After months of anticipation, Drupal 9 will finally arrive on June 3. While this is big news for developers, each major Drupal release can trigger a level of anxiety across IT departments. Should you upgrade now? Or will it be less trouble keeping your site running as it is? And if you implement an upgrade, just how much legwork will be involved?
If you remember nothing else in approaching your decision-making around the transition to Drupal 9, let it be this: Relax. While plenty can be done right now to ensure your site remains up-to-date with this upgrade, the upgrade workload isn’t as involved if you’re already on Drupal 8.
But if you’re still on Drupal 7 (or older), now is the time to begin a time-consuming but ultimately necessary migration to Drupal 8. The Drupal 9 upgrade doesn’t yet qualify as a red alert for your site, but that day is coming. The community will support Drupal 7 until November 2021, but after that, it will no longer create new bug fixes or security advisories.
If you’ve been looking for a reason to plan your website’s transition to Drupal 8, let it be that deadline.
If your website is still on Drupal 7, it’s time to migrate to Drupal 8
For those still behind on keeping their site current, Vendor Extended Support will be available for version 7 from a group of organizations vetted by the Drupal community until 2024. But you can save time and money in the long run by planning your migration to Drupal 8 now.
On Drupal 8, your organization can enjoy faster website performance, a more secure user experience, and new modules and themes to make your website better. Drupal 8 includes the theming engine Twig, which will both make things easier for front-end developers and allow support for a design system like Emulsify. Plus, your site will be prepared for an easier eventual move to Drupal 9 with this upgrade.
Any IT manager who oversaw a migration from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 knows this transition requires hours of work to digest the new content model. But the rewards justify the investment.
Upgrading to Drupal 9 is a far easier journey than the shift to Drupal 8
Drupal 9 constitutes more of a cleanup release than previous versions. Fortunately, this time around, there’s no need to build a new site or undergo a data migration. Better still, with development for Drupal 9 having taken place inside of Drupal 8, you already have the tools you need to ensure you’re ready to upgrade. This means you and your team don’t have to wait until the day Drupal 9 is released to get ready.
Drupal 9 is really just Drupal 8.9 with deprecated API code removed, and no new features will be rolled out until version 9.1, which is already in development. If you’re on Drupal 8, this means no complex scripts are required. And there’s no need to rebuild your theme from scratch. The investment of time and resources won’t be nearly as substantial as the switch from 7 to 8.
In addition, Drupal 9 should not require an additional hardware investment. The Drupal 9 upgrade requires very minimal server administration changes. But in order to support future development on Drupal 9, the minimum versions of supporting software and databases have been increased, including a requiring the use of PHP 7.3. If your website is hosted on a Drupal-compatible host, you will already have easy access to switch to the new minimum versions — you likely meet these requirements already.
However, you will need to upgrade your site to at least Drupal 8.8 to be compatible with the upgrade to 9. And that will require a focus on your code.
Managing custom code and modules are key in upgrading to Drupal 9
In an ideal world, every website would clean up deprecated code as it is released. But that isn’t always your reality. If your site is built on a lot of custom code and themes, the upgrade becomes more complex. You will need to audit your contributed modules to ensure they are ready for Drupal 9 and, if they’re not, wait until they are compatible or contribute back to the project and help get it ready for Drupal 9.
The development for Drupal 9 has allowed for the rollout of both new features and deprecations in Drupal 8 code. Addressing this old, non-supported code is the biggest hurdle in preparing for the upgrade.
Fortunately, all of the new APIs in Drupal 9 are already in your Drupal 8 project. If you can adjust your code to the latest versions, the path to this upgrade grows that much easier. You can audit your site’s deprecated code through automated testing, IDE detection, and static analysis tools.
In addition, the Drupal community has already prepared roughly one-third of the 9,000 contrib module plug-ins for the upgrade. If you are using one of these modules, these updates are already being handled by the community and great progress is being made every day.
The decision to upgrade to Drupal 9 is a question of priorities
While upgrading to Drupal 9 doesn’t require the same level of investment as a migration, the effort still constitutes an investment. Expenses that may have been earmarked for bug fixes or new site features may need to be reallocated. But the core benefit is the security in knowing your site will be ready as technology evolves and new features arrive.
Previously, new versions of Drupal took five to seven years of development. But even before 9 launches, the community is already working toward Drupal 10. With the development cycle possibly becoming as short as two years, staying up-to-date is a key priority.
Hiring a support team to facilitate this upgrade now may not be appealing for every budget-minded CTO. But the gains, in the long run, are worth the effort.
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