By Paul Honey
Has Drupal got a big upgrade problem?
With Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 reaching end of life in November 2021, the Drupal 9 release currently targeted for June 2020 is being widely anticipated by many Drupal site owners. For those using the latest releases of Drupal 8, the upgrade process should be a relatively straightforward project, but for those websites still using Drupal 7, the upgrade process is likely to be a considerable amount of work and a project that will need careful planning.
According to Drupal (November 2019), out of the reported 1,077,294 Drupal sites using the Update Status Module to track the Drupal version running, the following version count shows there are over 717 thousand sites that are yet to upgrade from Drupal 7.x. This is a substantial number of websites and more than double the number of Drupal 8 sites. And as we know the upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 is a considered project that may take several weeks/months to complete.
Number of Drupal websites by version
Drupal 5.x & 6.X = 40,321
Drupal 7.x = 717,069
Drupal 8.x = 319,904
For those considering the upgrade from Drupal 7.x, here’s a handy overview of the Drupal upgrade process we recommend. Essentially due to the significant amount of work required, it’s a good opportunity to review the current website by performing a Current State Assessment and use this data to help define the Target State. As you go through this process there are specific tasks to review content, custom code, modules, APIs and of course your DevOps environment.
Major site upgrades aren’t always a lot of work (really)
Each major release of Drupal usually brings a host of new functions, features and technical innovation and of course support for the latest versions underlying technologies such as PHP.
Organisations have also benefited from many years of stable operations from each major release of Drupal and with a version lifespan of 10 years 10 months, those on Drupal 7.x have enjoyed more years than many. But time is running out to upgrade from Drupal 7.x.
Drupal version lifespans
|Version||Launch||End of Life||Version Lifespan|
|Drupal 5||Jan 2007||Jan 2011||4 Years|
|Drupal 6||Feb 2008||Feb 2016||8 Years|
|Drupal 7||Jan 2011||Nov 2021||10 years, 10 months|
|Drupal 8||Nov 2015||Nov 2021||6 years|
Not surprisingly the upgrade path caused by each major release can often be a considerable task. This was especially true with the upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8, but the good news is that if you’re up to date with your Drupal 8 releases, the upgrade to Drupal 9 should be relatively simple and easy to complete.
Drupal 8 to 9 upgrade
They key to a simple and relatively quick upgrade to Drupal 9 is keeping you Drupal 8 version updated to the latest appropriate minor release.
Why isn’t it likely to be a significant amount of work to upgrade to Drupal 9?
Well, according to Drupal, the upgrade to Drupal 9 will be easy because they have built Drupal 9 in Drupal 8 and the underlying code structures and the technology in Drupal 9 will have been well tested in development and production environments in Drupal 8.
The key feature of Drupal 9 is…There aren’t any new key features
The Drupal 9 major release is largely about removing deprecated functionality and upgrading support for Drupal's dependencies, such as Symfony. Symfony 3 is also end of life in November 2021 and Symfony 3.4 is scheduled for end of life in November 2023. Drupal 9 will provide support Symfony 4 and interestingly Drupal are also working on support for Symfony 4 for Drupal 8 - which again will simplify the upgrade path.
The strategy to use Drupal 8 for the development of Drupal 9 also means Drupal 8 development skills and capabilities will remain highly relevant in Drupal 9, as there’s not a dramatic change in the underlying code base. Arguably, it could be stated that Drupal 9 is in fact just a minor release of Drupal 8. Good news for development teams.
But, and it's a big but. If you are still running on Drupal 7.x, then time is against you to start planning the upgrade.