Drupal continues to evolve. Drupal 7, first released in January 2011, is now approaching its end of life, set for November 2023. At that time, official Drupal 7 support from the Drupal community will end, including support for updates, security fixes, and enhancements from the Drupal Association and the Drupal Security Team.
This is neither the first nor the last such transition for Drupal users. After all, the first iteration of Drupal was released back in 2001, when it wasn’t yet called Drupal. Over the next 18 years, our favorite content management system has become more sophisticated with each update. We'll review the platform's history, highlight developments in Drupal 8 and 9, why migrating off older versions is important, and point to a free and handy guide for that process.
The Many Versions of Drupal
To appreciate how the platform has evolved, it helps to look back at its history.
- In its infancy, Drupal was known as Dorp (the Dutch word for “village”), and it was far from the versatile tool we use today. In 2000, Dorp (soon to be named Drop, thanks to perhaps the most infamous typo in the tech world), was primarily a place for then-college student Dries Buytaert and the social network at his university to talk about current events and organize get-togethers.
- Drupal 1.0: It wasn’t long before Buytaert decided to formalize his creation and release it as software. It was based on Slash, another CMS, and it included 18 core modules. This version of Drupal was code-intensive — everything was accessed via PHP files, but even then, it was flexible and elegant, simple to use. Not surprisingly, any user could contribute to Drupal.
- Drupal 2.0: By 2001, Buytaert began listening and, in turn, responding to user demand. He started allowing people to create or translate their Drupal-based website into other languages. The release, which only took two months, also featured minor additions, such as the ability to edit a comment after it was posted. The core modules now numbered 22.
- Drupal 3: The release of Drupal 3 was a watershed moment for our CMS, because it marked the arrival of nodes. All kinds of content were nodes, and all were interconnected. The number of modules increased to 26 as a healthy number of websites adopted Drupal for their framework.
- Drupal 4: The midway point of our journey is considered a major one. In June 2002, Drupal 4, which then had four different releases over four and a half years, officially became an international open source movement. Metatags, attributes, and taxonomy became part and parcel of the platform. In other words, Drupal finally began to look like an enterprise-ready CMS. Not surprisingly, Drupal experienced a 300% increase in content in 2003, which preceded the first official Drupal conference in 2005.
- Drupal 5: The various releases of Drupal 4 attracted a wealth of interest from the development community. Almost 500 developers contributed 1,173 patches and 2,500 modules for Drupal 5, which was released in January 2007. Drupal 5, comprising 29 core modules, was one of the first adopters of jQuery and included a web-based installer that decreased site-installation time and a CSS preprocessor that improved loading times.
- Drupal 6: Drupal 6 brought more improvements in 2008, such as drag-and-drop administration and new systems for menus and security. During the Obama administration, the White House adopted Drupal 6 as its CMS of choice, while users contributed 7,000 modules and 600 custom themes.
- Drupal 7: Drupal 7 was all about powering web applications, and it ushered in the age of Drupal as a preferred choice for building any kind of website. Drupal 7 included more than 11,000 contributed modules, 600 themes, and 200 distributions.
- Drupal 8: The current, modern platform was introduced in November 2015. Drupal 8 completely reworked the underlying architecture of the CMS to stay ahead of an ever-changing web. This included a revamped released cycle, which keeps Drupal efficiently up-to-date, such that Drupal 7 is now considered obsolete.
- Drupal 9: Without the progress and transitions between iterations, the Drupal system wouldn't have become the modern, global platform and community that it is today. It took many years and many more developers — all contributing to countless versions, updates, and patches — to produce one of the web's most powerful platforms. It's only getting better: Drupal 10 is set to debut in December 2022.
Looking Ahead to a Bright Future
Before we get to that exciting milestone, we must prepare for the upcoming transition. Drupal 7 will reach end-of-life in November 2023. It may seem like an obvious choice to stay up-to-date with your CMS, but many Drupal-powered websites have yet to embrace the latest version of Drupal. This is primarily because the transition to upgrade to a new version of Drupal is not a one-size-fits-all process.
For some teams, such a transition will be a seamless experience. For others, it will be more challenging, requiring a significant investment in time, talent, and resources. Any Drupal user will say that this particular investment is a wise one, though, and the benefits overwhelmingly outweigh the challenges.
