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Make the Most of Drupal 9: Enhanced Performance, Intuitive UI, and Better User Experience

October 31, 2023 7 minute read
Optimize your Drupal 9 site with a cleaner codebase, an intuitive user and content editor experience, and more
developers around a monitor

Note: Drupal 9 (D9) reached its end of life on November 1, 2023, so it is no longer maintained. That means D9 doesn't receive security patches to protect it against new cyber threats or attacks. 

Acquia does not recommend migrating to D9. While Drupal 7 (D7) and Drupal 8 (D8) users can still migrate to D9, they will need to upgrade to Drupal 10 (D10) to avoid potential security threats. We recommend migrating directly to D10 from D7 and D8 or upgrading from D9 to D10.

When Drupal 9 was released in June 2020, the popular perception in the Drupal community was that it was basically just “Drupal 8 but newer.” However, there are exciting updates ahead for Drupal 9.1 and beyond that means you want to miss out on migrating to D9 and taking advantage of all the open source CMS has to offer.

While the changes from Drupal 8 to D9 are nowhere near as dramatic as the upgrade from D7 to D8, D9 represents important progress toward refining and optimizing Drupal’s overall user experience (UX) and smoothing out frustrations Drupal users had with previous versions. Plus, there are now tons of new developer tools for D9 available to help everyone level-up their D9 experience. 

1. A cleaner codebase, dependency updates, and backward compatibility

Whether you’re switching from D7 or D8, a critical change is D9 has removed all code flagged in the D8 codebase as deprecated. By removing support for deprecated code, users can expect a cleaner and more agile Drupal experience that will improve overall website performance. Removing deprecated code also lessens the amount of third-party dependencies needed to run D9.

While D9 doesn’t contain any new features other than those in Drupal 8.9, there are some major dependency updates to note. For example:

  • Drupal 9 is updated from Symfony 3 to Symfony 4.4
  • Drupal 9 depends on Twig 2 

By upgrading these front- and back-end dependencies, the Drupal community ensures users have access to the most modern API. This will be a big step forward from the D7 era when dependency updates had no regular cadence, making it challenging for many sites to guard against security vulnerabilities. With Symfony 3 reaching end-of-life in 2021, the upgrade to Drupal 9 ensures users continue receiving security support and enhancements for their sites.

D9 is also the first version of Drupal to be backward compatible with its predecessor, D8, right out of the box. Since D8 and 9 share the same codebase, most contributed D8 projects and modules will also be D9 compatible. Just make sure before you migrate that you’ve checked for compatibility and removed deprecated code through the Upgrade Status module. Starting with D8, the Drupal community embraced semantic versioning, meaning users get a predictable release schedule for new feature updates and enhancements and the confidence that new features included in minor version updates won’t break backward compatibility. Overall, the choice to build D9 on the D8 codebase means an infinitely easier and quicker upgrade process.

And for anyone still on D7 and worried about making the leap to D9, Acquia Migrate Accelerate reduces up to 50% of the time and effort required to migrate from D7 to D 9. Once you’ve completed your successful D9 migration, you can start taking advantage of all the innovative features Drupal has to offer.  

2. Flexible features atop a powerful foundation  

When you’re a developer, you’re often stuck choosing between a monolithic solution that limits the kinds of experiences you can build, or you have to go in completely blind and build your solution from scratch. D9 gives you the best of both worlds in a CMS through an open framework supported by enterprise-ready content management. It hits that sweet spot between a point-and-click solution for content editors and a powerful developer web platform. D9 offers an opinionated UI and a content management framework that leverages a structured data engine so that content can be displayed as reusable components. Drupal’s design flexibility paired with its active support from the global open source community ensures that, if there’s a feature you want that’s not already in core, you can build it or integrate with a third-party tool that meets your needs. 

Faster development set-up and web performance 

When it comes to delivering exceptional digital experiences, every millisecond makes a difference. Adding a content delivery network (CDN) to your D9 sites will accelerate load times while doubling-down on protection against cyberattacks. Acquia’s Cloud IDE also enhances developer efficiency in D9 by providing an integrated development environment (IDE) in your browser. Rather than have everyone install their own local environment on their machines and spend time fixing manual configuration issues, a browser-based IDE standardizes your entire development team so they can start building and deploying Drupal applications faster.

Drag-and-drop visual page building  

For users who care most about freedom and flexibility on the front end, there are plenty of tools available to make the site-building experience a breeze with no code required. Back in 2019, Layout Builder was a game changer for Drupal content editors everywhere, boasting a drag-and-drop interface that empowered marketers to edit and add content to pages without enlisting developer support. 

As drag-and-drop website builders grow more popular, the Drupal community is invested in making Layout Builder as efficient and user-friendly as possible. And if you can’t get enough of the no code/low-code movement, tools like Acquia Site Studio make creating content on the front end even easier. Site Studio, once affectionately described as “a page builder on steroids,” gives users access to a library of reusable templates and content components that can be customized and applied across all your sites and applications.   

3. A more intuitive user and content editor experience 

At DrupalCon Global, Dries Buytaert talked about improving Drupal for content editors and marketers. His Driesnote addressed the work being done to lower the Drupal learning curve for new users and non-technologists. We’re happy to say that D8 and D9 have made significant strides in accomplishing this aim.

D9 has vastly improved media management capabilities through a richer media library and WYSIWYG text editor. Now content editors and site builders can create and customize images and videos. Plus, its content moderation workflows and well-defined permissions systems ensure that the right users have access to what they need and teams don’t duplicate their efforts by working in silos.

Finally, one of the most exciting developments for D9 is the work being done to give Drupal more modern and accessible administrative and end-user themes in Claro and Olivero. For years, members of Drupal’s UX team conducted research to understand how Drupal could offer a better editorial experience. The Claro Admin theme delivers a more modern UI that’s responsive and easier to navigate than previous core themes.

The Driesnote also addressed the goal of creating a new default front-end theme for D9 that provides a better UX. The Lullabot team led the initiative to make the Olivero theme the new default front-end theme in core. Olivero brings Drupal’s user experience (UX) into the modern age with a responsive design, a clean and simple look and, most importantly, a much greater emphasis on accessibility and adhering to stringent accessible web standards in everything from color palettes to navigation.

If there’s one lesson to take away, it’s that D9 represents a commitment to ongoing improvement and innovation rather than a total overhaul of Drupal’s history. For a deep dive into what you can expect from Drupal’s most recent update, check out our refreshed Ultimate Guide to Drupal 9.1.

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