06.12.2020 Technology and Innovation

Drupal 9: An AFAQ

photograph of an old computer under violet and blue lighting.

Last week, Drupal 9 was released.

Drupal 9 is the bedrock for technical enhancements for websites built on Drupal, so for the developer community, this was exciting news!

If you aren’t a developer, you may be more concerned with what this means for your current Drupal site. Given the costs of keeping up with the modern web, and the ever-increasing importance of your digital presence, that concern is well-founded! There are already lots of articles out there if you want to get excited about Drupal 9, so we’re going to focus on the more practical questions with an AFAQ (Anticipated Fearfully Asked Questions):

I have, or am currently building, a Drupal 8 site. How hard will it be to update to Drupal 9?

If you updated your site from Drupal 6 or 7 to Drupal 8, you remember that it was a lot of work! You basically had to rebuild your site fresh and migrate all your content.

Updating to Drupal 9 will be much easier. Drupal 8 reinvented a lot of Drupal’s core API (application programming interface) – that’s like the foundation and framework of the Drupal “house”. Drupal 9 did not do that. It uses Drupal 8’s API, just with a bunch of old stuff removed. In other words, you can upgrade your existing site directly – you just have to clean out the basement!

There will be three steps to update to Drupal 9.

  1. Update any custom code on your site that is still relying on the old basement junk1. This should be pretty quick and easy work for any Drupal developer.

  2. Update all of your modules to Drupal-9-ready versions. Those modules need the same updates to be ready for the ‘clean basement’. Many modules have already had these updates, but some modules will lag behind. If a module isn’t ready, you’ll need to either find someone to get it ready, or remove it from your site – which could be complicated. As more and more of the modules you use are made ready, this step will get easier.

  3. Update Drupal core from 8 to 9 (just like you’d install any core update), and do a little testing to make sure everything works.

The best way to prepare yourself for Drupal 9 is to get started today and work through it slowly: start updating your custom code and pulling in modules that are Drupal-9-ready. Keep a list of the modules that aren’t, and keep an eye on them2. Keep updating as they come out, and when your list gets short enough, you’ll be ready for step 3. Mostly painless!

1Developers call this the “deprecated” parts of the API.
2The community has embraced this challenge enthusiastically.

I have a Drupal 8 site, and I don’t want to update it. How long can I put it off?

The official “end of life” for Drupal 8 is November 2021. So, you have about a year and a half. If that makes you nervous, and you didn’t read the answer to the previous question, you should! It’s not as bad as it sounds.

I have a Drupal 7 site, and I don’t want to update it. How long can I put it off?

The official “end of life” for Drupal 7 was November 2021, but due to the COVID pandemic, it has been extended until November 2022. So, you have some time. If you want to get a jump start on the update, since it’ll require some work, you’ll want to move on to the next question.

I have a Drupal 7 site: how hard will it be to update to Drupal 9?

Updating Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 is virtually the same as updating to Drupal 8, because Drupal 9 and Drupal 8 are much less “different” than Drupal 8 and Drupal 7. So, if you’ve looked into updating to Drupal 8, your prep work still applies.

Retiring your Drupal 7 site essentially requires building a new site, either using Drupal 8 or 9, or considering another technology that might suit your needs. WordPress, for example, is another Open Source CMS that is great for rapidly developing beautiful, maintainable websites with ongoing community support.

Now is probably a good time to ask yourself how your current site is serving your mission and goals, and where it’s lacking. The answers to those questions can help you decide how to make the most of a website rebuild!

What does “end of life” mean? Does it matter if I don’t update my site and just keep using it?

“End of life” means “no more free security updates.” The Drupal Association and the community say, “end of life” to indicate that they will no longer be dedicating resources and time to fix issues with old versions of Drupal. This is most important when it comes to security updates.

Right now, you probably pay a developer or employee to install security updates for your Drupal site when they come out. “End of life” means that those security updates won’t come out at all – the Drupal community will only release security updates for Drupal 9.

Since Drupal is very popular, any security issues are very attractive to malicious parties– a single issue might be used to access millions of websites! That’s why the security support of the community is so important.

What are my options if I can’t afford to rebuild my site right now?

Drupal’s popularity has benefits. There are organizations offering “long term support” for older Drupal-based sites. They fill in the gap left by the lack of Drupal community attention by pooling resources and developing security fixes themselves. The Drupal Association will release a short list of approved and vetted vendor organizations offering this type of support, just as they did for Drupal 6. The organizations linked on that page are likely candidates, but more will probably be on the list. (ThinkShout is not seeking approval to do long term support: we want to focus our resources on mission-driven organizations, and the overlap is not large enough.)

How long until Drupal 10?

The Drupal 10 release date is still being decided, but dates as early as 2022 have been discussed. Fortunately Drupal 10, like Drupal 9, will not require a full rebuild of your site if you are already on the prior version: it will be another basement cleanup operation – as long as you keep your basement organized, it shouldn’t be a huge lift.

Have any questions that haven’t been addressed? Contact us.

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