Editor's Note: This article was originally published prior to Drupal 7 end of life being extended to January 2025. The article has been updated.
The end is nigh. In Janurary 2025, Drupal 7 will reach the end of life.
While we have helped many clients switch to Drupal 8, 9 or 10, there are many more organizations out there that have not yet made the move. Those organizations could end up in a difficult position when the upgrade is more of a requirement due to an aging site and the lack of community support.
While upgrading to a new version of Drupal is historically a costly endeavor, the time has come for organizations to come to terms and realize that maintaining an end-of-life content management system (CMS) may end up being more costly than many organizations may realize. This is especially true if the site includes custom development of unique functionality and solution integrations.
Moreover, there needs to be a shift in mindset. More than any other version upgrade in the history of Drupal, a move from Drupal 7 should be viewed as a long-term investment in your organization’s website and its digital presence.
The Web (and Drupal) Is Always Evolving
At Unleashed, we often use the saying, “the web is fluid and always in motion.” This is true across web technology and certainly with community-supported open-source CMS solutions, like Drupal. Because it is open-source, the supporting community constantly explores ways to improve the product and identify innovations to integrate into the solution.
The Drupal CMS operates using the scripting language PHP—on top of a web server and a database server—along with many other components. Additionally, what makes Drupal even more appealing to many uses is that the website functionality is extended through modules, which may be created and maintained by the Drupal community, or custom modules created by a development team for a specific client use case. The components are then implemented with special modules, called “themes,” which yield structured and styled HTML, with appropriate supporting elements like CSS, JS, images, and other resources.
Together, these components can create powerful and dynamic websites that deliver on the unique challenges of different site users. However, these components cannot remain static in a rapidly developing and improving web technology environment. Performance and functionality are continually improving and, simultaneously, raising users’ expectations.
As a result, the Drupal community is always pushing the technology forward, and the Drupal core and related elements are enhanced in each major release. For example, Drupal 7 is functionally and architecturally different from Drupal 8 and 9, just like Drupal 6 was different from Drupal 7. Although concepts carry over, the codebase is not compatible by design. Work must be done by experienced Drupal developers to migrate code and content from an older major version to a newer major version of Drupal.
What End of Life Means for Drupal 7
In January 2025, your organization’s Drupal 7 website will not explode or dissolve on your screen. It won’t be that dramatic or that quick. However, it does mark the end of an era for Drupal and a major step backward toward making your website antiquated.
Officially, per Drupal.org, the end of life for Drupal 7 will mean:
The community at large will no longer create new projects, fix bugs in existing projects, write documentation, etc. around Drupal 7
There will be no more core commits to Drupal 7
The Drupal Security Team will no longer provide support or Security Advisories for Drupal 7 core or contributed modules, themes, or other projects
Reports about Drupal 7 vulnerabilities might become public, creating 0-day exploits
All Drupal 7 releases on all project pages will be flagged as not supported
Drupal Core will show up as unsupported
Drupal 7 may be flagged as insecure third-party scans as it no longer gets support
While these changes might not be felt right away, it will significantly impact your ability to grow and maintain the site. Ultimately, it will mean your site will fall behind the state of web technology. The good news is that there is a clear path forward.
A New Approach with Drupal 9 & 10
Without hyperbole, the newest versions of Drupal are a game-changer for the open-source community and for Drupal users.
When Drupal 8 was released, it came with significant improvements and enhancements as you would expect with any major CMS release. These improvements include new workflows, a layout builder, workspaces, simplified installations, enhanced security, improved performance, etc. However, beyond these upgrades, there were two even more notable improvements.
Major In-Release Enhancements: Drupal 8 included a new release strategy that allows Drupal to introduce major features in the current release and not have to withhold those updates until a major release.
Smooth Transitions: With Drupal 8, an in-place upgrade philosophy was adopted to minimize the need for code rebuilds when moving a website to a new Drupal CMS release.
Drupal 8 was retired in November 2021, prior to Drupal 7’s upcoming end of life in January 2023. When planning for your upgrade, a direct update to Drupal 10 is a solution that we recommend to for your cost and time efficiency.
The Waiting Game on Drupal Upgrades
With a large variety of Drupal clients, a typical response when a new Drupal version is released is “let’s wait until the next one.” It is a thought that has some merit.
Historically, when a version of Drupal is released, there is probably a period of time when it makes sense to wait, especially if the site uses a lot of community-based plugins. If this is the case, there may be a brief lag between when the plugin might need to be updated to maximize compatibility with the latest iteration.
As you can see above, the move off of Drupal 7 has been slow and steady since Drupal 8 was released in 2015. That was a logical approach for many organizations. Depending on where you are in the lifecycle of your website, migrating from Drupal 7 to a newer version may not have made any sense if you knew the platform would be more mature or, more importantly, community-support modules would be ready for the newer iterations of Drupal.
Moving Beyond Drupal 7 Comes At A Cost
You really cannot blame organizations for waiting on doing an upgrade to a newer version of Drupal. In many cases, it can be a time-consuming and costly endeavor that did not seem necessary at the time.
If you have a complex website, there are many factors that will need to be considered in the planning of your Drupal upgrade, and is good reason to start now rather than waiting:
Number of custom modules
Number of integrations
Need for custom integrations
Number of existing content types
Number of content types on new CMS
Amount of content to be migrated
Number of customer fields
Number of views to be recreated
Will there be a visual redesign?
Of course, there are many other factors, and a true discovery will be necessary to fully understand the scope of the project. Note: That’s also why you should be wary of any proposals that don’t take into account variables that need to be identified during a discovery phase.
The good news is that once you upgrade from Drupal 7 to a newer version, you will not need to go through that level of effort again, as version updates after Drupal 7 are streamlined and do not require a full rebuild.
The True Cost of Doing Nothing
While there still may be an urge to wait, there is a not-so-hidden cost to doing nothing.
Many of our clients – and most organizations with high-functioning and highly engaging Drupal websites – are continuously enhancing their websites, including the use of development teams to create new functionality and integrate new solutions that are vetted and kept up-to-date by the supporting Drupal community.
With the Drupal 7 end of life looming, there are risks of not upgrading to the newest version.
Security: An out-of-date version of Drupal will need to be frequently monitored and tested to ensure that there are no areas for exploitation. The bigger the website, the bigger the potential impact on budget
Functionality of 3rd Party APIs: Any Application Programming Interface (API), a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other, will stop working once out of date. If a site includes a non-functioning shopping cart API or Membership platform API, business can be dramatically impacted.
Ongoing Maintenance and Support: Over time, it will be more difficult to find developers that are willing and able to maintain an outdated version of Drupal. The most skilled move on from outdated software, which will likely make it more difficult—and definitely more costly—to find developers to work on out-of-date versions.
In other words: It will be way more expensive to maintain your Drupal 7 website than it will be to upgrade to the latest version.
It’s Time to Make Your Move
As the clock ticks toward January 2025 and the end of life for Drupal 7 websites, now is the time to prepare for the future. A Drupal upgrade will benefit your budget and business KPIs. Not sure where to start with your website's Drupal migration? Get in touch the experts at Unleashed and get started today!