To Drupal, or Not to Drupal: Part 1

January 4, 2023| by David Kirkwood

This is the conundrum some may be facing when moving away from Drupal 7.

If you or others in your organization are battling with this question, there are several considerations you should make before choosing to move away from the Drupal platform. We'll cover them in 5 short reads:

Coming to grips with the task

The announcement to extend support for Drupal 7 through November 1, 2023 was welcome news for thousands of organizations still running Drupal 7 websites. It also exposed a huge vulnerability for competing platforms to exploit. 

Seven years after the release of Drupal 8, the hurdle of completely rebuilding a Drupal 7 site is a serious pain point for many, and companies hawking their own proprietary solutions want to leverage that pain to increase their customer base. With well over 400,000 websites still running on Drupal 7, the opportunity to do just that appears considerable. 

These companies will find clever ways to explain and justify their licensing fees promising your organization will never have to completely rebuild its website ever again. Yes, there will be considerable time and cost getting moved onto the proprietary system, but in return you’ll get slick new tools to help with accessibility and SEO. Smooth, new feature rollouts and freedom from long-term platform management tasks will sweeten the deal even further. So what’s not to like about that?

In this series we'll cover a number of things your organization should consider when making a decision, beginning with Drupal’s latest release.

Drupal 10 is here!

A previous coworker of mine put it very well: [Until version 8] every major release of Drupal required not only a completely new track, but a completely new train itself.  This is something the Drupal community worked very hard to fix.

When Drupal 8 was released in late 2015, Drupal 7 had been the premier version for about seven years. In the seven years since then, we’ve witnessed the release of 9 and as of December 2022, version 10. Many of our clients who made the jump to Drupal 8 are already on Drupal 9 and in a very good position to move – with little cost – up to Drupal 10. That’s because the underlying framework (Symfony) is common to all these releases.

The vendor of a proprietary solution will happily tell you future upgrades on their system will be painless. Thanks to the changes introduced with Drupal 8, ‘a painless upgrade’ is not just a Drupal promise, it’s the reality.

Migrating to anything from Drupal 7 will be hard.

Moving off Drupal 7’s antiquated system of procedural code to a modern, object-oriented framework is a big change, there’s no way around it. Whether you stay with Drupal, choose another open-source platform or a proprietary one, it's going to be a heavy lift especially for those running highly customized websites.

If you work with external vendors, it will require a good deal of time and cost to rebuild your theme and migrate content to the new site. It isn’t (unfortunately) just a matter of clicking “upgrade.” The many reasons for this are best detailed elsewhere, but the bottom line is, budget for the upgrade. If you haven’t updated your site in years, it’s probably time to rebuild your content and design anyway. 

If you manage your site internally, the time and effort will fall to your developers. Drupal 8 and higher requires your team to learn Twig (the templating language in Drupal 8+) and become familiar with Composer and Drupal’s underlying framework, Symfony.

This might seem like a lot, but bear in mind, moving to a proprietary system is not a substitute for new learning. Any new system will have its own code and approaches to site building your developers will have to learn. And, before anyone can begin learning a proprietary platform, your organization must select the vendor, negotiate the contracts and participate in the vendor’s discovery process. Depending on the size and complexity of your website(s), it could be another year before getting into the nuts and bolts of actually moving and theming your content. 

Upgrading to a newer release of Drupal—even with the help of an external vendor—means the learning process can start today.

Okay, so?

Migrating your Drupal 7 website will require a heroic effort. Period. But do you stay with Drupal, or buy into the promises of another platform that, for the moment, sound so tantalizing? Well, once you develop the criteria to measure your success in this effort, your first concern will be to ensure you're comparing apples to apples.

Full-Stack Developer, David Kirkwood

About the Author:

David spent almost 10 years working as a developer in higher education with the University of North Texas prior to joining Electric Citizen. David conducts work across a range of areas for our clients, from site building and configuration to migrations and custom features. More about David »