What happened after Drupal 7?
Every major version of a content management system typically has a scheduled end-of-life date after which security fixes and support are no longer offered by the organisation or company that controls it.
Drupal 7 has been one of the most successful and longest-lived iterations of a CMS that was launched all the way back in 2001. Originally released on January 5th, 2011, it was expected to reach its official end-of-life in November 2020 when Drupal 9 was released. However, by September 2018 it was clear that many Drupal 7 sites were not going to have switched to version 8 in time, so this date was pushed back a year to November 2021.
Most of the world then entered a lockdown in March 2020, with the COVID pandemic. A lot of businesses were continuing to use Drupal 7 rather than upgrading to version 8. The Drupal team felt that many businesses would struggle to allocate resources to a website upgrade mid-pandemic, so the end-of-life date was pushed back another 12 months in June 2020, to give them a breathing space - it was announced that support for version 7 would continue until November 2022.
As the pandemic continued to cause disruption for the next year and a half, a website upgrade was something that many companies were unable to prioritise. As a result, it was announced in February 2022 that the end-of-life date for version 7 would be extended again by another year, taking the deadline to November 2023, and giving businesses even more time to update their sites to run on the latest version of Drupal.
Can I go on using a Drupal 7 website after 2023?
It's important to say that Drupal 7 websites will go on working following this deadline, but with no future official updates or bug fixes available, it would be sensible to plan an upgrade to Drupal 9 or 10 as soon as possible, both for security and for compatibility with new web hosting, as that may not support Drupal 7 sites.
While the new deadline offers reassurance that there is time to plan and carry out the upgrade (or look at migrating to alternative content management systems, where those may be more appropriate), the process can take longer than first expected. Any organisation or business still running their website on Drupal 7 will need to take action in 2023 in order to ensure they are prepared and ready before the deadline arrives.
An upgrade to Drupal 9, which was released in June 2020 and is now a mature solution, is normally the obvious option where a website uses Drupal's features. Drupal 10 should become a preferred option in the course of 2023 as more modules are released for it. Drupal 8, which was launched in October 2015, is no longer an option, as it reached its end of life in November 2021.
Why is the previous generation of Drupal - version 7 - still being supported?
The answer to this lies in a number of factors, but is mainly due to the extent of the changes between the different releases. There were major changes from version 7 to 8, requiring comprehensive recoding of websites from the 'modules' which add features to the version you get out of the box, through to the themes that control how the site looks and behaves visually. The upgrade path since then, whether moving from Drupal 8 to 9 or from 9 to 10, has been relatively straightforward. Websites built with version 8 had a direct upgrade path to version 9, as long as the developers had followed Drupal best practices, and the situation is similar with versions 9 and 10 (though being an early adopter is not something that tends to pay dividends, in our experience as an agency).
For now, the sheer number of Drupal 7 sites that are live is the main reason why version 7 is still being supported. The process of converting a website from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 takes developer time, involves learning new skills and techniques, and above all is normally not cheap, which seems to be the reason that some businesses whose websites have been running on Drupal 7 have been reluctant to upgrade, or have been holding off to see whether they could potentially save money by upgrading directly to Drupal 9 or 10.
Why did so much change in Drupal 8?
The organisation that controls Drupal has said that the big changes between versions 7 and 8 were necessary for them to develop, grow and maintain the position and attractiveness of their system as an enterprise-class solution for building reliable and complex websites based on modern coding standards. The extent of the changes caused some agencies and developers to rethink the content management systems they used for their clients, and many now make more use of alternative systems such as WordPress.
The net result has been a change in focus for Drupal development towards more complex websites, ones with membership / login areas, and multilingual websites. It is fully capable of being used for web application development, and is a particularly strong contender for complex websites with a content management requirement, or where the expense of creating a whole web application from a framework is hard to justify. While it now occupies a smaller market niche than its predecessor Drupal 7 did, this is one for which it is ideally suited.
In this article, we’ll explore the major under-the-hood changes from Drupal version 7 to version 8, and the challenges these have posed.
First, let’s look at the big changes from Drupal 7 to 8:
Introduction of Twig
Twig is a templating language for PHP, which is just a way of saying that it's a tool used to output variables inside HTML. If a project you're working on uses Twig, then you're in luck: it's easy to learn, powerful and a joy to work with. Whereas in previous versions, developers would have to write their own PHP code in order to create a template, within Drupal 8 specific ‘html.twig’ templating files can be used. This new way of writing is more concise and readable as well as being quicker than writing normal PHP, potentially allowing for more custom features, more complex designs and increased website functionality. The templates also offer improved security.
Drupal 8 offers integration with Symfony, a PHP framework and collection of PHP components that developers can use throughout the web build process. The use of a framework means you can rely on the fact that it is compliant with business rules. It also means that it can be maintained easily into the future without the need for the specific developer who created it or aided in the creation process. Any developer familiar with Symfony or the modules it uses should be able to come in and manage the framework. With the ability to re-use component parts where needed in the build, developers can also free up time to focus on more complex parts of the build.
A particular benefit to Drupal developers, from the launch of Symfony within version 8 means it is easier to do object-oriented programming and create more concise, manageable code.
Other Changes from Drupal Version 7 to 8
There were also a number of other changes made to version 8 to enable the native embodiment of some extended functionality that was previously only available using modules in version 7. This includes:
Breakpoint media queries were introduced as part of Drupal 8, allowing for the creation of sites that respond to a multitude of screen sizes with ease, which ultimately improves the user experience.
Content is also now far easier to manage and edit with the new feature created for Drupal 8, CKEditor. This is an HTML text editor that offers the ability to make changes and updates to text using various functions of WYSIWYG, while viewing and tracking these changes in real time.
Again, multilingual support is something that was built into Drupal 8 rather than requiring selection and addition of specific modules in order to create a multilingual site. This is an important feature to mention as it is a definite advantage for Drupal as a CMS compared with leading competitors. Wordpress for instance does not have multilingual support built in, so Drupal’s robustness as a multilingual CMS is greater than that of WordPress.
If your business is looking to build a site and is unsure of which CMS is best suited to your needs, consider your future plans. Is having a multilingual site something that you think your business would require in the future? This consideration could help inform your decision of which CMS is the best choice.
Challenges Following Drupal 7
- Following the major changes from version 7 to 8, developers needed to up their knowledge and build on their skillsets in order to continue working in Drupal. Some saw the learning curve required as involving too much effort, and abandoned the CMS for other platforms. Developers abandoning any platform pose a potential risk to the viability of the whole ecosystem, as a reduction in the size of any open-source community can reduce its viability and responsiveness to user needs.
- There were higher server requirements for hosting sites running Drupal 8 due to the underlying architecture changes (and corresponding increase in code size).
- Because some developers and agencies did not like working with Drupal 8 and moved on to other systems, there were fewer supported modules (which offer the ability to add features and extend the system) for Drupal 8. A significant number of developers who had previously provided ones for Drupal 7 were no longer available to contribute their work.
However, we are pleased to report that the situation is much better now in terms of module availability and support, and we have found that generally fewer modules are required when constructing a Drupal 9 site than was the case with version 7.
At GWS, we have worked with Drupal since 2008. Whether you are looking to upgrade Drupal or have your site managed and maintained, or you simply have questions over the next steps to take with a Drupal site, we can support, guide and advise you. We shall help ensure that your website maintains its functionality, and stays secure.