Beginning in 2015, Drupal 8 made significant progress with each and every subsequent release, thanks to the dedication of the Drupal community. The version brought us:
- Authoring is the hallmark of Drupal 8 — fast, simple, and powerful. The authoring experience in Drupal 8 is far easier than ever before. In addition to a WYSIWYG editor, it provides in-line and in-context editing on the page. This is a major advantage for teams that edit and manage content.
- Out-of-the-box. Drupal 8 is architected to be fully responsive out-of-the-box. You can use the platform to deliver experiences on a web browser, phone, tablet, or anywhere else content and data need to flow today and in the future.
- Flexible content delivery, a key tenet of Drupal 8. Using Drupal as a content management platform is powerful because it enables you to create and deliver content as a service to any channel, device, or application. The same applies to receiving content from other sources into Drupal. In the emerging API economy, Drupal is the engine that will enable businesses to execute on this vision.
- Translation and localization services are much easier to manage with Drupal 8. The platform was built to support any language from the authoring side, and the interface can be customized to several languages. It can also support business processes regarding language translation and localization, e.g., integration with external translation service providers.
- Integrations matter greatly in a growing ecosystem of disparate but connected digital technologies for marketing. Drupal is a great foundation for web content management and digital experience management because it enables integrations with your best-of-breed technologies. Furthermore, Drupal 8 has vast capabilities to integrate with your existing marketing technologies, providing the freedom and flexibility to choose which technologies you want to use when integrating marketing automation or email marketing software.
- A "continuous innovation" development model that means new features are rolled out as soon as they're ready instead of being held until the next major release. This change ultimately reduces the total cost of ownership and allows organizations to spend less time maintaining the platform and more time investing in features that will grow the business.
Building on Drupal 8's innovations, Drupal 9 then gave Drupalists:
- The ability to embed remote content, such as YouTube and Vimeo videos, as well as a native media library module that allows users to add existing media assets.
- A visual layout tool in core. Called Layout Builder, it allows site administrators to visually configure content in Drupal in the admin user interface (UI). Acquia can take it a step farther by using the Site Studio low-code page-building tool.
- An API-first platform that means Drupal can be a central content store on a decoupled front end using JSON:API. Ultimately, decoupled or headless solutions are easier in modern Drupal. Data can be easily passed to any API-friendly solution, seamlessly integrate other platforms, and create composable architectures with Drupal and the Acquia suite.
- Added enhancements, such as a modernized administrative theme, improved multilingual support, customizable workflow tools, and robust configuration management.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of Drupal’s new and improved capabilities. And, as the platform matures, it will only get better. From improved SEO friendliness, accessibility, and tighter security built right into the platform, there's plenty to discover.
Migrating Off Drupal 7: Keep Calm and Carry On
If you're still on Drupal 7, there's no need to panic. The Drupal community will support Drupal 7 until November 2023. Buytaert says that, after the community support ends, there will be extended commercial support until 2025. That said, we recommend beginning the upgrade process as early as possible to ensure plenty of time to prepare and plan.
As a resource, Drupal.org has outlined a concise list of what to expect when transitioning off Drupal 7:
- No support from the community at large. The community will no longer create new projects, fix bugs in existing projects, or write documentation for Drupal 7.
- No further core commits to Drupal 7.
- No more support or Security Advisories from the Drupal Security Team for Drupal 7 core or contributed modules, themes, or other projects. Reports about Drupal 7 vulnerabilities might become public.
- All Drupal 7 releases on all project pages will be flagged as not supported. Maintainers will be able to change the flag status if they choose to.
- On Drupal 7 sites with the update status module, Drupal Core will show up as unsupported.
- After November 2023, using Drupal 7 may be flagged as insecure during third-party scans because it will no longer receive support.
It's best practice to avoid unsupported software, and as you can see from the list above, Drupal 7 is reaching that critical threshold. Building new Drupal 7 sites is unadvisable. Plan your migration to Drupal 9 now.
Upgrading Your Version of Drupal
Keeping your website current and up-to-date is a journey, not a destination. Take this opportunity to integrate consistent updates into your work plan to ensure your site runs smoothly and securely as iterations are released.
Plus, there's a silver lining for those waiting to upgrade to Drupal 9. The transition from Drupal 9 and onward will be much easier than the first process. In fact, Drupal 9 code will be exactly like the last minor version of Drupal 8, just stripped of all deprecated code, ensuring your website won't break or need monumental custom code. The best is truly yet to come, and you can download a free and handy guide to help you as you migrate to Drupal 9.