End of Life for Drupal 7: What Is Next?

Drupal is ever-evolving, and with evolution comes transition. Drupal 7, first released in January 2011, is now approaching its end of life, which will occur in November 2021. 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 and nor will it be the last such transition for Drupal users. After all, the first iteration of Drupal was released back in 2001, at which time it wasn’t yet called Drupal. Over the next 18 years, our favorite content management system has become more sophisticated with each update. Here’s a look back at how we got here:

Early days: In its infancy, Drupal was still 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 another CMS — Slash — and it included 18 core modules. This was code-intensive tool — everything was accessed via PHP files, but even then, it was flexible and elegant, simple to use. Not surprisingly, any user could become a contributor 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 some 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 over the next six months 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 1173 patches and 2500 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 (to decrease site installation time) and a CSS preprocessor (to improve 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 7000 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.

Without the progress and transitions between iterations, the Drupal system would not have become the modern, global platform and community that it is today. It took many years and many more developers to get where we are: Countless versions, contributions, updates and patches have built on one another to create one of the most powerful platforms on the web. And without fail, the Drupal community is eagerly awaiting Drupal 9.0 in June 2020.

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 2021, while Drupal 8 will do the same in November 2021. 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. However, any Drupal user will say that this particular investment is a wise one, and the benefits overwhelmingly outweigh the challenges. 

Since 2015, Drupal 8 has made significant progress with each and every subsequent release, owing to the dedication of the Drupal community. Here are some highlights of what you can expect when you upgrade to Drupal 8:

Authoring – 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 or a tablet, or anywhere else content and data need to flow today and in the future. 

Flexible Content Delivery – This is another key tenet of Drupal 8. The notion of using Drupal as a content management platform becomes powerful when you start to think of how Drupal enables you to create and deliver content as a service to any channel or 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 – These 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 – 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.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of Drupal 8’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 is still so much to discover. 

Keep Calm and Carry On

If you're still on Drupal 7, there is no need to panic. The Drupal community will support Drupal 7 until November 2021. Buytaert has stated that after the community support ends, there will be extended commercial support for a minimum of three additional years, ensuring Drupal 7 will be supported for at least five more years, or until 2024. With 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 from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8:

  • Drupal 7 will no longer be supported by the community at large. The community will no longer create new projects, fix bugs in existing projects or write documentation for Drupal 7.
  • There will be no further 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.
  • 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 2021, using Drupal 7 may be flagged as insecure during third-party scans as it will no longer receive support.
  • Best practice dictates  not to use unsupported software — it would not be advisable to continue to build new Drupal 7 sites.
  • It is recommended to begin planning your migration to Drupal 8 now.

Conclusion

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 — this will ensure your site will run smoothly and securely as different iterations are released. 

However, there is a silver lining for those who are waiting to upgrade to Drupal 8. The transition from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 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 will not break or need monumental custom code. And for the remainder of Drupal 8’s life cycle, each major version of Drupal 8 will be released in granular updates. The best is truly yet to come. 

Prasanna Kulkarni

Prasanna Kulkarni

Web Analytics Manager Acquia