Haven't made the jump from Drupal 7 yet? You're not alone.
Drupal 7's release in early 2011 was followed by explosive popularity and despite Drupal 8's introduction four years later (2015), Drupal 7 sites still dominate the Drupal landscape. According to usage statistics for Drupal core, at the time of writing, Drupal 7 runs on over 400K websites and that means over 50% of all Drupal sites on the web run Drupal 7 – a number that dwarfs any other Drupal version.
Given there are so many sites still running on Drupal 7 and the upgrade process is more rebuild than upgrade, support for Drupal 7 sites has been extended from its original end-of-life date multiple times. Drupal 7's end-of-life was originally November 2021. That got extended to November 2022, which further got extended to November 2023. (Look for an announcement by July 2023 to find out if it will be extended for another year.)
How Long Will Drupal 7 Survive?
Nobody knows for sure. Its successor, Drupal 8 has already been retired for a year in favor of Drupal 9, and Drupal 10 is arriving December 14, 2022. Drupal 7 is certainly nearing the end and the clock is ticking ever louder.
The Impact of “End of Life”
Once end-of-life hits, Drupal 7 will be marked as unsupported, meaning that new vulnerabilities will not be fixed by the Drupal Security Team, increasing the possibility of zero day exploits. (A zero day exploit is a previously unknown vulnerability that is discovered and exploited by bad guys instead of discovered and fixed by good guys.) Also, your IT security team's scanning tools will discover your website is running unsupported software and they will likely insist that it get fixed. If you are responsible for managing Drupal 7 websites and haven’t already mapped out your path to upgrade, there’s a good chance you’re setting yourself up for a crash course in website disaster recovery.
Even if all Drupal 7 end-of-life security concerns magically go away and your Drupal 7 site works perfectly in its current form, there’s still the issue of technology’s relentless march forward. The underlying technologies used by Drupal 7, especially PHP, move to new versions and deprecate out-of-date code, implementing new best practices and rules that may conflict with the legacy code in your Drupal 7 site.
For example, contrib modules you depend on might just stop working one day because your hosting platform upgrades to PHP’s newest version and code that once worked fine now stops working. In short, the underlying technologies eventually become end-of-life themselves.
Your Options Going Forward
You could put your Drupal 7 site on life support – but we don’t recommend it.
No, “life support” isn’t an official program for Drupal 7. It essentially means, you’re paying an agency or hosting partner to keep your Drupal 7 site alive. Your site might continue to work, and hopefully will be secure if you’ve got the right experts, but we simply don’t think it’s a smart investment.
- It’s like putting really expensive bubble gum in the dam.
- Other modules, integrations, and systems that once worked with your site, aren’t likely to keep working in perpetuity. And even if they could, there’s a good chance, you’ll need to pay for MORE expensive bubble gum to keep all of that on life support too.
- That new integration with your CRM you’ve been waiting for? That other search tool that promises better results? You probably can’t leverage them since they’re designing for the present – not the past.
- Drupal 7 will stop working and you’ll eventually have to upgrade anyway.
You could migrate your site(s)* to Drupal 9.
The best option is to move forward. Yes, rebuilding requires more of an up-front investment, but it is a much better investment. You’ll get a higher ROI and be able to leverage other complementary tools and systems that make your team more efficient and your site more future-proof.
Maintenance costs are also likely to be significantly lower. Instead of investing in just trying to keep things working, those investments can go towards growth opportunities and enhancements.
Most organizations use these migrations as opportunities to tackle long delayed content cleanup efforts and make additional progress towards goals like ADA compliance and performance/speed optimization.
*Have Multiple Sites?
If you have many similar sites still on Drupal 7, it's possible for them to be served by one Drupal code base even if they have totally different brand experiences. And there's an opportunity here to have the sites use one base theme for easier maintenance going forward. One codebase and one base theme to manage means you’re not paying to maintain other redundant sites. Modern versions of Drupal allow for custom web ecosystems or platforms to be crafted to clients’ exact specifications. The more sites, the more potential cost savings.
What About Future Upgrades?
Once you get your site updated from Drupal 7, the ongoing update process through Drupals 9, 10 and beyond is designed to be as painless as possible, quite trivial, in fact.
So, what to do? Here's a Potential Roadmap:
- You can give yourself breathing space and ensure your site's security by converting your old site to HTML. Simpler, brochure-like sites can have their Drupal 7 sites converted into static HTML while the Drupal 9 upgrade takes place.
- Check your Drupal 7 site's back-end using the Drupal Module Upgrader module, to see what updates are needed at the module level.
- Plan for a redesign or at least enough budget to convert your existing site's theme to adapt to use Drupal 9's theming system.
- Build the structure of your new site in Drupal 9/10.
- Migrate your Drupal 7 content into your new Drupal site and go live.
The great news is that once sites are upgraded to Drupal 9/10, as mentioned earlier, the ongoing process to stay up-to-date with Drupal's latest version is fairly painless.
Even better, Chromatic has produced some great materials to help support your migration efforts and can help you plan and execute if you need expertise.