When to upgrade from Drupal 7May 13, 2019
Drupal 7 was officially released in 2011, making it quite old in web years, though it still powers hundreds of thousands of websites worldwide.
Drupal 8 was released in 2015, but the path to upgrading has never been an easy one for Drupal websites (prior to 8). So our recommendation for most Drupal 7 site owners has been to wait– wait until you have the time, budget and other resources needed to do a full redesign and migration to Drupal 8.
But Drupal 7 isn’t going to last forever.
It’s official end of life has already been decided–November, 2021. A full ten years after its original release, Drupal 7 will no longer be officially supported. What this means is no more security patches or bug fixes.
It won’t just stop working, but without official support, Drupal 7 sites will become vulnerable to crashes, hacks and other vulnerabilities. There are private companies who will continue to support Drupal 7 sites after 2021 in exchange for a support contract. But officially, it will be unsupported and after 10 years of service, most sites could benefit greatly from a more modern CMS.
But when is the best time to upgrade? What will it take? What are potential problems, or gains? And why should you continue using Drupal in the future? Let’s break down these questions one by one.
What if I just redesigned, or don’t have the budget for a full redesign?
If you aren’t interested in a full redesign, or unable to consider that option, you have a few options. The first, as stated earlier, is to wait. Start budgeting for a redesign and version upgrade today, knowing you still have at least 2 years before you have to make your move.
The second option is to keep your current site as close to the same as possible, but upgrade to Drupal 8. I would love to tell you exactly what this will take. But like many things in life, it just depends.
The lowest cost scenario for an upgrade is a very simple Drupal 7 website, one that relies on minimal content types with few fields, very few contributed (non-core) modules, and nothing in the way of custom modules or templates. It our experience, however, this isn’t a very common scenario for all but the most basic of websites. The more complex sites depend on an array of custom and contributed modules and custom templates which make upgrading a more… nuanced experience.
Drupal 8 does have a great suite of Migrate modules in core that an experienced developer can use for when updating a site from Drupal 7 to 8 (or migrating from other content management systems). There are, unfortunately, quite a few areas where a versions upgrade runs into trouble, however.
So what does it cost?
If you’re able to follow our original recommendation, and upgrade to Drupal 8 as part of an overall redesign, the cost is wide-open and not really dependent on the software upgrade. While some or all of your content might be migrated, and modules replaced with the latest versions, often times it’s faster and easier to recreate the entire site from scratch.
This approach, however, means budgeting a lot more than you might have planned for a ‘simple software update.’ Instead you budget for a full redesign and all the work that entails.
Whether you are pursuing a full redesign, or “simply” a version upgrade, the first step in estimating the cost is to conduct a site audit. Using spreadsheets or documents, start collecting data on all of your site content, asking questions such as:
- How many content types do you have? What fields are in use?
- How many users and user roles do you have?
- How many Views are in use? These will need to be recreated by hand
- How are you going to map existing URLs to content on Drupal 8? What redirects are in place?
- How many site menus do you use? Menus will need to be recreated
- What theme are you using? Whether it’s custom or not, it will have to be rebuilt
- How many blocks do you have, and where are they used?
- Are you using Field Collections? These will need to be replaced
- How much Media do you use (images, video, etc.)? These will need to be mapped to entities
- What contributed modules do you use? Is there a corresponding Drupal 8 version, and if so, does it offer an upgrade path?
Planning for a version upgrade requires a close look at everything your site does, all the users and content, and identifying all the series of steps required to not lose functionality, content, or search engine placement.
TLDR; the cost depends on the size and complexity of your existing site. Plan on 70-100 hours of work at the low end, to well over 200 hours for more elaborate sites.