So, your website is in Drupal 7 and you’ve been hearing the warnings about its end of life coming soon. Perhaps you’re getting dire emails that use scare tactics to rush you into a decision. When should you upgrade to Drupal 8? First, there is no need to panic. End of life for Drupal 7 will be November 2021, so you still have time. Second, engage New Target to help you plan for D7’s end of life and determine your next step: You can begin moving to Drupal 8 immediately, or you can wait for Drupal 9 which is scheduled for release on June 3 of this year with alternate release dates of August 5 and December 2. Either way, you should plan to be in Drupal 9 by Q3 of next year. 

Drupal 8

The first thing you’ll notice about Drupal 8 is its focus on ease of use and speed across the board. Drupal makes a big effort to accommodate marketers and content creators with a number of features including Quick Editing which enables users to conveniently edit content on the front-end. Additionally, the WYSIWYG editor, CKEditor, is now in core and it affords editors an unencumbered editing experience. Next, the new theme engine, Twig, lets developers create templates quicker thanks to a simpler syntax. And, as far as responsive features, native HTML5 means more compatibility and functionality with mobile devices and responsive themes, images, toolbars, and tables are in core. Drupal knows the consequences of a slow-loading site, so it now caches entities to decrease loading times. Multilingual features abound with four language management modules right out of the box. Even more good news in that extended use is being made of WAI-ARIA attributes which means improved accessibility. 

Drupal 9

Should I wait for Drupal 9? By all accounts, Drupal 9 appears to have taken some lessons from WordPress and promises to be a more benevolent CMS. Turns out, people like simplicity. Drupal founder Dries Buytaert talked about his vision for D9 at DrupalCon Amsterdam last October. His strategy for each version of Drupal is akin to climbing a mountain. As versions near end of life, another mountain, in this case D9, lie ahead. Buytaert’s speech had us feeling a little melancholy, like Drupal just wants to feel the love and not just from veteran users, but from novices as well. Seems like beginners weren’t able to climb those mountains because, well, among many other things, they didn’t understand Drupal’s language. In an effort to appeal to both new and experienced users, Buytaert made a commitment to the following strategic tracks that will make Drupal easier to use, simpler to evaluate and adapt, and more affordable for site owners. 

1. Ease of Use: Drupal is prioritizing the beginner experience with guided tours, the use of “regular” language as opposed to words like “nodes” and “blocks,” more use of WYSIWYG, and low-or no-code. Additionally, Drupal may be moving from the outdated Bartik default front-end theme to Olivero which has been described as “contemporary,” “approachable,” “novel,” and “light.” 

2. Open Web: One out of 40 websites runs on Drupal, and Drupal feels it is their responsibility to drive part of the future of the web in keeping it accessible, secure, and privacy-compliant. Satellite internet will drive about 4 billion people online which means addressing GDPR and speed/accessibility right out of the box and making HTML even more semantic with microformats.

3. Content and Data. With the massive growth in users and devices (about 20 billion devices today), Drupal needs to evolve from a content repository and capture different types of data. With this, Buytaert wants Drupal to be one of the best structured data engines. 

Now that you know the benefits of D8 and understand the strategy behind D9, your next question might be, should I migrate from D7 to D8 or go from D7 to D9? If you’re pretty much done with D7 and want to start using the new features in D8 while simultaneously preparing for 9, then you can contact New Target and get started right away. If you’re thinking about making some major design and/or architecture changes and are still in the planning stages, then it makes sense to wait for the D9 release and the subsequent obligatory tasks of stabilizing it. Much like our discovery process, New Target can help you through a rediscovery process where you can determine what types of changes need to be made to align with where your organization is now and where it plans to be.

Granted, the move from 7 to 8 will be a heavy lift as it goes with Drupal migrations. However, moving from 8 to 9 promises to be on theme by requiring much less effort since Drupal is focusing more on backwards compatibility. Once you’ve installed the latest minor release of D8 prior to the D9 release, you’ll almost be there. 

Dates To Know

End of Life: Drupal 7 & 8 – November 2021

Release of Drupal 9: Estimated to be June 2020 with alternate release dates in August and December 2020

End of Life for Drupal 9: Estimated to be Q4 2023 with Drupal 10 release in the middle of 2022 

With offices in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, Ca., New Target provides digital strategy, digital marketing, web design, web development, branding, website hosting, and creative services for prominent nonprofits, companies, and government.