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Should I upgrade my Drupal 7 website to Drupal 8 or wait for Drupal 9?

Drupal 9 will be released in 2020. If you currently have a Drupal 7 website, you have two choices here: switching to Drupal 8 now and then progressing to Drupal 9 with just minor changes once Drupal 9 is released. Or waiting until Drupal 9 appears and making the switch in one go. In this article we give you advice on which route to follow.

Pascal van Bergen | 12 jun 2019

In the first article, we explained what you can expect from Drupal 9. In this one, we will be zooming in on the situation where your current website is based on Drupal 7.

Our recommendation? Don’t wait for Drupal 9

It may sound logical to wait and switch once Drupal 9 has been released, but this is often not the case because the step from the final version of Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 is only a small one. Switching to Drupal 8 now - instead of waiting until Drupal 9 is out - offers the following benefits, among others:

  • Developing in Drupal 8 now means that you can progress smoothly to Drupal 9 without having to make significant investments.
  • Investing in Drupal 7 now gives a shorter depreciation period than investing in Drupal 8 because the transition from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 is a smooth one.
  • A switch to Drupal 8 now lets you use the latest and therefore most efficient technologies because Drupal 8 is continuously being kitted out with new functionalities, and also because fewer new modules are being developed for Drupal 7.
  • There is a limited time window between Drupal 9 being released and the ending of community support for Drupal 7. Only switching over when Drupal 9 is released means running the risk of your Drupal 9 platform not being ready in time, or of having to cut corners to be ready in time.

The considerations that underpin the choice of whether or not to wait before switching depend on several factors. We will discuss these factors for the following situations:

  1. If you are intending to revise your Drupal 7 website
  2. If you are going to make major investments in your current Drupal 7 website
  3. If you are still satisfied with your Drupal 7 website

1. If you want to revise your Drupal 7 website

If you are all set to start renewing your website or platform for this year or next year, then there’s no reason to wait until Drupal 9 is released. Depending on where you are in the process of renewing your website, you can already start thinking out an updated proposition (if necessary), a digital strategy and about setting up the basis for the UX and the design. When utelizing an agile approach, once those steps have been taken, construction can start immediately in Drupal 8. Keeping up with the Drupal 8 updates while developing the new website, and also after going live, will make the transition to Drupal 9 a smooth one, as explained in the first article of this pair. In the meantime, moving to Drupal 8 will already have let you benefit to the maximum from all the advantages of your new website or platform.  

On top of that, there will no longer be any pressure to move away from Drupal 7 once Drupal 9 is out, as the impending end of Drupal 7 support will no longer be an issue. This route therefore also provides assurance that there will be no planning problems in that regard.

2. If you want to make major investments in your current Drupal 7 website

Drupal 7 is of course still officially supported by the Drupal Community and there is plenty of Drupal 7 knowledge at One Shoe as well. Drupal 7 was however released in January 2011 and there have of course been a lot of technical developments since then. These have not been included in Drupal 7 itself, but many technical developments are supported by modules from the Drupal Community. Given that Drupal 8 has been out for over three years, many new modules are however issued for Drupal 8 only and no longer for Drupal 7.

This means that new technologies and features are sometimes more difficult to realise in Drupal 7 than in Drupal 8, which can be associated with higher costs. In addition, the available depreciation period for new investments in Drupal 7 is much shorter than it is for Drupal 8. Although the community support for both versions ends in November 2021, Drupal 8 modules will be adapted for compatibility with Drupal 9. This is a natural process, as Drupal 8 modules would otherwise no longer work with the latest versions of Drupal 8. This applies both to modules from the community and to modules that are developed specifically for your website.

So if you are currently intending to make significant investments in your existing Drupal 7 website or platform, this is a good moment to consider switching to Drupal 8. The same pathway then applies as described above for a website renewal, including the benefit of a smooth transition to Drupal 9 later. Of course, a larger budget is generally needed for the switch to Drupal 8 than if there were to be 'only' further development in Drupal 7, since a new website will actually have to be realised.

The difficult part is defining what counts as a major investment in the current Drupal 7 website. That of course varies, depending on the situation. The ratio between the investment in Drupal 7 and the investment for rebuilding the website in Drupal 8 is important, but so is where your Drupal 7 website is in its lifecycle. Is it fit for purpose for many years yet – apart from the technology – or has so much changed in your organisation that it is going to need replacing before long anyway? Or can a good business case be made in some other way for replacing the website, for instance by setting up the new website in such a way that telephone contact decreases? Is the design still modern enough? Does the website work as it should on smartphones? That may not have been relevant when the website was originally being developed, but it matters a great deal now. Any single one of those factors or a combination of them may justify a new website.

If that’s not the case, investing in the current Drupal 7 website may still be worthwhile. If the benefits outweigh the investment, taking into account the shorter depreciation period of this investment, then this is of course still a valid option!

3. Are you still satisfied with your current Drupal 7 website?

If you are happy with your Drupal 7 website or platform at the moment and do not want to make major changes, then there is no need to take immediate action. After all, support for Drupal 7 will be continuing until November 2021. It is of course wise to make the switch to a newer Drupal version before that time.

Get the wheels in motion by mid-2020 at the latest!

In order to avoid the upgrade path getting too fraught, it is a good idea to get the wheels in motion by no later than the second quarter of 2020, for example by thinking about your updated proposition, digital strategy and the UX design. This process can take quite some time, and if the website has to be renewed anyway, skipping this step or rushing it would be a pity.

The actual realisation of the website may then perhaps start in the last or penultimate release of Drupal 8, depending on exactly when Drupal 9 comes out, but your website will probably go live in Drupal 9. The nice thing is that it actually makes no difference: by taking into account the advancements that will come in Drupal 9, the development of the website itself can also flow smoothly from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9. This is not really any different from current practice: during the development of a website, upgrades are also being carried out between the ‘point versions’ of Drupal 8, for example from Drupal 8.6 to Drupal 8.7. The upgrade of the final release of Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 during the development of your website or platform is therefore ‘business as usual’ – particularly if you are already only using the new technologies during that development!

'Don’t wait, go to Drupal 8'

Drupal 9 is coming, and that means that if you currently have a Drupal 7 website, you have to start thinking about the moment at which you want to switch over. Because the differences between Drupal 8 and 9 are small, you do not need to wait until Drupal 9 is actually released. This is in fact often not the smartest strategy: it is generally better to start thinking now about what you want from your new website or platform. As soon as that is clear, the implementation work can start, without being dependent on Drupal 9 coming out.

Can you upgrade my website?

Certainly. If you still have any questions after reading this article, start by seeking advice for your specific situation. We have a great deal of experience in carrying out Drupal upgrades and we will therefore be able to give you tailored advice.


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