Drupal 7 End of Life: What Are The Next Steps?

Drupal is constantly evolving to create new solutions, and with that comes the inevitable end for the old ones. Drupal 7, first released in January 2011, is now reaching its end of life (EOL), which will take place in November 2022. At that time, official support for Drupal 7 from the Drupal community will come to an end, including enhancements, updates and security fixes from the Drupal Security Team and the Drupal Association. This is an important moment to recall the novelties Drupal 7 brought in relation to the previous versions and to explore what to expect from the new Drupal 9!

1. Drupal 7 End of Life: Start Planning Your Drupal 9 Upgrade

Since its release on 5 January 2011, Drupal 7 has powered web applications and opened the era of Drupal as a preferred CMS for building any kind of website: from blogs and micro-sites to collaborative social communities. Drupal 7 was the successor to Drupal 6, offering more than 11,000 contributed modules, 600 themes and 200 distributions, and bringing many important changes:

  • The concept of an entity was introduced, which is an item of data that is intended to be displayed to site visitors. There are multiple entity types that have different purposes and are displayed in very different ways, such as user profiles, nodes, comments, files, contact forms, custom blocks or taxonomy terms. 
  • Content Construction Kit (CCK) became a module in the Drupal 7 core. This is a very powerful system that allows you to add custom fields to nodes using a web browser.
  • A multisite support feature was provided to enable separate, independent sites to be served from a single codebase.
  • Improvements in multiple areas were made, such as better security and performance, reduction of system requirements, changes in API and hooks, among many others.
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2. Change of Drupal 7 EOL Date

Initially, Drupal 7 was scheduled to reach-end-life status in November 2021. However, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the international market - especially on businesses and their budgets, this date has been extended until November 2022. This means an additional year of official support for Drupal 7 websites, giving you extra time to update your website to newer and dynamically supported versions of Drupal.

Drupal.org has presented expectations for the transition from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 and 9:

  • Drupal 7 will no longer be supported by the community at large. The community at large will no longer fix bugs in existing projects, write documentation, create new projects for Drupal 7.
  • There will be no more 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 creating 0-day exploits. Over time a security exploit may be found by hackers that will not receive a patch, making your website vulnerable if the exploit is in Drupal core or in a contributed module that is installed on your site. 
  • All Drupal 7 releases on all project pages will be flagged as not supported. Maintainers will be able to change that flag if they desire to.
  • On Drupal 7 sites with the update status module, Drupal Core will appear as unsupported.
  • After November 2021, using Drupal 7 may be flagged as insecure in third-party scans since it no longer receives support.
  • The best practice is to avoid using unsupported software. It would not be recommended to continue to build new Drupal 7 sites.
  • Now is the time to begin planning your transition to Drupal 8 or 9.

Drupal 8, launched in November 2015 with a revamped released cycle, completely transformed the underlying architecture of the CMS to keep Drupal up-to-date with the ever-changing web, making Drupal 7 obsolete. We must warn you that migration from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 is a big task that can require extra time, talent and resources. However, Drupal users agree that the benefits of migrating outweighs the cost. 

Drupal 8 is reaching its end of official support from the developers in November 2021 due to Symfony 3's end of life, paving the way for Drupal 9. Dries Buytaert - the original developer of Drupal - has highlighted that Drupal 9, released on June 2020, will be an upgrade in true spirit - a  cleaner version of Drupal 8 with new functionality as backward-compatible code. The good news is this makes the transition from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 a seamless and very easy process.

3. Drupal 9: What to Expect

Drupal 9 is an extremely powerful and future-proof system with many improvements. Here are some highlights of Drupal 9:

  • Intuitive and easy author editing: a WYSIWYG editor is already built into the core, removing the need to install a contributed module and third parties.
  • Customised editorial workflows: these are built into the core to avail functionality that would have required contributed modules such as Workbench Moderation or Workflow. 
  • Universal configuration storage: Drupal 7 sites deploy configuration by utilising the Features module which always received mixed feedback from the users. Meanwhile, Drupal 9's Configuration Management System enables database configuration to be exported to YML files and therefore is much easier than Drupal 7's Features system.
  • Smart translation and localisation: any language from the authoring side, and the interface can also be customised to many languages. 
  • Secure PHP support: Drupal 7 sites could be running on outdated and insecure versions of PHP like 5.3. Currently, Drupal 7 can move to PHP 7.3 but it has problems with PHP 7.4. Since PHP continues to grow and deprecate older versions, your Drupal 7 site might not be able to run on a secure version of PHP. Since Drupal 9 requires a minimum of PHP 7.3, it can deliver the much-needed compatibility along with PHP secure versions. 
  • Composer tool: Drupal 8 and 9 mainly use third-party libraries such as Symfony for crucial functionality, instead of relying on custom Drupal-specific code for almost everything like Drupal 7.  Symfony 4 or 5 will be shipped with Drupal 9. 
  • Headless CMS: Drupal 9 prioritises Headless CMS to improve user experience with the strong website front-end which provides crucial features such as COPE (Create Once Publish Everywhere), API-first approaching and further front-end freedom. 
  • Responsive to tablets, touchscreens and mobile readers.

In terms of Drupal modules, while only one-third of the top 50 modules were ready after 1.5 years with Drupal 8, it only took 10 months after the release of Drupal 9 for 90% of the top 50 modules to be ready for Drupal 9 users. Another surprising fact is that it just took a month to go from 0 to 60,000 sites on Drupal 9, compared to 7 months for Drupal 7 to reach 60,000 sites and 3 months for Drupal 8. From the above discussion, it is clear that if you have a website that is running on Drupal 7, now is the right time to begin planning the transition. 

4. What are the next steps?

As Drupal 8 and 9 do not bear much resemblance to Drupal 7 with regards to the underlying system, it is impossible to simply upgrade Drupal 7 to a later version. Instead, your website must be migrated to Drupal 9. Migrating as opposed to upgrading basically means that a new Drupal 9 website must be created - any contributed modules in use on your Drupal 7 website must be reviewed to decide the availability of a Drupal 9 equivalent, and the functionality and configuration must be manually re-built. All of your content will then be migrated to your new Drupal 9 website. 

Since Drupal 9.0 was released in June 2020, you can directly migrate from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9, which can ensure that your new site will have maximum expected life. One thing to consider is to wait until Drupal 9.1 is released to migrate your website, due to the inevitable bug fixes and instabilities in the very first "dot-zero" version. On the other hand, you can choose to migrate to Drupal 8 first, then finally upgrade to Drupal 9. The reason for this option is that your site might need the functionality provided by modules that are available in Drupal 8 but not yet in the Drupal 9 release. Therefore, if you migrate to Drupal 8 first, it will eventually make the upgrade to Drupal 9.0, or Drupal 9.1 and 9.2 and so on, much easier since the features of the latest version of Drupal 8 and Drupal 9 are extremely similar.

Now that it reaches its end of life, we must thank Drupal 7 for serving us well ever since its January 2011 release, and start planning the next steps for our ongoing journey with Drupal. Take this opportunity to update your site to Drupal 8 or 9, which will improve your visitors' user experience, provide you with an intuitive and simplified editing experience, ensure your website run smoothly and securely, and allow for much easier, seamless and lower-cost upgrades in the future. 

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