – Which Browsers Matter?” for more info and the importance of putting appropriate time into this task.
- Hosting/Launch – a system upgrade can also be a good opportunity to upgrade your hosting environment (possibly moving it to cloud hosting). You want to make sure everything is set up and ready to go in order to minimize any disruption to your users.
When software reaches end-of-life, it can be a more forceful reason to upgrade. However, whether you are doing it for that reason or others, please make sure to plan far in advance.
From the factors I have outlined above, there really aren’t any areas you can shortcut without adding risk (and definitely stress) to your project. At the end of the day, planning early and often will make your upgrade a much smoother process.